What can PR learn from e-mail marketing best practice?


For all the current attention Twitter receives in PR circles, e-mail remains the staple diet of press release distribution.

Sending a press release via e-mail should therefore be subject to the same kind of best practice used for other forms of e-mail marketing. However, it did make me wonder how many PR firms could honestly say they do the following:

a.  provide clients with exact numbers on open rates for e-mailed press releases

b. provide detailed stats on which links generated most interest

c. keep subject lines to under 150 characters

d. test different subject lines

e. segment e-mail lists based on previous response and interest ie on real numbers

f.  create new content based on item e?

g. automatically create both HTML and text versions of e-mails

Think about point a. The excuse for ringing up a journalist and saying “did you get my e-mail” is completely removed if you know for certain the e-mail was opened and/or links were clicked on. (And with the availability of low cost e-mail service platforms such as VerticalResponse that  handle all the reporting for you, the excuse of cost disappears too).

Not only is there no excuse for the kind of cold calling that still gets Charles Arthur’s goat,  but it doesn’t work anyway. According to digital marketing firm Abachi : “Approaching a potential customer with a cold call gives the impression that you need their business but they don’t need you.  The prospect immediately has power and over you in any conversation that you initiate.  Even if you have a fantastic product or service that will be of great benefit to the prospect, you are perceived as needy and inferior.  Many negotiating experts agree; perception is everything.  Even if you have power, if you’re perceived as being ‘needy’, you have no power and all negotiations will be carried out on that basis.”

Substitute customer for journalist in the above and you get the idea.  Unless you are Matthew Freud or Max Clifford who basically control access to someone the media is desperate to talk to, PRs generally need journalists more than hacks need us.  Hence why PR cold calling of the kind outlined above routinely fails.

Jason Baer reported last year on 15 pertinent stats regarding e-mail marketing – PR firms sending releases or pitches via e-mail will be subject to the same kind of principles:

1. 21% of email recipients report email as Spam, even if they know it isn’t (how many journalists are already doing this with PR e-mails?)

2. 43% of email recipients click the Spam button based on the email “from” name or email address (ditto point 2)

3. 69% of email recipients report email as Spam based solely on the subject line (again, how many journalists are already doing this?)

4. 35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone

5. IP addresses appearing on just one of the 12 major blacklists had email deliverability 25 points below those not listed on any blacklists

6. Email lists with 10% or more unknown users get only 44% of their email delivered by ISPs

7. 17% of Americans create a new email address every 6 months (I’m Brits are no different)

8. 30% of subscribers change email addresses annually (journalists change jobs too)

9. If marketers optimized their emails for image blocking, ROI would increase 9+%

10. 84% of people 18-34 use an email preview pane

11. People who buy products marketed through email spend 138% more than people that do not receive email offers

12. 44% of email recipients made at least one purchase last year based on a promotional email

13. Subscribers below age 25 prefer SMS to email (does this apply to journalists under the age of 25?)

14. 35% of business professionals check email on a mobile device (journalists are business professionals too)

15. 80% of social network members have received unsolicited email or invites (are journalists on Twitter being solicited in a similar way?)

Julie Niehoff,  Regional Development Director with e-mail service provider Constant Contact recently came up with the the 2-2-2 Principle:

“When someone first gets your email, you have on average three seconds to get them to open it. The first second is spent on the From line, recognizing who sent the message. From there, you have just two more seconds to compel them to open your message with your subject line. That is why I came up

  • You have 2 seconds.
  • The first 2 words matter the most.
  • Answer the question “Why does this matter today?”

We’ve covered the fact that people spend about two seconds reading an email’s subject line. The other reality is that the first two or three words matter the most because sometimes that is all people read before deciding to open the message now or put it off until later. It’s important to front-load your subject line with the most compelling part of your message. (Note: most mobile devices, like Blackberries and iPhones, can only show 14 characters for the subject line.)

Given  all of the above, how many PRs are writing subject lines that are simply the press release headline? (And perhaps with the words “Press release” appended at the start – not only taking up subject line real estate, but helping the journalist to ignore it?)

In summary, if PR firms are going to continue using e-mail as part of their toolkit, it makes sense to start learning from best practices already established in the e-mail marketing arena.

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