Email Marketing: What Every PR Pro Needs to Know

Email marketing expert David Townsend, who runs Innovyx, a leader in one-to-one email marketing and a member of the RappDigital Network, understands the frustrations that journalists often feel when dealing with PR practitioners.

A few years ago, he was mistakenly listed on a CD media directory as the PR contact for a Microsoft magazine, and ever since, he’s received releases, via print and email, from PR people believing he would be interested. While he explained to callers that he was not the press contact, he recalls one young lady who “was quite indignant when I asked to get off her list. She spent the better part of an hour telling me why I should get her stuff. Enough!”

That brings us to the key principle of email marketing as espoused by Townsend. No matter what a marketer’s (or PR person’s) rationale, the recipient must welcome the material, or the relationship is finished.

Public relations and media relations, in particular, “have a bit of a shady reputation. The press in general is afraid of it,” says Townsend, with his winning English accent. “When using email for PR, one needs to follow some key marketing directives.”

Eat the Dog Food

“PR people need to eat the dog food. They have to be real experts,” adds Townsend. That means we must understand what recipients (whether they be media or customers) need, and we must make it easy for them to get only what they deem pertinent, and in the format they desire. This may sound like a tall order for PR pros using typical desktop email applications like Outlook Express, Netscape Communicator, Eudora Pro, etc., but then PR people have never been early adopters.

As PR practitioners, we face a particularly difficult challenge. How can we grab a fraction of a second of the attention of extremely busy journalists, already bombarded with hundreds of emails daily?

Use Email Wisely

Email is a double-edged sword. It can deliver well-targeted content, exactly as a recipient desires it. On the other hand, we face the danger of saturating the target with irrelevant material and destroying our credibility with a few keystrokes.

Savvy PR pros need to conduct email media relations campaigns in the same way that direct marketers view permission marketing. “An emailed news release is very much a one-to-one marketing tool,” according to Townsend.

Research, Research, Research

The first step is research, the careful crafting of a list of appropriate press contacts, not dredging a massive 50K list right off a CD. Doing the research and building the list is a time-intensive task; but the Internet is a terrific facilitator, and the search function will uncover invaluable background on relevant issues and journalists’ interests.

With the list input, assuming one has access to a sophisticated email program or IT department, initiate an introductory, one-to-one personalized contact with each journalist to ascertain each journalist’s needs, interests, deadline pressures, etc. Then provide each journalist with options to obtain just what he or she is interested in.

Editors Deserve Options

For example, the initial email could invite the journalist to choose content areas of interest. “Advance relationship building is key, or they will likely delete the email and ignore future ones,” said Townsend, whose company specializes in highly customized email campaigns and has developed a web-based application, Dialogue 1to1, which creates personalized messaging and includes tracking and analytic tools.

Once a relationship is established, you should send appropriate press releases only to those who have expressed interest, plus links taking the company or agency web site to where detailed material, press kits, etc., may be downloaded.

Townsend has yet to hear from leading PR firms using these email marketing communications techniques, but he proposes another way email can be an effective media relations tool, the daily or weekly news digest. He suggests that agencies draft a customized news digest for each client, with synopses of the day’s releases, case studies, white papers, fact sheets, etc., and links to the full texts.

Target, Measure, and Refine Communications

“Again, I must reinforce the need to target,” says Townsend. “The real benefit is when a reporter clicks to pull in the full message because the agency can track his or her response history, and begin to refine their content model in an ongoing process of customization. Tracking actual behavior is very important because people often say they are interested in one thing but do another, so measuring the links they actually follow is crucial to enhancing a relationship.”

With media spread across time zones and continents, personal contact has become the exception rather than the rule. But the relationship is still key. Only the tools have changed. To build close relationships with journalists today requires an understanding of their needs coupled with the tools to deliver communications materials in a timely manner.

Whether you email a digest of news and background links or send a four-pound press kit via snail mail, the goal is to make it easier for journalists to write about your company or client. But which course of action would you recommend in today’s competitive market for timely information?

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