The problem with PR email

A timely story about that distribution channel so often misused by the PR industry – email.

In an article published in Journalism.co.uk (and elsewhere), Iain Fleming, who works for Newslink, a news aggregation and delivery service in the UK, writes about the results of a survey he carried a few months ago on people’s attitudes to the email that PR agencies and others send them.

Probably little surprise at some of Fleming’s findings:

[…] the results of my small survey – including responses from 101 editors, section editors, journalists and IT managers – showed just how much those working on news desks disliked the PR industry – despite their growing reliance on it. So much of what is being thrown at them is completely irrelevant – if it gets to them at all.

What does get through – and 95 per cent reported problems with email of which around a quarter said it was ‘every day’ – is sent in ways which either crash their systems or can’t be opened because their employers simply cannot afford to upgrade software on 200 computers as regularly as a small PR agency of just a few people can – and does.

And that is just for ‘traditional’ text and pictures. The message that a national newspaper can happily use a picture – even across several columns – if it is only a few hundred Kb in size has not got through to the PR people, who keep sending out 10Mb files at a time.

Move on to ‘new’ media and the situation is even worse, with the same issues of incompatible file types, too large files, poor quality content and stuff that is ‘just not newsworthy’ topping the list of complaints. A senior manager within ITV told me just last week how one station struggled for several hours to get video sent by a fire brigade into a format suitable for broadcast, but ran out of time and the bulletin went out minus the footage.

What a picture. Read the full story in its gory detail.

I like to look beyond the dismal picture Fleming paints. There are great opportunities for the few – yes, there are some – who get it right.

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[Photo by Neil Crosby, used under Creative Commons license.]

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Scott Douglas

    Hi Neville,
    I remember the first ever social media event I attended – about three years ago next door to Edinburgh Zoo.
    You were one of the keynote speakers and also did a podcast with some of us attending.
    The other speakers included a couple of guys from Sunderland University, who’d carried out an in-depth study into the formats different newspapers wanted to receive.
    You’ll recall many of them hated text embedded in email – others hated Word attachments. At that time (only a few short years ago!) almost all of them refused point blank to follow a hyperlink.
    I ran newsdesks in the pre-digital era when we had to wade through a daily pile of press releases thicker than the London telephone directory.
    More recently I’ve run a news agency where we actively sought out press releases on dozens of platforms in the pursuit of stories that others may have missed.
    I read with astonishment some of the vitriol from mainstram trad journos and from some bloggers on this issue of press releases.
    On one hand these people benefit from the proliferation of media into a vast, fractured network and all the opportunities it brings.
    On the other they want PRs to know exactly what topics may and may not interest them among thousands of others with similar profiles? It’s unreasonable.
    Of course, it would be ideal if a team of PR people could read every publications, blog and online news site to test its relevance to all their clients. I’d love to hear how that can be done?
    Most PRs will research those end users who they think are most relevant to their clients. Then the responsible ones will use tools like MediaDisk or Gorkana to refine their mail out lists to people who have listed certain interests or geographic areas of coverage.
    The flip side of the bitching we hear from these journos is this: I’m fed up of publishers (journos and bloggers) telling MediaDisk that they are interested in everything from diddly-eyed-joe-to-damned-if-I-know – only to find out that in fact, they are some one-trick pony with a single issue focus.
    Ultimately it has and probably always will be a hazard of being a publisher (and I use that to cover niche bloggers) that you will receive some unsolicited material.
    Call me old fashioned – but it is in many respects a privilege to be the gatekeeper to that kind of information and then have the power to share it.
    For my money, I don’t see nearly enough suggestion that those receiving the press releases are doing enough to filter them effectively and do their job – properly assess what may or may not be of interest to their readership and adapt it accordingly.
    I’d love to hear opinion on the “social media press release” with all its rich text links and embeddable loveliness (I’ll reserve my own opinion until I’ve more thoroughly checked it out.
    Also, really looking forward to FIR 500 – congrats to you and Shel for reaching such a brilliant landmark.

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