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."