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Trade Shows + Email + PR People = Journalists' Wrath

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

A recent article by Bruce Headlam in The New York Times provided an analysis of email as well as guidelines on how to email like a CEO.  He starts the article off by noting that the killer-app of the Internet is email with more than 6.1 billion messages being sent -- daily.

After reading that fact we didn’t feel quite as bad that on an average day, we only receive about 200 email messages.

About 15 percent are industry newsletters we have requested in order to stay current in our clients’ industries.  Another 15 percent are junkmail.  Most of the remaining 140+/- are from clients, editors, reporters and industry analysts that require intelligent, immediate attention.  At the same time, we generate at least the same number, which often go to two or more individuals.

Multiply this by the rapidly growing number of suddenly connected people around the globe and we’re talking about a serious volume of correspondence whizzing around the globe.

Good News, Bad News

The good news is the Internet infrastructure is holding up beautifully.

The bad news?

Ask any journalist. Most will tell you they are flooded with 300-400 emails a day and that the volume shoots up dramatically when there is an upcoming trade show.

We dared to broach the subject during a non-business dinner with eight trade and business journalists at a recent trade show. You would have thought we threw a piece of raw meat in a pond of crocodiles.

It wasn’t a pretty sight but it did make the evening fly by.

The next day we asked two of the dinner guests we have known for years to send us 15 of their “winners” if they would when they got back home. After reviewing this unscientific sample we can appreciate why PR people always seem to rate right down there with lawyers when journalists are surveyed.

Rather than repeat the timeworn complaints, perhaps we can drive the message home more effectively by using some of the samples we received from our editors/reporters.

To avoid embarrassing any individual or organization, we have eliminated names but have kept the rest of the email queries intact.

Honest Examples #1
Subject:  XYZ Show

Please see attached product, which will debut at XYZ.

Signature block

Visit ABC at booth #i6467 in the Sands Expo & Convention Center during
XYZ 2001 in Las Vegas, April 23-26 http://www….

Document name. Final.doc


--------------
Product Name @ show name


Show name PDF-X Checkup.pdf

Signature block
Short messages.

To the point without a lot of song and dance.

A complete waste of time and effort for the company and the PR person.

Why?

You may not have gotten the word but most journalists won’t open attachments from people they don’t know. Even then they often send back a message saying they have thrown away the attachment.  If it was indeed sent by the individual would he or she check the file for viruses and resend it. 

We have news for you people. There are bad people out there doing bad things…just for the thrill of it!  One of those things is the creation of viruses.  Once the file is open the virus is free to have its way with your computer.  That usually means eating or destroying any or all files stored on your hard drive.

Really great viruses do their dirty work and automatically launch themselves to everyone in your email directory so they can attack the next unsuspecting or stupid computer user.  These prankster or vicious efforts cost businesses billions of dollars in lost data and productivity every year.

Get the picture? We hope so!

Honest Examples #2
Subject:  Show Appointments

Greetings….
(Agency name) is currently setting up booth appointments for the (show name) 2001 in Las Vegas.  Our clients are showcasing an array of new and exciting technologies designed specifically for the (specific industry).  Please take a moment to glance at the product descriptions below.  This year our clients include: (names of five companies)
 

We look forward to seeing you at the show. 
Signature

(Following were six pages of company/product descriptions.  At the end of each was a place for the journalist to select the day and time for a meeting.  Then blanks for the name, title and publication to be filled in.  The journalist was then instructed to fax back the completed form or call for additional information.)
--------------------- 
Subject:  (company name) at (show name)


I hope all is well at (publication name).


(Executive’s name, title, company) would like to schedule a meeting with you at (show).  He’d like to overview (product name) with you, which enable broadband and Internet service providers to deliver broadcast-quality video and audio on a large scale.


In addition, (company’s name) has recently formed alliances with (names of five companies) that you might find of interest.


(Editor’s name) please complete the following itinerary so we may confirm a meeting with you:
 

Company: (name)
Booth Number: 1234
Meeting Time: (                  )  please insert a preferable time
Meeting date: (               )  please insert a preferable date here


(Company name) will announce the availability of their enterprise-level, end-to-end streaming solution…..


Very cordially yours,
Signature block

--------------------

Subject:  MEDIA ADVISORY: (company name) at (show name)


MEDIA ADVISORY: (company name) at (show name)


Please be advised that (names of two executives) will be attending (but not exhibiting at) show name on (specific day).


