While going through some old documents I came across an article I’d written in 1999 about best practices for email press releases. I thought I’d share it—the story is a fun look back at the early days of online media relations.
I started doing online public relations in 1995, and from 1996 to 2000 I managed an online PR team and helped run an email press release service called Internet News Bureau that was eventually acquired by Internet.com.
By 1999, we’d been sending press releases via email for several years, and this article was meant to help others avoid some of the pitfalls of pitching the media in this way.
I’m not sure when “press release optimization” became a common concept, but it wasn’t being used at that time. Our main focus was direct delivery to journalists via email. (As a side note “e-mail” was the more common spelling then, as the Associated Press Stylebook
did not standardize “email”
until this year).
One thing I enjoyed is that I called out the use of terms like “unique” and “revolutionary,” as I’m still doing that now in posts like “The Most Overused Buzzwords and Marketing Speak in Press Releases
” and “PR Filter Shows Press Release Buzzword Abuse Still Prevalent
It’s also interesting that the common-sense concepts haven’t changed much, nor were they new at the time. Communication vehicles continue to evolve, but the fundamentals remain largely the same.
So without further ado, here is my article on “e-mail” press release best practices from 1999:
E-mail Press Releases: Dos and Don’ts
by Adam Sherk, VP Internet Public Relations, Multimedia Marketing Group; October 20, 1999
Sending press releases via e-mail can be a great marketing tool—if you do it right. As with offline media relations, you need to cater to your press contacts just as much as your clients. With this in mind, I’ve put together some basic tips for writing and distributing e-mail press releases:
Keep it short: Online journalists are bombarded by e-mail; long, wordy releases will often fall victim to the delete key. It’s best to use short paragraphs, as they are easier on the eyes in an e-mail.
Get to the point right away, and skip all the fluffy PR stuff. Avoid words like “unique” and “revolutionary”—they’ve heard it all too many times.
Proper e-mail formatting is essential. If your release comes through as gibberish or with over-wrapped lines, it will never be read, and worse, it will annoy the journalists. The safest way is to keep it simple: left justified with hard line breaks at 65 characters or less.
Don’t use special characters like the trademark symbol. A lot of e-mail programs read them fine, but not all of them, so why take the chance? Instead use text abbreviations, like: [tm].
Also, it’s best to compose a release in your e-mail program instead of a word-processing program. Even basic things like quotation marks from a word-processing program can come through as gibberish in someone else’s e-mail program.
Avoid the temptation to send attachments, even if the file is small. You don’t know how it will come through on the other end. A long download—or worse, a mail server crash—will not endear you to the “victimized” journalist. Instead provide a URL where they can view, download, or do what ever you’d like them to do.
Don’t just blast out your release to every journalist’s e-mail address that you can find. Avoid sending unsolicited releases (it’s still spam) and make sure that your material will be relevant to each individual journalist.
Unsure what a journalist covers? Ask. A short e-mail can do tremendous good. With one message, you can find out what they are interested in, get permission to send them material, and best of all, build a relationship.
Another good option is using an established online distribution service with a subscription-based list.
A version of this story first appeared on the author’s blog.