Perhaps the most common gaffe I see in online press rooms is when organizations post press releases only in pdf format.
I understand why this usually happens: In some organizations, it’s easier and faster to take the release you created for print or fax distribution in a word processor and simply save it as a pdf file. That’s great from the publisher’s perspective, lousy from the journalist’s perspective. Here’s why…
YOU SHOULD PUBLISH RELEASES ON THE WEB FIRST, ANYWAY!
I already discussed the logic of web-first press releases in Part 5.
Now, let’s think this through a bit further: If you’re publishing a press release on the web first, which medium should you first prepare it for? Bingo the web! Therefore, your first edition of any press release should be an ordinary HTML file NOT a word processing document formatted for viewing from a printed page.
When you think “web first,” that removes the temptation to format a nice-looking word processing document and then save it as a pdf. Anytime you see a pdf-format press release on a web site, it implies that the organization really doesn’t understand how to use the web well, especially for media outreach.
PDF FILES ARE BIGGER
It’s nice to imagine that every internet user now enjoys a snappy broadband connection. However, the reality is that broadband access is still not universal, even in newsrooms. Believe it or not, many reporters (especially at smaller or rural publications) still rely on dialup net access. Downloading pdf files is a relatively slow and painful process for these reporters.
Simple, ordinary HTML web pages download much faster than pdfs conserving users’ time and your bandwidth resources.
PDFs REQUIRE A PDF READER
By itself, a web browser cannot display a pdf file. It needs a special Acrobat Reader plugin or companion application to do that job. This means that the use must have acquired and installed that software or plugin (if it didn’t come packaged with the computer), and that program must be functioning correctly. Also, if the user’s browser doesn’t automatically launch that program when it encounters a pdf, the user must know how to do that. Compared to simply viewing a regular web page, that’s asking a lot.
Do most web users have the software they need to read pdfs and know how to use them? Yes. Nevertheless, pdf documents entail an extra burden on the user. Therefore, they should only be used on the web where they offer advantages which outweigh that burden. Pdf press releases don’t make that cut. Press releases are (or at least should be) simple, short, text-based documents. There is almost never a good reason to pdf such documents.
PEOPLE HATE ATTACHED FILES
Some press officers have told me they create pdf versions of their press releases in order to attach them to e-mail alerts that get distributed to their press list. This way, they don’t have to depend on recipients to possess a particular word processing program (such as Microsoft Word) to read the document.
The problem with this strategy is that, thanks to the proliferation of computer viruses, many people (especially journalists) won’t accept or open any attached file. It doesn’t matter that pdfs aren’t especially prone to harboring nasty digital bugs. Sometimes those files won’t even make it through the recipient’s firewall.
If you distribute press releases by e-mail, include the full text of the release in the body of the e-mail, along with a link to the web version. Give it a good, explanatory subject line. Don’t attach anything to the e-mail. If you need to present images, spreadsheets, or any non-text information, link to the web version. Keep the e-mail version as simple and lean as possible.
JOURNALISTS DON’T CARE MUCH ABOUT LAYOUT
Some press officers have told me, with a straight face, that they provide pdf-format press releases because these documents “look more professional.” I wonder have these folks stood near a group of journalists recently? By and large, journalists are not overly concerned with professional appearances their own or anyone else’s.
Journalists want information. That’s it. Give them your information in the most efficient way and they’re generally happy. Web pages are more direct and less complicated than pdfs, so journalists generally prefer web pages for short documents such as press releases.
That said, it is important to make your web content (including press releases) easy to find and easy to read. Web design and content layout/editing significantly affects readability. Journalists do care about readability, though perhaps not consciously in most cases.
PREVIOUS: Make Your Releases Easy to Link to
INDEX to this series