If you are interested in speaking with (executives names) about the (product name) or their newest users (company names), please let us know your preferred time(s) on (day) and email or fax back to us the form below.  We’ll be back in touch shortly to confirm.
 

Editorial meeting request


(name of executives and titles)


Name:
Title:
Publication:
Phone number:
Preferred time:


Signature block

At first blush you may feel these are good alternatives to phone or email tag but the editors at the dinner, those who sent the examples and we don’t agree.

In addition to being six pages long, the first example was simply an overview of the company and its product areas, not a zeroed in focus on what is new and might be interesting to the press.  It isn’t the journalists’ job to dig out the news.  It’s the PR person’s job to be a news source to the journalist by giving him or her a news hook and doing the basic legwork.  They simply don’t respond well to uninspired pitches that lack a solid understanding of the media they are pitching.

In the second example we’re glad the PR person was so interested in the wellbeing of the journalist and his or her publication.

But then PR person stumbled by saying the executive would like to schedule a meeting to overview a product, which does marvelous things.  We can’t determine if the product is new, different, improved or what.  To provide added credibility the PR person gives the company an implied endorsement by dropping major companies in the industry.

Again we make the editor or reporter fill in the blanks so the PR person may confirm a meeting.

Finally, at the very end of the email the PR person tells the recipient what the company is going to announce at the show, the features, capabilities and the benefits.

This is not exactly what we would call fundamental journalism by burying the worthwhile news at the end of the message.

The third example tells us not once, not twice but three times this is an advisory and that a senior executive from the company will be visiting the show even though the firm won’t be exhibiting  but only for one day.

If you’re interested in speaking with the executive about the product and two new customers all you need to do is fill out the form and fax or email it back.  Then…they will be in touch.

It is not the journalists’ job to do the PR person’s job.  You can position and strategize all you want but if the tactics don’t get carried out you’ve wasted the company’s time and money as well as the journalists and journalists have long memories.

Honest Example #3

Six of the examples were similar:
Subject:  Meet or Let’s Meet at (Show Name)
To:  two pages of email addresses  obviously every reporter, editor or analyst who had registered for the show.
Somewhere at the end of this email contact directory was a pitch. It could have been good, it could have been bad. No one read it!

First of all, there are a number of very excellent and very economic email recipient merge products available that will “personalize” your email to the specific individual.  Direct mail organizations use them all the time.

Are these individuals any smarter than people who have been trained in media relations and the importance of capturing a journalist’s attention quickly and effectively? We don’t think so.

If you can’t afford or can’t master one of these simple to use products there is an easy alternative anyone can master.  Send the email to yourself or another member of your organization.  Then put the complete email list in the bcc (blind carbon copy) section of the memo form.  This supresses the names so they aren’t visible when the message is received.  Any person with any brains at all will know what you have done but at least you don’t force them to read the names of all the recipients (colleagues and competitors) before they get to your “important and personal” message to him or her.

Because it is important to keep key people informed of activities and important news we use the bcc regularly sending the message to our primary client contact and sending copies to other senior people here in the U.S. and around the globe.

It’s a very useful tool for internal correspondence because senior people internationally are instantly kept abreast of competitive activity, key industry trends and announcements, press efforts and results as well as strategic and tactical plans and activities.  Thanks to email geographic and hierarchical distance are eliminated.


Back to Headlam

While Headlam in his Times article notes that the Internet and email have enabled us to now communicate at the speed of light, they have done nothing to improve the quality of the communications.

Just because you can suddenly get your message directly to a specific editor, reporter or analyst doesn’t mean you are doing a good job as a publicist or PR professional.  If you can’t contact them with news, ideas and substance that are of interest to their audience you become nothing more than a distracting nuisance.  If you can’t give them an engaging story idea without all of the tired jargon, you can rest assured that they will not do your work for you.

Since the beginning of time PR people have been under pressure to produce results.  In today’s economy with companies, publications, web sites and people being culled in record numbers; the pressure is even more intense.  At the same time, news wells in publications are shrinking.

But in good times or bad, long-term professional relationships will always yield better results.  Doing your part to ensure that the email scoreboard breaks 7 billion -- per day -- isn’t the way relationships are built!

© Copyright 2001, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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