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Snail Mail or E-mail: Press Kits for the New Media

Posted At: February 17, 2010 1:53 PM
by Allison Cook

In the past decade, public relations has grown and expanded; the impact of the Internet and e-mail on the industry has grown as well. Now, news circulates 24/7, and journalists need accurate information quickly. Journalists can’t always wait for the postal service to deliver information to their desks; public relations professionals shouldn’t wait, either. Although traditional press kits have their place, online press rooms and e-mailed press releases provide a quick source of information for journalists, ensuring audiences get the message quickly.

In my experience as an intern at a local publishing company, around 99 percent of the information I post to the Web stems from press releases e-mailed to my editors. While I enjoy receiving snail-mail kits before a big event, it’s a chore to scan pictures from run-of-the-mill releases for Web news. As a PR student, I wonder why I learned to send press releases and press kits that I don’t like to receive as a writer. After starting a discussion on LinkedIn in the group PRwise, I discovered that I’m not alone – many journalists said mailed press releases aren’t relevant anymore.

E-mail: faster, easier, preferred

E-mailed press releases and online press rooms are the fastest ways to get a message to an audience. With a constant flow of news, journalists need information now. “Speed is the essence of news, and in today’s world if it isn’t right now it isn’t anything,” said Jeremy Whittingstall, a media and communications consultant in Calgary, Canada. In his experience, Whittingstall said snail-mailed kits don’t get the coverage he wants.

In order to reach key publics, content creators need to reach the appropriate media gatekeepers as soon as possible; the fastest way to reach them: e-mail. Mailed releases can take several days to arrive and may sit on a journalist’s desk or in his mailbox for several more days. Although some circumstances require a mailed release, everyday releases and announcements require something much quicker.

E-mailed releases and online press rooms are not only faster but also easier for most journalists. Newsrooms are getting smaller, and journalists are under pressure to deliver more content with less manpower. E-mailed releases with attached pictures are easiest to re-post. Instead of copying the release, scanning images and inserting the message into templates, releases attached to e-mails make it easier for journalists to place the message into their publications or on the Web.

Journalists can also access online press rooms easily for more information. Although initial contact through an e-mail with a release gains attention, an online press room with information that complements the release can get even more coverage. In my experience, I prefer to search through an online press release archive to find background information on articles I write for the Web. Online press rooms provide a centralized location for journalists to quickly and easily familiarize themselves with the company and its projects.

Because e-mailed releases are fast and simple, most journalists prefer them over traditional mailed releases. Jacquelyn Lynn, a business writer in Orlando, Fla., said she doesn’t like to wait for a mailed kit to arrive, especially if the kit is unsolicited. Shannon Delcambre, assignment manager at NBC13 news in Birmingham, Ala., said he prefers e-mailed releases because they’re easier to send to producers and other journalists at the station. Delcambre said around 75 percent of assignments come from e-mail because they are “the easiest to use and disseminate in the newsroom.”

Snail mail isn’t dead.

Although e-mail is faster, easier and preferred by most journalists for everyday releases, the snail-mailed kit isn’t dead; mailing a kit still holds its place in PR.Steven Spenser, principal of Praxis Communication in Seattle, said “having something arrive on her desk will definitely get a journalist to open your material — if only out of curiosity and nostalgia — but using this technique for run-of-the-mill announcements just wastes the opportunity to make a golden first impression with a killer pitch.” Journalists are bombarded with e-mails every day; sometimes, the best way to make an impression is to send your best kit.

Big events almost always require a physical kit. In my experience, I prefer to receive a mailed kit before big events; it keeps my thoughts and information in one place where I can easily file away or access key information without searching through e-mails or files on my computer. At many industry events, field staffers aren’t allowed to speak to the media; however, they are allowed to hand out press kits.

Product samples always require a mailed kit. Michael Straus, founder of Straus Communications in the San Francisco Bay area, has worked in food product and environmental issues PR for 15 years. He said that a snail-mailed kit is still relevant when “sending an interesting product sample, or distributing timely information at special events.”

Mailed kits should incorporate online press rooms and e-mail addresses. Including Web site links and e-mail addresses keeps the lines of communication between the gatekeeper and the content creator open — an essential part of PR. Including flash drives or CDs with releases and photos in physical kits allows journalists to choose which medium they prefer; they can flip through the paper kit and insert a drive or CD into their computer for simple copy/paste functions or resizing photos.

Some journalists prefer a mailed kit or release. Spenser pointed out that a hand-written pitch in a kit is rare and sometimes preferred for certain media outlets. He said many smaller publications or niche publications that publish infrequently prefer the personal touch of a mailed kit or release.

How do I know what to use?

With so many options, how do PR professionals know which type of media to use? Put simply: know your recipient and know your message.

Knowing your recipient means knowing their name and their preference. A release or kit mailed or e-mailed to the wrong person is a waste, no matter how beautifully written or designed. At my internship, I open press releases and press kits addressed to editors who don’t work at the office anymore. Receiving an envelope addressed to a former editor or writer shows the journalist that the PR firm didn’t do their research.

Although most of the journalists and PR professionals who responded to my questions about press releases favored e-mailed releases and kits as well as online newsrooms, most agreed that a journalist’s preference takes precedence over ease and speed. Martin Hardwidge, owner of MHA Sales and Marketing in Nottingham, U.K., uses MediaAtlas when constructing media lists and pays close attention to the “preferred” column to decide which medium to use with each journalist. Hardwidge added that traditional kits still have their place with journalists who want them. Knowing the media gatekeepers and their preferred means of communication helps ensure the message will reach the audience. Journalists at small weeklies or quarterly publications may prefer a mailed release or kit.

Almost as important as knowing your recipient is knowing your message. Mailing a release or kit for an event or product sample is necessary; mailing a kit for a job promotion or contest winner is not.

E-mail and online press rooms can be quick and easy sources of information when used properly. However, know when it’s appropriate to call the printer and use a stamp. Keeping up with technology is a key part of public relations, but forgetting the basics doesn’t benefit you or your audience.

Which do you prefer: e-mail or snail-mail releases? Where do you see the future of press releases going?

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