Live, PR, live in the 21st century

So there’s lots of people reading my post about the evils of PR done badly.

But who ever suggests how to do it correctly?

Well, here’s a start.

Emails: have a meaningful subject line. Often it’s the only thing the journalist will read before deleting it. Journalists delete lots of emails. Never, ever leave it blank.

DO include the content of what your client insists should be attachments in the body of the email. More and more journalists are reading their emails on the move, so they can’t necessarily view attachments, and won’t set their phones to download them. Text is cheap. Put it in the body of the email. And then tell the client you don’t need to include the 1MB attachment because it’s been dealt with in the 50K text of the file. (It’s just left out the vast logo nobody cares about.)

DON’T send PDFs as attachments. Can’t get the text out cleanly, can’t read them easily.

DON’T include pictures unless they’re the very smallest thumbnails, for the reason just given above: mobile data is an expensive pain.

DO include a link where we can get the entire press release and/or the images for it. We might want to link to it so readers can gasp at your brilliance. Plus it means we don’t need to copy or retype stuff. If it’s embargoed, give a username and password to log in so we can look at it. But set that to expire so everyone can see it in time.

DO, if you’re going to inflict a survey on people (mostly: please don’t) include a link to the original data where the journalist can download it and play about with it. Normal humans might like to do the same.

DO understand that journalists get gazillions of emails every day, plus we’re looking around at blogs, plus we have stuff to do ourselves. We don’t necessarily have time to respond to every one. In fact, we definitely don’t. (See above about deletion.) That followup phone call just gets in the way of us writing a story, linking to your press release, writing our own hard-hitting expose. That’s why journalists are so arsey on the phone. Well, some of them.

DO read my post about how PR and journalism are orthogonal. You don’t ring up McDonalds asking them to fix your car. A lot of PR is getting too mailing-list driven. Know your journalist before you email them.

But most of all do include links. Put this stuff on the web. It’s 2010, not 1995. News organisations have changed. Why hasn’t PR?


  1. Thank you for this very timely and relevant reminder of the value that public relations professionals continue to play in the world of journalism – so long as they are smart and pay close attention to reporters’ and bloggers’ needs. You make some excellent points throughout this post, but the one that stuck out to me the most was in regards to attachments, particularly in a time when all of us are increasingly using smartphones as our primary Web resource.

    I’m a big fan of your tips, and definitely see quite a lot of value in each of them, but I do have to take issue with your very last point (e.g. “News organisations have changed. Why hasn’t PR?”). I think you will find that, for the most part, much like news organizations have adapted to drastic changes in the public’s use of digital communications and the Web for media consumption, public relations professionals have changed just as much, if not more. That’s a big reason why we are currently seeing PR taking on more initiatives that in the past would have been handled by advertising and marketing firms: public relations professionals are often at the front lines of public sentiment and trends, and do everything they can to adjust with the times, as it pertains to giving people access to the information they want and need.

    And, yes, of course there are some practitioners out there who do not conform to what most PR pros would consider 21st-century standards of best practices (e.g. using social media, smartly using links in pitches, online content, etc.), but for the most part, I think you will find that many PR pros are on the right track in this regard.

    The unfortunate aspect of this is that all too often, we see one or two who are lagging behind current best practices, and that only serves to hold back the profession and diminish the overall value PR provides businesses and the public.

    A recent blog post I wrote on the need for PR to embrace data-focused practitioners within the profession may shed some more light on these thoughts. Here’s the post:

    Keith Trivitt
    Associate Director of Public Relations
    Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)

  2. I wrote this over 18 months ago (see below) – you could argue that those recalcitrant PRs who continue to spam journalists will get blacklisted by ISPs anyway, so perhaps the problem will go away of it own accord. As a matter of interest Charles, do you mark persistent PR offenders as spam?

    “Survey after survey shows that subscribers will report email as spam if they are unwanted, come too often, are not relevant enough or come unsolicited. Does this matter? Yes. Spam complaints are a major factor in determining the reputation of the sender. The more complaints you get, the worse your reputation, the less likely you are to get delivered (by an ISP). If PR is about reputation management then PR firms need think about how the potential (mis)use of e-mail can impact their own – and more importantly – their client’s reputation to the media. The very thing they are being paid to do.”

  3. The PRSA’s Keith Trivitt needs to get out and meet more journalists since he thinks the PR world is inhabited by only “one or two who are lagging behind current best practices.” Anyone in PR who follows journalists on Twitter will testify that most days they see a post berating some PR for yet another clumsy, ill-conceived or just plain weird pitch. Charles, thanks for posting this and a heartfelt apology from my side of the fence that you have had to go to the effort of doing so. This is all such basic PR 101 stuff that we should hang our heads in shame.

  4. Seems like not much has changed since about 1995, when the Fleet Street Forum collectively wrote this: