SBJ/December 17 - 23, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Reporters haven’t grown attached to e-mail attachments and links

In media relations, the workday — which typically extends into the worknight — is fast-paced. Journalism plays a major role in dictating that pace and direction. Those in media relations don't like to admit it, but they are often forced to follow the rules set forth by members of the press, who frequently are scrambling around to meet deadlines.

What contributes to the frenzy between PR pros and the press is the way many communicate. As it is in most industries, e-mail has become a standard method for public relations folks. Although veteran PR types still prefer the telephone and face-to-face meetings, e-mail is playing a larger role as more and more young PR people enter the industry.

For the most part, e-mail correspondence has had a positive influence on the relationship. PR people like its swiftness and pinpoint accuracy. Media members appreciate the nonintrusive element. They can keep messages in their in-boxes and open, ignore or delete them at their convenience. From the media's perspective, however, there is a growing problem with the way PR people are now using e-mail.

Here's a conversation between two PR practitioners:

PR 1: "Did you get that press release out today?"

PR 2: "I sent the press release link and the logo attachment in an e-mail to our entire database."

Here's a conversation between two members of the media:

Media 1: "Are you on deadline?"

Media 2: "Yes. I'm checking on one last fact. (Looking at his computer screen) Here comes an e-mail. This could be the information I'm waiting for."

The next item to appear in Media 2's in-box is the e-mail, with an attachment from PR 2. The download may actually take just minutes, but when a reporter is on a deadline, the process can be agonizingly slow. Then, to top things off, the information isn't what Media 2 was looking for.

Unless requested, PR pros should not send e-mail attachments, most of which are press releases, photos or logos. Attaching a press release usually doesn't work because most people these days don't open an attachment from someone they don't know well or haven't worked with.

Attaching a logo or photo doesn't work for several reasons. It takes too long to download, especially if the media outlet works on a dial-up system or a shared ISDN line. The media outlet, especially the journalist on the other end of the e-mail, may not have the necessary software to properly download the logo or photo. And even if the journalist can download it, he's going to forward it to the graphics department anyway.

A growing trend is for PR professionals to include an e-mail link of a press release that when clicked on takes the media person to a Web page that has the press release.

Note to PR folks: This strategy does not work because the media will rarely take the extra step to get to your news. Ignoring your link thus presents two problems: (1) The PR person doesn't get his or her news read by the media, and (2) the media person may be missing out on a very good piece of news. No one wins.

The press release link is the newest media gripe directed at PR people. It's quickly joining the ranks of obtrusive follow-up calls, pushy pitches and unsolicited e-mails that include large attachments.

PR professionals who simply e-mail a reporter, editor or producer with a note that states "To read about our newest news, simply click on the link" run a big risk of being ignored.

Top media outlets receive hundreds of e-mails every day. Getting through that clutter is difficult and time-consuming. In a unique twist, PR folks who e-mail a press release, logo and photo attachments are using one of the fastest means of non-oral communication — to slow things down.

Most media members agree that it's perfectly acceptable to send mass e-mails, but PR professionals need to stop e-mailing links and attachments. The best thing to do is to copy the press release and paste it into the body of the e-mail. True, it won't look very pretty, there won't be a logo at the top and all the margins won't be set perfectly, but who cares?

If the news is indeed news, that is all the media really cares about. And with the advent of e-mail, many of the traditional forms of PR are ignored anyway.

Moral: Attachments and links are weak ... goodbye.

Wayne Henninger is a PR professional in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at wayne@statelywaynemanor.com.

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