Obscure Box

Thoughts from inside the obscure box

March 10, 2009

Will the PR industry please take note

Posted by : Michael Lund
George Washington University

George Washington University

A survey found its way to my inbox that makes interesting reading.

"How the Press Uses and Values Public Relations and Other Media Resources" is the joint work of the George Washington University in the US and a company called Cision.

The Swedish-based company company  (no idea how to pronounce its name) describes itself as a "leading global partner in media intelligence".



The study aimed to find out what resources journalists use to get their stories, and how the public relations industry should adapt to tap into that use of resources.

The journalists were asked how often they would use a particular resource in a typical month, and the results are quite interesting.

  • Websites - 100%
  • Submissions from PR professionals - 94%
  • Press kits - 87%
  • Conferences and Events - 85%
  • Industry Newswires - 81%
  • Trade Journals - 80%
  • Blogs - 79%
  • Social Networking Sites - 50%
  • Podcasts - 35%

Interesting also that no one said they used their own contacts as a resource, but then the survey probably never asked.

Some in the PR industry seem to think journalists exist purely to keep the PR industry employed and entertained.

Funny that. Most journalists think it works the other way.

It's important to point out that this survey was not done by a journalism department at the university, or a journalism company.

It's a joint effort of the university's Graduate School of Political Management Strategic Public Relations Program and a company involved in public relations.

So let's hope then that the public relations industry takes note of some of the findings. In particular the methods some PR people use to try to get a journalist's attention.

Cision's Ruth McFarland, the senior vice president of research and publisher, seems to get the point in the company's media release "National Survey Finds Journalists Use Traditional Newsgathering Sources Just as Extensively as Online Sources".

"Many of the traditional complaints by journalists about too much ‘hype’ and e-mail ‘spam’ from the PR community came through loud and clear on the verbatim commentary to the open-ended questions."

When it comes to receiving unsolicited e-mails from PR people pitching a story idea, about 57% of the 744-or so journalists who replied said they would "“definitely prefer” text only e-mails. No attachments please.

Some (43%) would accept links to websites and some (42%) would accept a graphic or photo.
Overall though the preference is for simple text.

So why does my inbox get clogged all the time by e-mails with huge attachments? Why do I have to bring my PC to a virtual halt as it struggles to open all the extra documents. Sometimes you can't even open them?

Some of the comments from the journalists who responded are very apt.

"Keep file size small. Large attachments mean the entire email gets dumped because of my inbox restrictions. Approach me before the product (if it's a product) comes to market."

"A blanket press release e-mail sent to a bunch of reporters is far more likely to be ignored. The offer of exclusivity, however minor, even a throwaway quote that isn't included in the release, would pique anyone's interest more."

"Be concise and get to the point quickly. Be more personal. The person pitching the idea should know about my publication."

"Besides presenting the 5 Ws in the lead, make sure you are sending it to the right department. I am an arts and entertainment editor, but I get things for sports, faith, and news."

"Catchy, more clear subject lines. Cut to the chase quicker. And, in my case, stress early on if there's a LOCAL angle. Photos/graphics on request only, as this clogs up my email and is annoying."

"Do not use my first name in an informal manner as if we were old friends. Let me know upfront I'm being pitched. Do not condescend to me with unfounded scary statistics and Chicken Little B.S. Do a little research to see if I'm the fish you want to catch."

"Don't send huge attachments, put the text of a press release in the body of the email (instead of attaching a word document) and provide a link to an online gallery where the press release and images can be downloaded."

"Don't try to write a story angle for me. Put the most newsworthy facts up front, get me a handful of experts/stakeholders to talk to, and let me write it."

"Get PR pros who are trained and seasoned professionals to the make the calls to the press, not 24-year-old account execs who call reporters and sound like they're reading from the press release (because that's exactly what they're doing half the time)."

"I don't want someone's ideas, I just want them to give me the information and let me decide what to do with it. The less fluff in the release the better."

"I get a LOT of email blasts from agencies on topics that have nothing to do with our area of coverage. It's a waste of our time and their clients' money. Professionals who take the time to pitch a story relevant to our audience always get our attention."

On and on the comments go and I'd have to say as a journalist with two decades experience, one who has seen the PR industry grow into something that has people who can either be useful or a complete pain in the a***, I would have to agree with every comment.

Especially this.

"I will ignore any pitch that is badly written, doesn't give me a clear idea what the subject company actually does, or doesn't apply to my audience...so it's important to master those three areas."

My thanks, appreciation and respect for those in PR who take the time to understand how a journalist works, and how I work.

To the rest. Please take time to read the findings of this survey. After all, the PR industry sends me enough "a survey says" material, so why not take some of your own advice.

And next time you want to pitch an idea to me, send a plain and simple text e-mail with no attachments and make sure you know the organisation I'm working for, the sort of stories it's interested in and the sort of stories I tend to do.

2 Comments so far ...

Hi Michael,

Thank you for including the GWU/Cision study on your blog. Just as an FYI, you pronounce Cision as you would the second half of the word de-cision!

Comment on March 12, 2009 12:30 am
2. Russell Merryman

I hope you are right about the "own contacts" category not appearing in the results, otherwise this is an appalling indictment on the standard of modern journalism.

Comment on April 2, 2009 07:05 pm
(will not be published) (required)

Just so you know…

All thoughts and comments here are the honestly held personal opinion of Michael Lund and are based on the information available at the time of publication.