NNBW Editor Column: June is Effective Communications Month (Voices)
Last week, I received an email that immediately made the seldom-seen curmudgeon inside me grumble.
The message came from a staff member of a prominent Nevada entity and had a simple request about an article we had published on our website.
The problem? It started like this: “Hello Editor…”
Out of spite, I almost deleted it without even reading the message.
The issue wasn’t with the request itself (which I addressed promptly and professionally while wishing the person a good day), but instead the way it was introduced.
I’m a firm believer in the notion that first impressions are important, especially when reaching out to someone digitally. They can make or break your business, your sales efforts and your attempts to foster a working relationship.
It’s a major faux pas to spend time emailing someone but not spend time researching the person you’re messaging, and then, worse, not addressing that person by their formal name.
As a media person, my inbox is inundated every day with all sorts of PR/marketing pitches, requests for interviews, opportunities for conversation, etc., and far too often some of those emails fail to come off as even remotely authentic.
The irony that the email I mention above came a few days before the start of June — which is dubbed by some circles as Effective Communications Month — isn’t lost on me.
With that in mind, I wanted to take time this week to share my viewpoints on effective communication, with a particular nod to digital communication.
Note: Much of this is geared toward constructive feedback to my colleagues in the world of marketing and PR, but really, it could translate to any profession. After all, I certainly wouldn’t reach out to a doctor or attorney or accountant with a first impression of, “Dear Physician,” “Dear Lawyer,” or “Dear CPA.” And I certainly wouldn’t go the route of, “To whom it may concern.”
The main thing is that it all comes down to personalizing your pitch. Something I often see from various agencies, freelancers, etc., is they’re pitching the same item/story to several outlets — and the attention to detail can be lacking in ensuring they are personalizing each pitch to a specific entity.
There have been countless times where I’ve gotten a pitch meant for a different publication; or the sender has called me the wrong name on the phone and/or in email. That’s a pretty immediate turn-off for me — akin to submitting a resumé with typos, or a cover letter addressed to the wrong company.
As we all know, managing email is a time-consuming task all on its own, so whenever I can delete messages immediately, I welcome the opportunity.
This concept goes beyond just the “Dear Editor” or “Dear Media Manager” intro. There have been several instances in which the note is addressed “Dear Kevin” — but what follows is clearly a copy-and-paste email blast, and that’s just not going to grab my attention. It comes as off as lazy, and I feel like I’m trying to be sold something, rather than someone genuinely looking for a story to be told.
Don’t endeavor to sell — instead, endeavor to tell, I say.
I’d be ignorant if I said I’m perfect — I’ve learned many a hard lesson from my own mistakes. As one example, when working years ago as editor for Tahoe Magazine, I created a recurring email blast asking for calendar event submissions. In an effort to save time, I’d send the same message to 20 people at once, but I found the response rate to be less than desired (not to mention the disaster of people replying and forgetting to not cc everyone).
Next, while incorrectly thinking of “efficiency, not empathy” (spoiler: the other way around is correct), I opted to keep the guts of the email, but send 20 separate messages, while simply substituting names. The results were only slightly better, but I also screwed up majorly more than once due to poor attention to detail (it’s incredibly embarrassing when your email for Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe accidentally is addressed to Squaw Valley, for instance).
I urge people to abide by the KISS concept, Keep It Simple Stupid (or, Sunshine, if you want to be nicer): Don’t overthink your message, and don’t oversell it, either.
I’m looking for the easily identifiable 5 Ws, ensuring that the “why” is addressed clearly. And no, the “why” isn’t “why you should cover this.” Rather, it’s “why your audience will benefit from this.” That’s the key.
Does it take more effort to prepare and personalize? Absolutely! But, it comes down to the important notion that “time is money.”
It doesn’t just mean your time is valuable; rather, if extra time is spent truly earning people’s attention, then that investment will pay off for your audience — and, ultimately, your business — in the long run.
Kevin MacMillan is editor of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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