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Changing Corporate Policies

Say you want to contact a company about changing its policies or products—for example, you would like a retailer to stop setting unreasonable expiration dates on gift cards or a computer company to start recycling its customers’ old computers for free.

Start by confirming with yourself that you seek real social change—not a settlement to an ongoing personal dispute you have with the company (such as fighting to get a refund). That situation can damage your credibility, cautioned Ron Burley, AARP’s consumer columnist and author of the book Unscrewed: "The Consumer’s Guide to Getting What You Paid For" (Ten Speed Press, 2006).

Next, send a letter to the company’s chief-executive officer and media-relations department to suggest how changing a stated policy would help the company make greater profits or enhance its good name. This positive approach is more effective than threatening a boycott of their products. "Remember, they have no obligation to be a good corporate citizen, but they have to make a profit for their stockholders," Burley said. In your letter, you should:

Make a compelling, reasoned argument about why it would be in the company’s financial best interest to make the specific change you’re requesting. You might point out how the firm would avoid potentially negative publicity and loss of repeat business from the unhappy group of customers you represent. Or the company perhaps could use its positive reaction to your requests as a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Relate a true story about how you were personally affected by the company’s policy.

Use facts or statistics that support your argument.

Promise that you’ll recognize the company’s positive response to your request in your dealings with media and other customers.

Note: You should be able to identify appropriate media-relations and executive contacts for a company via its Web site—by clicking on a link to an online "press center," to "media relations," and/or to an investor-relations area.

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