Several years ago, the elderly Press Pelease passed away of misuse and digital neglect. Sadly, the middle-aged Email followed suit, apparently murdered by the nefarious and evil Spam. And the recent ground shattering news that the youthful, and seemingly vibrant, Blogging took its own life has rocked the blogosphere. And um, I really hate to be the one to break the bad news, but apparently web 2.0 in it’s entirety, is, uh, dead!
For a gal who is a self confessed email geek, fully drenched in the world of digital press releases and a neophyte blogger this news is staggering. Fortunately, just as I was about to buy that new black dress for yet another funeral I discovered that the demise of Fill-in-the-blank was greatly exaggerated. Press Release, Email, Blogging, Web 2.0 and apparently Elvis are all alive and kicking, although perhaps being pushed to become more innovative. (Elvis improves his act with a new job at the DEA!)
Now I’m no doctor (or mortician as the case may be) and others are much wiser than I in the ways of social media and blogging. But I really do know a few things about press releases and email and can shed some light on their illnesses and potential cures…
Press Release Diagnosis- This one is pretty simple. Traditional press release distribution methods do not serve the needs of journalists. The first rule of press releases should be give them what they want, how they want it. (Indeed, that was a major point of Tom Foremski’s original article–a point he underlined in a recent discussion with us.) Newsroom resources have decreased dramatically, just as additional web responsibilities demand more work, so good PR people are filling the gap by delivering media rich and relevant releases directly to the journalists on their list.
Given the growth and value of social media, press releases can now move beyond generating traditional exposure and garner on-line exposure too by using appropriate social media enhancements and search.
So what’s the cure? What resource exists out there that will let PR professionals build and distribute multi-media releases, add appropriate social media elements, load releases with all the info a journalist (or blogger) would want so that they can pick and choose without spending their own valuable time tracking down necessary info, and deliver it all directly to the target audience? The answer is clear (come on people, are you going to make me say it?) but it leads us to the next subject of diagnosis–email (hint: it’s harder than you think!):
Email has some challenges to be sure, but there is a cure. The symptoms of email’s problems are 3 fold:
1. Email has indeed become old school! Unlike social media, blogs and even search, email seems to have reached boring middle age. But sometimes with age comes wisdom and an acceptance that the sexiest solution isn’t necessarily the most effective. In spite of the excitement surrounding “newer” media, email is still the “digital glue” that holds new media communications tactics together. (I mean after all, if someone sends you a Direct Message from a social media site it usually just lands in your inbox, giving you one more thing to click!)
Recently, we’ve seen some high profile bloggers, such as Chris Brogan, add e-newsletters to the mix or even, in the case of Jason Calcanis, shut down the blog and move to an e-newsletter format, arguing that blogging is dead and email is more intimate–a move that invited some interesting responses. And Jason is right, email, when done right, is highly user-centric. It lands right where we all work and organize our lives and it lets recipients archive and reply on their own time frame. This is something we see from back end analytics every day as journalists revisit old releases again and again when the topic is useful for them. Email’s message? “Get to me on your own time. I’ll just be here waiting.”
2. Email metrics are flawed: Conversations, like one going on right now on Jason Falls’ blog, point out that email metrics are less accurate due to the fact that senders can only track recipients who view images; thus, open rates overlook people who routinely block them or view on handhelds. The point is entirely valid and generally accurate as I have discussed before. But the true value of permission based and relevant email does not lie in the metrics, although that has long been touted as a benefit of HTML email, and still is, in spite of its declining accuracy: considering the available metrics of virtually any other form of communication and email metrics still rank very high.
The true value of email is in the conversation senders can have with recipients, in the information provided, in its speed and richness and, in the case of New Media Releases, in the pick-up generated by handing all the elements of a story directly to the right person in a digital format. (One day soon I plan to post something about the many great pick-up stories we hear from clients and the responses we see from journalists simply saying thanks for making their lives easier.)
3. Deliverability. There is one additional problem, and associated prescription. This one has been largely ignored by the PR community (mostly because it’s just plain boring): deliverability. The little known fact is that only about 75% of email gets to the inbox. When it comes to email communications, all research points to one thing: everything is connected! Content, delivery, design, preview pane view, list, subject lines, timing and rendering all matter because the elements of “good email” don’t exist in a vacuum and they aren’t executed by accident. Getting your email delivered to the people you’re trying to reach can be a challenge, even when you have the email addresses and capabilities in hand.
For this, there is a cure (albeit not so fun to read but carry on if you’re brave or genuinely interested):
- Make sure your sender does extensive pre-send spam and browser testing (and tells you when there is a problem)
- Make sure your sender manages their on-line reputation. One easy way to do that is to ask them what ESP (email service provider) and DSP (deliverability service provider) they use. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t use them!
- Make sure your sender can share analytic info with you. If they can’t, they’re probably using some free on-line service prone to blacklisting and on-line reputation problems which means lower delivery rates for you. (Guess what folks, if it’s free/cheap there is a reason for it). Also, from the perspective of a sender, analytics are useful for figuring out when you have a problem so you can take steps quickly to fix it so senders who monitor this data are more likely to be aware of, and fixing, any issues.
- Make sure your sender is white-listed with major ISPs at a minimum (and, if you’re sending releases, with major media outlets as well).
- Make sure your sender knows their own deliverability rate in general (ours is 96.5%) and can tell you the deliverability rate of your project as well as suggest solutions if it’s lower than their average.
- Make sure your sender knows how to design for email, a subject I’ve discussed elsewhere. Not to beat a dead horse, but all elements of your email should be visible through the preview pane with images blocked. And ideally, the branding should be yours/your clients, not the senders.
What I hope you’ll take out of this rambling post is that press releases, if done right, are alive and kicking, valuable tools for journalists and PR professionals alike. And one excellent way to maximize them is to harness the dynamic but complext capabilities of email, warts and all. Ultimately, in the words of Chris Brogan straight from my inbox this morning, “do what works for you.” We have clients who have us build digital releases and then send the URL addresses via snail mail to journalists, others have us build them but send the addresses in their own personalized emails, others post the links on various social media sites, some add SEO and social media elements but some don’t want the web presence, some have great success with video while others avoid it. Experiment with what works but always keep the requirements and challenges of your target audience in mind.
So, rather than shop for sympathy cards, you might want to send Email and Press Release a nice new toaster for their upcoming nuptials (stainless steel is preferred). Not dead after all, just getting married (there is a free PWR light-up pen in the mail for anyone who makes a joke about the redundancy of death and marriage!)