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Checking e-mails can be a PR nightmare

June 17, 2007|by JAKE WOMER

Last week, I received roughly 500 e-mails, 80 percent of them junk.

I'm not talking about the loan offers, opportunities to aid an African banker in dire straits by giving him my account numbers or chances to enlarge or shrink various body parts. Or the seven invitations to party with Steve-O from MTV that welcomed me to my e-mail account this morning.

A filter blocks a good chunk of that trash here. Only a portion of that still gets through.

The majority of the junk I receive is from public-relations people, who are offering to arrange an interview with a cook-off contestant from Rockville, Md., making me aware of a band playing in Shirleysburg, Pa., and inviting me to a book launch party in New York.

I had never heard of Shirleysburg. Apparently, it's much closer to Altoona, Pa., than anywhere around here.

Some of these e-mails are followed by a phone call that goes something like this: "Hi, Jake. This is Jane with So-And-So and Associates. I'm calling to follow up on an e-mail I sent you about an event happening in your area."


Usually, they know my name and sound like they're smiling through the phone, which is a little creepy.

I, of course, have no idea what they are talking about because I quickly deleted the e-mail seeing that it had nothing to do with Herald-Mail readers.

At this point, I cut them off and inquire if they know where we are. They might stutter or throw a dart at the map and guess: "Near Washington?"

I inform them that we do not cover those areas, and I can no longer hear their smile.

Most of the New York-based flacks just turn off the wattage and hang up the phone, no doubt to call another editor who has no clue what they are talking about.

I think they are getting our information through media directories that list names, positions, companies, contact information and apparently no maps.

Now, they're simply doing their jobs, for the most part, and I don't begrudge them that. It's that some of them are not doing it very well, wasting my time and theirs. A quick phone call and e-mail don't seem like much, but the numbers add up, and before I know it I'm wasting too much time every week.

Others are quite pleasant to speak with. The woman promoting the Shirleysburg performance was upfront. She said she was just taking a stab that we might cover that area and that she would keep our actual area in mind if the band gets closer.

Several people in public relations make my job easier by helping reporters reach the people they need for a story. Others keep sending me pictures of their products, even though I have called and asked to be taken off of their list. Still, I receive a picture of every Hallmark Channel TV series or movie that's going to be aired. Apparently, "Murder, She Wrote" is going to be on, and I really wish I didn't know that. But I have a release and a picture of Angela Lansbury in the trash folder of my e-mail to remind me of it.

Jake Womer is Lifestyle editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2340, or by e-mail at

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