Writer's Workshop: Write A Letter To A CEO (And Get A Response)

May 09, 2017
Writing assignment, Activity, Research, Teaching Strategies, Current Events, Article, Activities

A recent Ron Lieber column in NY Times got me thinking about a useful skill that all young people should have: how to advocate for oneself in a manner that people in power will respond to.

Here’s the crux of his column:

Even semiprofessional consumers like me run into our share of problems. These are particularly irksome, since we should probably know better than to find ourselves on the wrong end of a busted product or poorly delivered service. So this week, I’m pleased to share with you the single best tool I’ve ever found for getting my money back or my money’s worth. In fact, it has never failed me.

It’s called the Executive Email Carpet Bomb (E.E.C.B. for short) — a well-written message to the right group of corporate executives, whose email addresses are often pretty easy to figure out. A group of renegades at a blog called Consumerist first published the concept 10 years ago this month.

It was almost ten years ago, I wrote this post chronicling the path of an email that I sent to the United Airlines CEO after sitting in a waiting area in Orlando with wires dangling:

While it seems that more companies get it when it comes to responding personally to customer inquiries, others simply do not.  I remember I sent an email earlier this year to the United Airlines CEO (glenn.tilton@united.com) to let him know about the dilapidated condition of the United Terminal area in Orlando (wires coming off the exposed ceilings, dust being blown throughout  the terminal, etc.).  Ten hours later, I had a personalized response from an Executive Customer service person:

“First and foremost, please accept my apologies that we did not serve you better.  We realize that at times we are not doing as well as we should be in assisting our guests and we have no excuse for the poor treatment you report.  Our Gate Agent certainly could have done more to acknowledge the situation, to be empathetic and to better assist you.  I have shared your comments with my colleagues responsible for Customer Service and Airport Management Operations at Orlando airport so they understand how these experiences felt from your point of view and so they can follow up with their teams to ensure improved handling of your travel needs in the future.  All of us at United value hearing about aspects of our operation that work for you – as well as where we can further improve.  Your candid feedback allows us to learn from them.”

Whatever you think about airline service, I thought that this was pretty responsive.  There was also the time as a 10-year old, I sent a 6 page handwritten letter to my baseball idol, Ron Guidry, and all I got back weeks later was a picture with a signature that did not look all that original.  Maybe I should have been happy with that.   For some reason I thought he would answer all the questions that I posed about how I could become a major league picture too.  I even thought he might toss in a few tickets for my extraordinary efforts. All was forgiven, however, when he went 25-3 with a 1.74 E.R.A. in that magical 1978 season.

So, the assignment for your students:

  • Think of a recent interaction you have had with a company where the product or service they provided didn’t meet expectations OR exceeded your expectations. I think it is important to let companies know when they are doing a great job too and they often respond positively to that also. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, discuss with your parents and advocate from them.
    • For high school seniors, perhaps it was the college admission process that you just went through or your interactions with the financial aid office. Or maybe it is an important issue in your town that you don’t feel is being addressed. Be creative in coming up with an appropriate issue and what you hope to accomplish with this letter (or email).
  • Before starting to write be sure to use these tips from the NYT column:
    • Exhaust all other options before resorting to this letter-writing campaign. It is always helpful to document the stops you took to try and resolve this matter before taking the matter to the executive suite.
    • Write a note that is pointed and polite.” That sums it up pretty well.
    • Keep it short. State the problem quickly. Make a reasonable ask. Don’t threaten to bomb the factory, which an old friend of mine did when two lamps that he had purchased failed in rapid succession. (The stern letter he received in return went up on a dorm room wall.) And try to avoid being one of the crazy-sounding people companies never want to hear from. “Don’t send a rant,” Ms. Marco said.”
  • A few weeks later, have students report back:
    • How long did it take to get a response?
    • Did the response satisfy you?
    • Did the response change the way you think about the company in question?
    • What did you learn from this process?

Please send along results of your classroom activity. I look forward to sharing it with the community!


Looking for more good writing prompts? Check out this NGPF blog post that has oodles of them!


About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.