There is nothing a busy journalist hates more than receiving reams
of unsolicited press releases, and the situation is even worse when the
information is delivered in a format the recipient does not like dealing
While some journalists love e-mail, others favour hard copy. The problem
for PR people is that these likes and dislikes are individual, but
getting the delivery mechanism wrong can dull a winning message.
If the issue seems trivial, ponder the true tale of a journalist on a
top daily national newspaper who returned from a two-week break and
responded to his 2,000 or so pending e-mail messages by deleting the
Indeed, to enable journalists to write rather than answer the telephone
and e-mails for a living, publications have started to fight back. The
Financial Times, for instance, has introduced an editorial fax-back
service, listing which journalist is writing what.
So how can you ensure that you fire a direct shot to an individual
journalist, and guarantee your message doesn’t sink without trace in the
in-tray of the wrong person?
For many, the solution is to use a professional list-broker who has a
team of researchers dedicated to keeping contact details up to date.
PR Newswire Europe has a rolling programme of verification to ensure its
records of contacts and how the contacts prefer to receive information,
are as accurate as possible.
But with well over 100,000 entries, maintaining an up-to-the-minute
pan-European database involves prioritising.
’We have a system which runs from weekly checks with City news desks to
six monthly contact with less popular titles,’ says PR Newswire Europe
director of research and development Bill Leaske. ’Then, laid across
that is a three-tier country split, where the UK, Germany, France, Italy
and Spain are priority one and The Vatican City and the Faroe Islands,
for example, are priority three.’
While all the leading directory publishers rely on telephone contact and
questionnaires to keep their information fresh, they are also proactive
in their research efforts.
Media Information, which produces directories Mediadisk - on CD-Rom -
and Editors - in hard copy brochure form - encourages its researchers to
monitor the media for movers and shakers. And for organisations which
use the on-line edition of Mediadisk, each day’s updates can be
downloaded within 24 hours.
However, Media Information sales and marketing manager Paul Mitchinson
says that providing information has become more strategic and less
’We examine the preferences of a particular publication and find out not
only which delivery mechanisms they like, but also what kind of stories:
be it case studies, personal interviews or short news items,’ he
In a bid to stop alienating journalists by pushing information that may
be irrelevant, his organisation set up internet newswire service PR net,
which now has more than 5,000 registered journalists. ’Because people
are e-mailed with information on topics they have requested, this means
they can pull the news stories which interest them the most,’ he
But not everyone likes e-mailed press releases and directory producers
are circusmspect about providing e-mail addresses to PROs.
Although no comprehensive surveys have been carried out, the general
feeling is that, on the whole, e-mail is journalists’ least preferred
Journalists seem to react differently according to the arena in which
they work. The majority of IT and hi-tech journalists, for example, are
happy to receive press releases by e-mail, but others are more wary,
according to Colin Taylor, marketing manager for the PiMS directory.
’The national dailies want their information by fax so it doesn’t clog
up their e-mail, which they use for contacting the people they are
writing about. We always advise PROS not to send a mailing to
journalists by e-mail unless they have the recipients’ permission.’
But in niche markets, agencies often have a relationship with
journalists which enables a higher degree of personal contact. In these
circumstances, PiMs creates a customised list, integrating private fax
lines or personal e-mail addresses with the records it holds on
Many specialist agencies find commercial directories and distribution
lists a good starting point for unfamiliar territory, but put far
greater store by their own knowledge.
’What separates an excellent contacts list from a good one is
tailoring,’ says Tony Langham, joint managing director of financial
agency Lansons Communications. The irony is that the proliferation of
information channels has meant the PR industry needs to go back to
old-fashioned communication skills.
Delivery of press releases is a hot issue at Lansons. The agency makes a
concerted effort to make sure journalists are happy about the way they
’The more journalists are deluged with releases and the more ways there
are for delivery, the harder it is to communicate without talking to
them first,’ says Langham.
One of the reasons the specialist PR sector has grown over recent years
is the increasing need for more intelligent relations with niche
opinion-formers. But targeting messages efficiently can also have
repercussions on costs.
Text 100 UK managing director Katie Kemp says: ’Four years ago, our
postage bill was about pounds 10,000 to pounds 15,000 each month; now
it’s down to around pounds 3,000 to pounds 5,000.’
The money spent on Text’s technology infrastructure may have eaten into
these savings, but Kemp says the internet has affected the need to send
out press releases at all.
’With the internet, there is more of a need to tailor information, to
truly understand exactly what a journalist needs, and service specific
publications,’ she says.
However, she adds that as the IT sector grows, so it becomes more
time-consuming to maintain good media relations. ’Most technology
journalists are used to very personalised service,’ she says. ’Five
years ago we’d speak to maybe 50 journalists each day, while now we
speak to around 200.’
