Eating our own dog food

I asked ten highly experienced technology journalists their experience with using email and RSS notifications of press releases, and got some surprising results. Now granted this is a very selected group, and completely unscientific. But still.

One finding is that only two out of the ten respondents subscribe to RSS feeds of the companies that they cover. “The PR people are pretty good about harassing, I mean informing me of their press releases,” said Theresa Carey. And while Vaughan-Nicols uses Bloglines to track his RSS feeds, it is mostly to track the various open source community feeds rather than press releases from vendors.

Dan Dern has some suggestions for PR people posting press releases on their Web sites and recommends that each release contain the following information:

  1. Not having a fixed URL for each new press release
  2. Not date-tagging releases on the summary page (Epson for example omits these)
  3. Making subcategories a pull-down list, requiring extra clicks
  4. Missing or not easily apparent PR contact information
  5. Having releases in Acrobat, but not (also) HTML

He recommends the expemplary HP and Xerox press pages, and mentions Brother as a counter example.

Four out of the ten respondents explicity opt-in to email mailing lists to get notifications of news releases. But they aren’t always easy to find on corporate Web sites: “Sometimes I had to go to extra lengths to find them to get onto them,” says Dern. Rarely do these mailings result in ink, however. One reporter estimated that “fewer than one in a thousand press releases I get are on-target at all. The rest are a waste of my time.” But when a PR person actually knows the beat covered by the reporter, the odds go up astronomically that a release will generate a story: “It helps when a flack that really knows my beat and I have worked with them before.”

Another surprising finding is that PR people still don’t use BCC fields in email blasts, and copy everyone in their emails to the tune of a few a week with some journalists. While the practice is in decline, it still happens “way too often, and from major vendors, too,” said Jason Perlow. You can tell a lot from the names that are copied on the list, says Esther Schindler: “If I see a long-out-of-date e-mail ID on the list, it’s a clue that the PR person isn’t tuned in anymore. If the list is relatively short (say 20 or fewer journalists), it tells me which publications the PR person thinks are important for this release (and implies that we’re their short list). If it’s longer, though, it usually becomes an auto-delete.”

Clearly, we have a long way to go in our industry before the technologies that we actually write about – like RSS feeds — have become common practice for both journalists and PR professionals. And maybe by then we will totally eradicate the “copy to everyone” emails that still haunt our inboxes.

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