THINKPIECE: E-mail: use it wisely, but remember that good mediarelationships need a personal touch

PR execs know that e-mail is essential in media relations, and in

fact, most journalists prefer to be contacted by e-mail rather than by

phone or fax. But although e-mail is a convenient way to reach the

press, PR practitioners must remember that good media relationships also

require that extra personal touch.

Recently, I surveyed 360 journalists and 244 PR practitioners about

their use of e-mail. Journalists love e-mail because it speeds the

process of reporting, and helps them work more efficiently.

It is faster, cheaper, and easier than phone, mail, or fax. PR people

love e-mail for many of these same reasons. It shrinks our world,

allowing us to communicate with the media across geographical boundaries

and time zones.

Clearly, in media relations e-mail is here to stay. But over half of the

PR people I surveyed agree that e-mail cannot replace face-to-face,

telephone, or other kinds of communication. Media relations involves

good working relationships. Such relationships may include a chat over

coffee, a phone call, a letter, or a tour.

PR people must not lose sight of this. It is easy to be seduced by the

convenient isolation of a computer, where we can create our message,

fire it off into cyberspace, then move on to other tasks. And for the

timid, e-mail is safer. The impersonal rejection of a faceless message

on a computer screen is less ego-bruising than listening to a real, live

reporter tell you, "No, I'm not interested."

We've gained a lot with e-mail, but we're losing something too. We're

losing personal contact. Yet, good media relationships require a

personal touch. Maintaining such relationships may require talking to

reporters, participating in the give and take of a stimulating

conversation, or reacting to an awkward pause or tone of voice.

So, let's stop thinking about e-mail as a new method of communication

that has replaced the old methods. Let's think of it as a way of

enhancing those methods. E-mails exchanged prior to a phone call can

help shorten the call, making it more efficient. E-mails exchanged after

a face-to-face meeting with a reporter can help clarify points.

E-mail is an indispensable media relations tool, and as PR people, we

need to learn to use it wisely and effectively. But the bottom line, as

one PR person said, is: "You have to build rapport and trust. It's not

just sending an e-mail."

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