No PDF Press Releases, Please! (Online Media Outreach, Part 7)

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.


NEXT: Publish your news by webfeed

PREVIOUS: Make Your Releases Easy to Link to

INDEX to this series

6 thoughts on No PDF Press Releases, Please! (Online Media Outreach, Part 7)

Comments are closed.

  1. Ms. Gahran – I agree.

    I hate PDF’s when they are not necessary. Also, I convert PDF’s posted on my web sites to DjVu most of the time – http://www.larryblakeley.com and http://www.royblakeley.name – the difference in bandwidth usage is very significant.

    Larry Blakeley
    Dallas, Texas

    – “The Calculation of Easter Day, and the Origin and Use of the Word ‘Computer’ ,” Mario Aloisio, University of Malta, as published in the July-September 2004 issue of the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, IEEE Computer Society.

    Directory: http://www.larryblakeley.com/Articles/monthly_articles/

    Abstract: http://www.larryblakeley.com/Articles/monthly_articles/mario_aloisio200409_abstract.htm

    File Name: mario_aloisio200409 (6,424 words)

    Post Date: September 11, 2004 2:45 PM CDT; 1945 GMT

  2. Ms. Gahran – I agree.

    I hate PDF’s when they are not necessary. Also, I convert PDF’s posted on my web sites to DjVu most of the time – http://www.larryblakeley.com and http://www.royblakeley.name – the difference in bandwidth usage is very significant.

    Larry Blakeley
    Dallas, Texas

    – “No ‘Stinkin’ PDF’s,” Larry Blakeley

    Directory: http://www.larryblakeley.com/Articles/

    Abstract: http://www.larryblakeley.com/Articles/leonard_nakamura20040915_abstract.htm

    File Name: leonard_nakamura20040915.htm

    Post Date: September 15, 2004 at 10:30 PM CDT; September 16, 2003 at 0330 G

  3. I’m sorry – the previous post by me contained an erroneous link.

    Ms. Gahran – I agree.

    I hate PDF’s when they are not necessary. Also, I convert PDF’s posted on my web sites to DjVu most of the time – http://www.larryblakeley.com and http://www.royblakeley.name – the difference in bandwidth usage is very significant.

    Larry Blakeley
    Dallas, Texas

    http://www.larryblakeley.com/Articles/monthly_articles/recent_articles_of_interest.htm

    – “No ‘Stinkin’ PDF’s,” Larry Blakeley

    Directory: http://www.larryblakeley.com/Articles/

    Abstract: http://www.larryblakeley.com/Articles/leonard_nakamura20040915_abstract.htm

    File Name: leonard_nakamura20040915.htm

    Post Date: September 15, 2004 at 10:30 PM CDT; September 16, 2003 at 0330 G

  4. I disagree — PDFs are properly formatted and thats the way they should be presented to the public. PDFs also make it easy to have a printable document, with minimum effort. The whole idea is to present the information, and there really is no need to duplicate it by providing HTML, unless one has a pretty nifty CMS, then one can do both. Another objective is to use Flashpaper to present the copy, which is what I usually do. Everybody (well almost everybody, except the luddites) has Flash installed. Besides Flashpaper makes small files, either as PDF or Flash.

    OF course the real slick way of presenting data, is to have it in muliple formats. I did this for one of my more recent clients — HTML, Flash, PDF, MSFT Word and Plain Text formats.

  5. In principle, I’d agree with everything you said. However, there are cases in which using pdf files makes sense, for example, if you are not writing in English. HTML doesn’t display a lot of characters that are essential for other languages, and therefore PDFs are needed to make sure the text is readable.

  6. There are no cases when using PDF files makes sense. It is perfectly possible to send non-English characters in HTML – look at my language quiz, for instance. Non-Latin alphabets may be a bit tricky but almost all browsers and emails will show á, æ, ç, é, ú, and þ correctly, and most will also cope with Ä…, Ä“, Ä?, ÄŸ, ľ, Å„, ÅŸ, and even ů, or even Cyrillic (банани) and Greek (μπανάνες). And if you’re sending emails in a non-Latin alphabet, it’s a fair bet that any recipient whose browsers can’t read them wouldn’t be able to read them anyway!

    Also, there’s nothing more annoying than receiving an email which contains all the information but has an attachment, and then opening that attachment to find exactly the same information again – whatever the programme, Word, PDF or whatever.