We’ve all had a journalist get a little salty with us for just doing our jobs. Maybe they didn’t like that you pitched in the first place, or maybe it was the obligatory follow-up that drove them to send a terse reply. It happens.
But if you want to take an already-crotchety journalist from 0 to 60 in one email, all you have to do is ask for a read receipt
Check that box and you can almost sense a journalist fuming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. For them, your pitch can make them feel like you’re their boss, peeking over their shoulder to make sure they are doing work at your request.
That’s just not how a relationship between journalists and PR should work.
You might say that your boss or client wants to know more than just how many pitches you sent – they want to know how many were read. Here are a few ways of explaining to leaderships why read receipts are such a bad idea:
- They don’t work.
From a purely technological standpoint, there are a million ways to get around a read receipt. In both of the most popular email clients, Gmail and Outlook, the recipient can simply ignore the ask. Or they can mash the opposite button just to thwart you. These are just a few reasons why getting – or not getting – a read receipt isn’t a reliable way to know if your email was actually seen.
- You’re measuring the wrong thing.
Counting the number of pitches either sent or “read” is the lowest common denominator of measurement. Worse, it could mean your organization or client is valuing the “spray and pray” method of PR rather than a truly targeted approach that gets the right releases in the hands of the right media folks at the right time.
Instead, you want to measure the number of meaningful contacts made with journalists – that is, media hits or conversations on background, even if you don’t make it into the final piece, as well as what outlets they represent and how meaningful those are to your organization. That old rule of thumb still works: 80% of your time should be spent customizing pitches for the 20% of journalists you want to reach.
- You might lose out in the future.
Does this sound petty? Sure. But as journalists’ inboxes bulge with more stories than they could possibly write in a lifetime, taking a step that makes you stand out in a bad way – or worse yet, gets you on the block list – is to be avoided. You want to nurture a relationship, not treat a journalist like a micromanaging boss. Asking for a read receipt implies a lack of trust in the journalist, which is a good way to sour any relationship in a hurry.
What to do instead
Hopefully the powers that be will see reason and stop demanding this vanity metric. But what should you do instead?
This answer will be unsatisfying, because it’s the basis of almost all good PR: You should spend the time building relationships, crafting customized pitches and building a robust media list. You’ll know your media strategy is working because journos will reach out to you about the content of your pitch – not with an automated response that may or not be accurate.