Reality check for PR people from a veteran TV network correspondent

Press releases were first delivered or sent by mail. Then, by fax. With the advent of email, press releases became their own form of Internet spam. Many news organizations today use special email spam filters, such as SpamSieve, designed to trash press releases. The common denominator among most releases is that very few contain news. Veteran TV network correspondent Greg Dobbs writes in this guest column that he seeks stories, not self-promotional fluff:

By Greg Dobbs.

As a journalist, I’ve been on the receiving end of news releases for more than 40 years. They used to come by snail mail; now they come by email. But in too many cases— in most cases, in fact— that’s about the only difference. Otherwise, most of the news releases I get today are exactly like the ones I got at the start of my career: BORING.

Greg Dobbs anchoring television coverage of a NASA Shuttle launch.

Greg Dobbs anchoring television coverage of a NASA Shuttle launch.

There’s a reason why the disciplines of advertising, marketing, and public relations at American colleges and universities are folded into schools whose primary purpose is journalism: it’s all about communicating an idea. And, it’s about communicating it dynamically. For instance, a strong lead. Most of the news releases these days that come through my computer don’t just meander, they begin by meandering. Sorry, but I don’t have the time to search for the lead! So, if the news release doesn’t grab my attention in the very first sentence, my “delete” button puts it into the cyber-equivilent of the old “circular file;” the trash.

What’s worse, the world is overstocked with public relations reps who do their clients a disservice not just by wasting the time of people like me, but by actually antagonizing us with what amounts to spam. They seem to think that all they have to do is send a news release to as many addresses as possible and they’ve earned their pay. Wrong!!! Whether they are sending me information because of my work as a correspondent for a television network, or because of my side job as editor of BoomerCafé.com, if they were to stop and think even for a moment about the kinds of things that might actually attract my attention, they would know, in an equally beneficial moment, that the junk they’re sending me doesn’t.

So, when someone sends me a news release about, say, a cool new decorative case for the iPhone, or a sweet-smelling soothing oil for the skin, I used to just ignore them but not any more. Now I write back. Please believe me, rudeness is not a hallmark of my personality, but my frustration with these lazy flacks has reached the boiling point.

For example, here is something I wrote to one feckless rep shortly before I started to write this piece:

“I wish PR reps who send mass emails like this would be more considerate and go to the trouble of actually looking at the websites on your mailing list. If you had done so, you would have seen that this kind of thing has NO NO relevance to what we publish on, and that would have saved you a little time and me even more because I wouldn’t have to write this note. Please REMOVE us from your list. Thank you.”

Or, this one from a few weeks earlier:

“Since mass emails like this are useless to me, particularly when it’s obvious that no one has actually looked at my work to see what I use and require, and particularly when the emails are on subjects with absolutely no relevance to what I do, will you please immediately REMOVE me from your mailing list? Sending this kind of thing wastes your time and mine. Thank you.”

Consider this an appeal to people in public relations: Do your job. Which means more than just writing a story and sending it out. It means ensuring that the people to whom you’re sending it might actually find it useful. Not wasteful.

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