I'm showing my age by admitting that I can remember the days of carbon paper and Wite-Out, along with the IBM Selectric typewriters that allowed you to correct typos.
Just as I used to wonder how we managed to do business without word processors and then computers, the younger generation wonders -- along with us boomers -- how we ever managed to get along without e-mail.
E-mail seems to be the preferred method of business communication, and in Public Relations we use e-mail routinely to pitch journalists. Unfortunately, some in our profession misuse e-mail, just as they and their predecessors misused the telephone in their dealings with the media.
The current issue of O'Dwyer's PR Report has a story that quotes a former PR person, Wendell Potter, who spoke recently at an NYU seminar. Potter explained how e-mail has become the most common way we communicate with reporters. True enough. But then he added, "With e-mail, we were sending not just a statement, but a broader message: Here's our response to your question. Take it or leave it. It's all we're going to say."
With PR people like that, no wonder so many journalists don't like those of us in PR.
Potter went on to say, "More often than not, reporters would take it and not bother us for any more information. They knew from experience that they weren't going to get much more from us."
I take issue with Potter's statement. Maybe that's the way he worked when he was in the PR department at Cigna, the insurance giant, but that's not the way a real pro would or should work. And maybe the second part of Potter's statement above explains why he's not in PR anymore.
Whenever I respond to a reporter's question by e-mail, I always leave the door open for more questions by inviting them to call or e-mail if they need anything else. I don't want a journalist to assume the e-mail response is the be-all and end-all to information we'll give them. Yes, there will be times when we can't be overly forthcoming with information, but I always try to keep the door open. If it's strictly a one-way street, then how could I ever hope for a reporter to work with me on a story or to see things from a client's viewpoint. Why would they want to?
Those of us in the PR profession always need to remember that we serve two masters -- our clients or our bosses, and -- to a degree -- the media we interact with. If we forget about the needs of the latter group, we may find ourselves ultimately failing to serve the needs of our primary masters.