PR folk: here’s a really good reason not to send attachments to my Guardian address

You want a reason? Because I’ll delete the attachments (and if I’m feeling a bit bugged, your email with it) straight away.

I’ve come to understand the reason Jack Schofield and all Guardian tech writers hate attachments. It is this: we have very limited mail quotas. That is, if the size of mail with our name on the server exceeds some number (in my case 50MB) then we can’t send any more mail.

I only joined at the end of November. Within a week, I think, I was up to 47MB. I deleted as hard as I could.

So today I got a message from the mail system:
This email has not been sent. Your current mail file size is 53 megabytes. This is over your quota of 50 megabytes. You will not be able to send anything until you have deleted some email, and your mail file size is back under your quota. You can still receive and read email, however.

No chance for me to find out what the unsent mail was though. Nor whether it’s been saved to be resent. But that’s an internal issue about the email program we use.

So how do I choose which emails to delete? Simple – sort them by size and kill off the largest first. There is an option to delete only the attachments, leaving just the stub of the email (which some inspired people might have entitled “Press release” and have as its contents “Please see the attached press release”. I’ll get a lot out of that.) But it doesn’t always work, so in those cases I just zap the thing wholsesale.

Just another reason why press releases don’t work, at least when used wrongly…

Though of course you could send it to my Gmail address. No limits there. Well, there are, but they’re 40 times greater.


  1. You’d think that it wouldn’t be such a hard proposition to understand, but seemingly it is – I’ve know people to cheerfully send over 12mb of attachments in a single email and not understand what the problem was. Honestly, some people…

  2. I had the same problem when I was a journalist and had a limited capacity Lotus Notes account. I found a good way to get around the problem of a full mailbox was to ask someone to send you a very large attachment. Once received you instantly delete the attachment and the extra space it once occupied becomes available for you to send and receive as normal.

  3. It constantly amazes me how few of my PR colleagues grasp this simple fact. Our rule is simple – all news releases are sent plain text with no attachments. Print quality photos are available in the news room on either our website or the clients (ours where the client contact doesn’t have a CMS or isn’t able to change their site quickly).

    There is one exception and that is non-technology journalists that we know well. These will still receive plain text but I will attach the photo. The reason is that they aren’t comfortable with downloading their own photo (really, tech journos might be surprised but it is true). I also know what they write well enough only to send the photo if I think there is a really good chance of them using it. I’ve asked them and they like this approach . When they don’t use the story and picture it is nearly always to do with space pressure rather than it not being a relevant story.

    The other thing that annoys me is PR consultants (including some of the really big names) who use the excuse “that’s what the client wants”. Duh? The client is paying you for your expertise as a PR professional not as a glorified postman. They should do their job and provide expert counsel not buckle under.

    Rant over.

  4. Charles wrote: “Though of course you could send it to my Gmail address. No limits there. Well, there are, but theyre 40 times greater.”

    There is an individual 10MB message size limitation though. I assume this is for an encoded attachment so the original file must be a lot smaller (in the region of 6 or 7MB).

  5. Here’s a funny story from very early in my career:

    (Charles Arthur writes: for those who want a taster, here’s an extract; I commend the whole thing:

    We were putting together an event at a tradeshow for a very large company. In addition to printed invites, we opted to email “save-the-date” notices to journalists and analysts who had demonstrated great interest in what the company was doing.
    I have never sent an email to a journalist in anything but plain text. HTML- and RTF-formatted emails tend to be bulkier and there is never a guarantee that the recipient’s email program will render a richly formatted message correctly. Additionally, sending unsolicited attachments to a contact is always a big, big no-no.
    When my supervisor heard that I planned to send my email notices in *gasp* plain ASCII text, she went batshit. She said something vague about making the “best-possible” impression on behalf of our client. I humbly suggested that my approach was best.
    Well, I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about. She huffed away, fired up Powerpoint, and developed a flashy, graphically rich, one-slide invitation. She saved it as a Powerpoint show, such that the recipient (victim?) would be treated to a full-screen presentation of this colorful invite upon double-clicking the attachment.
    “This is how it should be done,” I was told. “This is how we go the extra mile for our clients. Now, don’t argue with me and send it to your contacts.” I did. I liked my job.
    And, you know, it’s a miracle that some of these contacts will still take my calls.
    First, it was a 200kb unsolicited attachment. Yes, that’s 200kb for one slide. One editor was traveling and had to deal with the download over a 33.6kb nibblenet connection in his hotel room. He didn’t RSVP.
    One publisher — and a very important one — operated almost 100% on Lotus Notes. Their implementation of Notes didn’t like Powerpoint very much. “You mean you actually believed Microsoft’s lip service to ‘interoperability?'” one reporter screamed.

  6. Of course, anyone who send innapropriate attachments deserves their messages to be sent to the bin.

    That said, I’m pretty shocked no-one has asked what on earth The Guardian is playing at limiting email quotas to 5o Mb. Why not give editorial staff 5000 Mb? It would probably cost the IT budget 3 per head. That way they wouldn’t have to spend part of everyday pruning their inboxes and make more time for writing stories.

  7. it is a policy decision, the default is unlimited mailbox size. (well in truth the limit is 64GB, but I have only seen up to about 15GB in real life) 50MB is a pretty small limit to set. I always advise against limits because buying an extra harddisk for a server is way way cheaper than having people think about what to delete, and way way cheaper than someone deleting something important and not having critical information to hand when they want it. You need better IT support to do your job than that which you are getting.

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