Use email better, journos tell PROs

National journalists have warned PROs against mis-using email, advising delegates at a CIPR Health & Medical Group event to keep attachments to a minimum and avoid meaningless subject lines such as ‘press release’.

The Daily Telegraph health correspondent Celia Hall told delegates last week: 'I now get 80 to 100 emails per day, but [only] a fifth of my four stories a day are from press releases.'

Daily Mail medical correspondent Jenny Hope, meanwhile, advised: 'It's useful to have a couple of quotes on a press release from a researcher: it's good to know, say, if they are "cautiously optimistic" about [trial] results or "over the moon".' 

Other thoughts included:

Daily Mail medical correspondent Jenny Hope: 
'The most news-worthy story for us is often when new side-effects [of a drug] emerge - it's the "horror story".'

'I can't tell you how busy we are: we need to know what the story is in one paragraph.' 

'A patient case study is often crucial... he or she will need to have a photo taken, and we'll want their phone details. But don't "sit on a story" if you don't have a case study: we can often find them [ourselves].'

'I am not generally up for [trialling a medical device] on a treadmill... I did all that when I was on a local paper!' 

[on the subject of the ABPI code of practice] 'Press releases can sometimes be couched in weird language, and then you often think "ooh, that must be the code...".' 

'We're not about thinking "today we're going to influence the country on whether they should take drugs." We write horror stories and miracle stories - we are very even-handed in this.' 

'Don't use jargon - for example, don't use the full-length titles of a disease.'

 'If you're promoting US research, we'll need a British talking head to tell us why it matters.'

 'The DoH [selective briefing fiasco over the flu-vaccine shortage (PRWeek, 25 November)] has soured relations [with journalists] indefinitely - it was an example of how not to do PR.'

The Daily Telegraph health correspondent Celia Hall: 
'All news stories contain two essential elements: people and controversy.' 

'It is very hard to get explanatory stories about what's going on in the health service into the [main] news pages.' 

'My newsdesk probably sees around 400 home news stories per day, from PA and the news-wires and so on. My stories are in competition with the rest of the news-room.'

'Can someone please tell me why you [PROs in general] call at four in the afternoon? We are writing our stories then and trying to keep our phonelines open. Instead phone in the morning, early afternoon or maybe after six, when we should have filed and are collecting our thoughts for the next day.'

'Perhaps the most infuriating phonecall I get [from PROs] is to ask what I thought about a press release and why I didn't use it... something two weeks old in a national news-room is frankly archaeology.'

'We do welcome a call [from a PRO] one or two days before an event or embargo, to remind us.'

'Bad PROs phone at four, ask me when my column goes in, and argue when I say "no". I say "no" more often than I say "yes"... Good PROs are never over-familiar, and don't assume a relationship with me.' 

'What makes [Roche drug] Herceptin news, is that people are being denied it.'

'I have never done the arithmetic but we probably write more stories about good news [about drugs] than bad news - but no-one ever remembers them.' 

'The best time and place to hold a press conference is around 10am in central London.... Oh, and there's a little mantra among health journalists - "the posher the venue, the crapper the story."...  Often PROs will explain that a press conference is taking place at 2pm because that's the only time the doctors could make - well, a press conference isn't for doctors, it's for us!' 

'The subject line of emails from PROs will often [uselessly] say just "press release"... and please keep your attachments down - I once had 11 in one email. It's like having to open 11 envelopes!' 

'Think of a press release as something you can get onto one side of A4. A five- or six-word headline is OK, plus four paragraphs of story summary. And also plenty of contact numbers - it is extraordinarily common to phone up a PR person [whose name is on a press release] only to be told they are on holiday, get an answerphone or be told there's no-one on the account available.' 

'Try and get press-release quotes into conversational speech, and don't use 40-word sentences that are impossible to split up.'

'The DoH [selective briefing fiasco over the flu-vaccine shortage (PRWeek, 25 November] episode was completely bizarre, extraordinarily inept and insulting to various of my colleagues.'

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