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A Heartfelt Plea to Public Relations Professionals: Please Stop Sending Out Microsoft Word Email Attachments as Press Releases!

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A Heartfelt Plea to Public Relations Professionals: Please Stop Sending Out Microsoft Word Email Attachments as Press Releases!

July 31, 2011 - 18:56
2 comments

Dear Public Relations Professional,
#noword
You sit down at your computer to draft a press release. You call up a Microsoft Word template or re-use a previous release that has a pre-formatted header. You write up the copy, add a catchy headline, save the file, attach it to an email and send to your list of the media outlets that cover your organization. That's a very common and very comfortable work flow for most PR professionals based on the numbers of press releases I receive each day.
#noword
Let me share how that approach works on my end.
#noword
I get about 200 press releases a week. I suspect this is a low figure as I only run a hyper-local blog; I am sure reporters for large newspapers get many times this amount. I skim the headlines to skip over the releases that clearly do not apply to Talk of the Sound. I read the body of the ones that seem promising. Unfortunately, in many cases I see nothing except the dreaded Microsoft Word icon. Now I have to stop and think. As I generally do not keep it open on my computer because it hogs memory I have to consider whether this press release might be important enough to take the time to open Microsoft Word. Most of the time my answer is "no" so I skip it and the message goes unread. So, you took the time to draft that press release and add the catchy headline but I am not reading it because you are making me jump through hoops to view your message. In cases where I do take the time to open the Microsoft Word file I too often immediately regret it -- the message clearly does not apply to Talk of the Sound or it is for a press event in some out of the way place or a press availability for a trivial event. When pressed for time (almost always), I tend to let these email attachment press releases accumulate in my inbox unread until there are a bunch then I open up Microsoft Word and read through them all at once only to find that events or announcements that might have interested me have already come and gone.
#noword
How can I convince you that we will both be better off if you will send your press release as simple text, in the body of the email?
#noword
Googling around the web, I can see it has long been a widely accepted best practice for public relations professionals to send email press releases as a simple text email message with, if necessary, a link to additional information. It is just as universally accepted that the worst practice is sending messages as email attachments using proprietary formats such as Microsoft Word. Attaching documents to email is often unnecessary, costly, exclusionary and risky and generally a pain in the neck for the journalist on the receiving end of the email. As the whole point of sending a press release is the hope that a journalist will use the information to write an article, sending press releases as anything other than simple text is self-defeating and unproductive.
#noword
I am hardly alone in this. The use of simple text emails to send press releases has long been consider an email "best practice" among members of the Public Relations Society of America which strong discourage the use of email attachments to send press releases:
#noword
The Media Relations Maven: Your attention please
#noword

Limit the entire pitch to three or four paragraphs at most, and use bullet points when you can...Never use attachments, as they get caught in spam filters and crash servers.

#noword
10 Ways to Improve Your e-Mail Marketing
#noword

With the recent trend toward anti-spam legislation, e-mail marketing has become more challenging. The author presents 10 tips to help distinguish your message from the clutter. To be effective, e-mail recipients no more than twice a month and avoid sending attachments.

#noword
Integrating Inbound And Outbound News Release Tactics (And How Social Media Fits Into The Mix)
#noword

Eighty-nine percent of journalists say they want to get relevant releases via email, but most senders are not taking advantage of e-mail’s capabilities to really follow the golden rule of releases: giving recipients exactly what they want, how they want it. (*If you want to do it right, get yourself a good HTML vendor who understands the medium and, whatever you do, do not send unasked-for attachments!)

#noword
Every primer in online public relations makes the same point over and over again -- send your message in the body, not in an attachment. Why?
#noword

  • Using attachments makes the recipient take extra steps to read your message.
  • Attachments are the primary way viruses are transmitted.
  • Attachments are often in a proprietary format (such as MS Word, MS Excel, Adobe Acrobat Reader) that the recipient might not be able to open, especially on mobile devices.
  • Emails with attachments are much less likely to be opened by journalists.
  • Emails with attachments are much more likely to be blocked by spam filters.
  • Journalists not using a broadband connection, journalists on the road, or journalists who use mobile devices to read email will not appreciate the attachment.

#noword
By sending press releases as simple text email messages more journalists will be able to read the message; there is a smaller chance of inadvertently transmitting a virus; there is a smaller chance of accidentally compromising privacy; and there are less resources used. A word processor can be used to write documents but those documents should be converted to simple text and placed in the email body before sending to make them more accessible, compact and safe.
#noword
Microsoft Word documents are especially problematic. Microsoft Word documents can compromise the author’s privacy and the recipient’s privacy and security. Word documents often contain previous drafts, corrections, marginal notes, pieces of unrelated documents, and information about the computer system that was used to create or edit the document. Microsoft Word attachments can expose the recipient to viruses and worms that track where on the Internet the document is being read. There is an exclusionary impact from sending Microsoft Word documents where recipients may not have the same version or may not use Microsoft Word at all. Often Microsoft Word documents are created on computers running Microsoft Word adding additional steps for users on other Operating System platforms like Apple Macintosh - scanning for viruses, saving to disk, opening the file in another word processor application to convert Microsoft Word to some other format, etc. A Microsoft Word document is typically much larger than the equivalent information in a plain-text file so more computer disk space, bandwidth and transmission time is required; email messages with multiple recipients are copied and stored as many times as there are recipients. This increases the rate at which storage resources are exhausted and drains system resources.
#noword
It is typically best to compose a release in your email 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 email 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 would like them to do.
#noword
If you wish to send out graphics, videos or other files, do not send them as attachments. Instead of sending the release as an attachment, include a basic text version of the press release with links to the full graphic release on a web site. The only exception would be if you are sending out attachments to journalists with whom you have a relationship and who have requested attachments or if the press release contains such a huge amount of information; if the press release is so graphically intense that the only format suitable is something other than plain text. If the image involved was a pie chart, simply put the information from the chart in a text format.
#noword
Attribution: This article is a mish-mash of my own thoughts with portions taken directly from or modified from several sources: a document written by Joseph Lorenzo at Cal-Berkeley; an article by Adam Sherk, Email Press Release Optimization Circa 1999; Richard Stallman's We Can Put an End to Word Attachments; some snippets I copied where I forgot the source, the rest based on reading articles on the web site of the Public Relations Society of America.

#noword

Will a Twitter protest work?

There are 2 Comments

This summarizes quite well why attachments are not the best way to transmit information. I have been told by more than one person that they do not open attachments and now I fully lunderstand why.

you make solid points. i agree.

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