How E-Mail Changed the PR Biz

Public relations is the cornerstone of any comprehensive marketing strategy. People may be skeptical about a message coming from your firm, but they believe what they read, see, or hear in the press, television, or radio. The right mention in the right place will maximize all your marketing efforts and do wonders for your business.

Publicists are the ultimate business-to-business (B2B) marketers. They’re only as effective as the relationships they forge and their ability to instantly respond to the media on behalf of their clients. The goal of any PR person is to become a trusted resource for the media and to make it as easy as possible for journalists to cover their clients. We interviewed three PR firms we’ve worked with closely over the past year to see how email has changed their business.

For some, gone are the days of creating, copying, and posting time-consuming and expensive media packets containing press releases, brochures, and slides. Penny Beatty, principal of Lindstrom Beatty Communications, a Chicago-based firm, explains, “Everything has to be electronic or you are not serving your clients. We don’t even have a postage meter in the office anymore.”

Beatty says prior to the mid-’90s, PR firms had to rent offices steps away from major newspapers because once an editor decided to run a pitched story, he often needed a hand-delivered black-and-white photo within the hour. Now, you can work from anywhere, including your car. She explains she often sends email while she’s on the road, including proofing and returning a brochure while sitting in a traffic jam.

No matter how far in advance the media are contacted, they often wait until the last minute to write a story. Beatty advises her clients to place press releases in both PDFs and Microsoft Word, plus downloadable 300dpi JPEGs of photos and logos, on their Web sites to make it easy for journalists to meet deadlines. They can quickly copy and paste directly into their stories.

Most of her larger clients are on board technologically. The smaller ones need some handholding. She adds that major newspapers’ ability to accept electronic, print-ready, high-resolution photos is the biggest change of the past few years.

Gretchen Krueger, account supervisor of Landis Communications Inc., a mid-sized San Francisco firm, agrees, “Instead of using wire services or postage, email is the number one way we pitch stories, distribute press releases, and send photos and logos. That way, they can use bits and pieces as they like.”

Other firms use a combination of hard copy and electronic communications. Tom Swanson, principal of Swanson-PRI, a Charlotte, NC, based firm says, “The craft of journalism is traditional and conservative, with attention to detail and use of language.” He says email is slowly being adopted by the media. Depending on local journalists’ preference, he may use a combination of pitch letters, CD-ROMs for images and press releases, and email with embedded images.

E-mail saves his clients money. In addition to the costs of duplicating slides and making photocopies, its efficiencies allow him to service his accounts better, with fewer billable administrative hours each month. Swanson said it’s “an interesting time to be in the business.” The improved productivity from this technology “elevates the opportunity for a sole practitioner to compete with the larger firms for the largest clients.”

For PR firms, media lists are the foundation of their business. Like any business’ customer list, it’s the biggest asset. Although Bacon’s was cited as a good directory for compiling mailing addresses, email addresses change so frequently that publicists still spend plenty of time calling the press to update contact information. Beatty adds, “There are public email addresses and private ones.”

E-mail is a boon for crisis management. Publicists sometimes have as little as 10 minutes before a news report goes live. Once a client makes a comment to the press, they can send email to every media source in the nation to make sure everyone gets the story right.

They all agree the subject line is key. Good publicists know exactly what specific journalists are working on and write highly targeted subject lines to spark interest. Subject lines can’t be cutesy. They must convey exactly what’s covered in the email. Krueger concludes, “An email with a creative subject line coming from a trusted source means there’s a good chance it will get opened.”

And that’s half the battle.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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