After spending yet another maddening evening cleaning up my email, I realized that many of the messages clogging my inbox stemmed from oversize attachments, press releases completely unrelated to my beat, and back-and-forth banter that could have been avoided with one phone call. As a journalist, I find that at least 75 percent of my e-mails are related to public relations.
Below are seven simple steps to streamline our communication, respect my inbox, and make both of our jobs easier.
1. Know thy reporter. Make an effort to reach out to reporters and know what exactly they’re looking for in regard to sources and story ideas. If one specifically covers transportation issues, don’t send him a press release on the hottest new lipstick. This may seem like an obvious request, but you don’t know how many irrelevant pitches (and follow-up “Are you going to report on this?” e-mails) I receive daily.
2. Lay off the large attachments. I know one PR exec who routinely sends me press releases with 12 MB or more in images, PDFs and Word documents. Not only does this mean slower loading time and a clogged inbox, but my BlackBerry displays the dreaded “Message truncated due to size” error. I once missed timely reporting on a major real estate transaction because I couldn’t view the e-mail immediately while on the road. Consider an online sharing service such as Dropbox for larger files, an FTP link, or setting up a media page on your client’s website for journalists to download larger files.
3. Include pertinent media. If you have a great photo or video related to a pitch or press release, send it in the original e-mail (preferably linked, as per No. 2). It will save us both time in trying to get everything we need for a story.
4. Understand media requirements. Print and online publications have different needs when it comes to images. Learn about DPI, size, orientation, and file types. And learn how to edit images and videos. It’s irksome to receive a 72 DPI, Web-ready image with JPEG artifacts and obvious stretching, when the publication really needs a high-resolution TIFF to fill half a magazine page. Don’t understand that last sentence? You need to. Take a class, or consult an art/media director.
5. Keep it simple. Stick with basic file types when sending images or documents. Not all e-mail clients, word processors and smartphones accept all document types. One increasingly used format is Microsoft’s *.docx file, a standard in Microsoft Office 2007 and above. If your recipient has a version of Word that came out before 2007, he may have to download additional software or use a conversion tool to read the file. Not everyone has updated software or a current smartphone, so it’s best to stick with the more commonly used *.doc file or a PDF.
6. Back away from the priority function. Know which e-mails are important and which ones are not. One PR exec marks every single e-mail she sends me as high priority, even though 90 percent of her e-mails aren’t exactly urgent. Generally, e-mails marked high priority mean the recipient should read your message as soon as possible. It’s perfectly acceptable if you’re on deadline, have to change a last-minute interview, or need to clarify an important point. It’s not suitable for a general pitch or press release. If you overuse the priority function, the true meaning of the red exclamation point in your inbox is diluted.
7. Don’t forget your contact information. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to track down a PR exec’s contact information, especially when an e-mail is sent from a general e-mail account. Please include your e-mail and phone number, if possible, so we know how to reach you with questions or requests. In many instances, one phone call can replace six back-and-forth e-mails.