Text 100 has carried out an annual survey for the past four years to
find out how hi-tech journalists like to receive releases. The last
survey of 2,000 regular contacts, carried out last September, revealed
an increasing acceptance of e-mail. ’At first, only 30 per cent of our
contacts wanted to use e-mail, but that’s risen to around 60 per cent.
But then, that still leaves a lot who don’t like, and don’t use, the
medium,’ says Kemp.
To keep consultants aware of the demands of working in the media as well
as how they prefer to receive information, Sara Render, CEO of Kinross
and Render, encourages her staff to produce published work on a regular
Many of the agency’s staff are ex-journalists, who write for a variety
of publications in topics related to their PR work or their clients.
To ensure the right journalist receives the right information, the
agency stores individual records on writers’ interests and media pulling
’We only actually contact people when we have something to say,’ says
A fringe benefit of this system is that the agency is able to identify
media rogues, the people who agree to briefings but fail to attend or go
on trips they never write up.
The advent of e-mail has forced PR practitioners - and contact directory
producers - to look hard at how they get information to journalists. It
may be quick, direct and cost-effective, but its personal nature also
means it cannot be assumed to be alright to use for press releases.
But with the help of directories, PR practitioners can start to take
more responsibility for the mode of distribution of their messages.
Journalists may still be bombarded with press releases, but at least
they are starting to receive them in the way they want.
LIFESTYLE APPEAL TARGETING STYLE-INFLUENCERS FOR ADDED HYPE
While companies such as PiMS and Media Information can provide targeted
lists of journalists according to media specialisation, there is now a
growing demand for even more niche products.
There are many internet-based services - such as The Source - for
gaining access to hi-tech journalists, but for many campaigns, there is
a need to reach beyond traditional media boundaries.
For lifestyle campaigns, where opinion-formers can come from any walk of
life, targeting the right market can be tricky as young consumers are
increasingly able to identify when brands are making an appeal to their
In March, youth marketing agency Third Planet launched its Endorse
database to help reach into the minds of this group. There are now more
than 1,000 contacts on the list.
’You name it, we know them,’ says Third Planet managing partner Geoff
Glendenning. ’We’ve got the top 200 DJs, club promoters, skaters,
snowboarders, record labels, artists, management companies, musicians
and TV presenters.’ The list is also broken down into sections by
interest to enable more selective targeting.
The database was initially tested last year as part of the marketing
strategy for Activision’s video game Tenchu. The agency used its
exclusive contact details to hand-deliver sample games to
style-influencers. And while the likes of a major celebrity such as pop
star Jay Kay of Jamiroquai - a games console fan - is unlikely to ever
make free with his home address, Glendenning claims feedback shows the
technique means products do reach the right people, even if through
Michele Marchand, product manager at Activision was pleased with the
role Endorse had on Tenchu’s impact on the market. ’The level of
awarenesss that surrounded Tenchu at launch was brilliant - the Endorse
database proved really effective,’ she says.
However, Glendenning is the first to admit the database is only one
element in a campaign’s success. While he believes ’creating word of
mouth among a cynical market is key to the future of marketing,’ he
emphasises that it can only act as a kickstart for a marketing
initiative and achieves impact by very selective usage. And to protect
the product from slipping into the shoddier end of direct marketing, the
agency reserves the right to only use its database where it feels it is
BLOCKED LINE MANY JOURNALISTS FIND E-MAILS TOO BOTHERSOME
The electronic revolution may have changed our lives, but a telephone
audit of writers in various sectors of the media has revealed that not
all journalists like to receive press releases by e-mail.
Tom Leonard, media editor of the Daily Telegraph says his preference for
dealing with PR releases is by fax. ’You can look at faxes at your
leisure, whereas telephone calls always come at the wrong time and you
have to go and look for e-mails,’ he says. However, his greatest
bug-bear is telephone calls, ’especially ones which begin by asking
whether we have a media page’, he says.
For most journalists, the criteria for delivery preference is governed
by the volume of information they receive that is way off-beam.
Michael Dempsey, a regular contributor to the Financial Times on IT
issues implores people not to send him press releases. ’I only want to
hear about something when I’m writing about it,’ he says. In common with
many freelancers, he is also reluctant to download large e-mail files of
unknown origin. ’It’s easier for staff writers, as they can fire huge
files at their servers,’ he says. ’But if there are graphics attached,
many freelancers can be wrestling with their PC for hours, or even find
they’re importing viruses.’
Reed Business Information has taken the issue by the horns. Computer
Weekly features editor Ian Mitchell says the company holds seminars for
PROs on the sort of information and the formats the nine IT titles at
’We recognise PR people have a role to play in providing the information
we require,’ he says. ’We have a manageable system which works for both
sides where we send all the UK hi-tech PR companies information on the
features we’ve commissioned, with details of the journalists involved,
and how to contact them.’