An article in the latest issue of Ragan’s Grapevine discusses the pros and cons of e-mail and best practices in using this communication tool as recommended by communicators, legal experts and PR consultants.
According to the article, research firm Radicati Group Inc. put the number of electronic mailboxes in the world at 1.1 billion, having tripled in the past five years. Daily e-mail messages sent are over 20 billion.
Because of its speed and convenience, e-mail remains one of the most effective ways to communicate with the media, employees and other stakeholders, the article says. Still the risks of e-mail call for caution in its use, whether for business or personal purposes.
1. E-mail is best used for timeliness and accuracy.
Public relations professionals rely on the speed of e-mail for breaking news and meeting needs of the moment, especially for sensitive issues that require immediate response.
E-mail also ensures accuracy, e.g., as compared to phone interviews, especially when describing or outlining complex issues. E-mailed statements keep internal and external messages consistent, meeting information needs and deadlines.
2. E-mail can help manage media relations.
At Exxon Mobil, e-mail is part of a standard process used to manage media inquiries.
Weekly global PR discussions are held, tackling hot topics and drafting position statements that are approved and made ready. These are added to an internal database that contains standard corporate data, background information on the company, press kits and other media relations content, accessible to all media relations staffers around the country.
When reporters request data or interviews, they are asked to e-mail details of their publication or media outlet, the story theme or topic, and any additional information to identify the most appropriate response. They are then sent an e-mail with the appropriate information.
When the request is for more in-depth information on a key issue or for an interview, though, media relations consultant Russ Roberts prefers to talk to media on the phone to “get a better sense of the story.” Afterwards, he still puts everything down in an e-mail, including links to additional information in the company’s online newsroom, and sends this off to the media concerned.
3. E-mail is traceable and can be used against you.
E-mail, like instant messages, text messages and web pages, are used as evidence in investigations and lawsuits. When an investigation is pending, “cleaning up” files can amount to obstruction of justice.
To minimize risks, it is recommended that companies develop e-mail policies covering language and content. In other words, “be careful what you say and how you say it.”
4. Reread your e-mail message before sending.
Wait three minutes to review any e-mail message before sending it off. Consider how it would look to a third party. Consider whether you would be comfortable to have it come up in connection with a lawsuit.
5. Edit your e-mail messages.
Marc Baldwin, public relations consultant of Chick-Fil-A, writes each message before adding the name of the recipient, double checks each name added, uses spell check, and moves more important messages into the Draft folder for review before finally sending them.
6. Don’t blame the tool. Blame inappropriate use.
Shel Holtz, president of Holtz Communication + Technology, says: “It always strikes me as funny that every new technology falls under the cloud of suspicion. It’s not the technology’s fault. It’s the people who use it inappropriately. You can manage the abuses of e-mail by exception. Taking that tool away from employees completely paints them with the same brush as the few who abuse it. It’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This is really about using common sense, training staff and trusting your employees.”
Once again, the development of company policies and guidelines are crucial.
7. Do not abandon one-on-one, relationship-building phone calls and meetings with media people.
E-mail should not be an excuse for PR practitioners to make fewer phone calls and personal conversations with media representatives as these build better relationships, provide immediate feedback, and guide story development.
Like any other tool, e-mail has both positive and negative potentials. Use judiciously.