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Doing the right thing for journalists – why we changed ResponseSource

We’ve recently made a major change to the ResponseSource Enquiry Service which gives the journalist greater control over the dissemination of their email address and when they receive responses. This was done in response to direct feedback from many journalists over the course of the last few years.

This was all about making ResponseSource appeal to more journalists and encourage those who already use it to do so more often.

Unfortunately, the flip-side is that PR professionals receiving the enquiries do not get to see the journalist’s email address in the initial enquiry. Instead the journalist’s email is revealed when he or she reacts positively to a response from a PR.

A small number of PR subscribers have responded to this move with disappointment. As someone who takes customer service very seriously, I take it pretty badly when customers are upset. So firstly I would like to apologise to all clients who are unhappy, I do accept that some utility in the ResponseSource service has been lost. (See our ‘FAQ’ post which answers specific questions.)

But I stand by the change as I strongly believe it is for the best. Let me explain why.

I’d like to take you back to 1998 (yes – 15 years ago) when we launched the embryonic ResponseSource service in the technology media sector. Back then ResponseSource was a radically new concept and many journalists were extremely sceptical of it. It took a great deal of effort by the DWPub team (which was at the time about four people) to get journalists to give it a go. I remember personally nagging journalists on a daily basis to get them to try it.

ResponseSource’s acceptance by the media was a gradual thing and it wasn’t until 2002 that we had the confidence to launch it beyond the technology and finance sectors. When we finally did this we began a concerted campaign to introduce the service to a wider audience and that work continues.

Today ensuring ResponseSource remains popular with journalists requires a constant effort by the DWPub team, communicating the service to new journalists and targeting sectors where our clients would benefit from greater participation by the media.

However, ever since the launch of ResponseSource there has been a consistent objection from journalists reluctant to use it and this objection was as prevalent as ever prior to the change we introduced last week.

What really bothered a lot of journalists was the prospect of their email address being sent to thousands of people. Whether real or otherwise, the perception was of a loss of control over their contact details. This was, and continued to be throughout the last 15 years, the single most important reason why journalists would not use ResponseSource.

A related issue was that for many journalists who did use ResponseSource there was a frustration that it was not possible to limit responses beyond the given deadline, or ‘switch off’ responses when they got too many.

As I have said, we are always working on encouraging journalists to try ResponseSource and in response to demand from our subscribers we often target the more influential end of the media – for example national press and broadcast. Coincidentally it is this sector of the media that has been most sensitive about protecting their email details.

So after much deliberation we developed the system so that the journalist’s email address is masked by a temporary ResponseSource email address, and replies are forwarded automatically and immediately direct to the journalist until the journalist’s deadline expires. This was received in an overwhelmingly positive way by journalists.

One sentiment from the PR community has been the feeling that as the PR industry is the paying customer then surely ResponseSource request recipients should have some say in what details they get – including seeing the journalist’s email address. This is fair enough on the face of it but it is symptomatic of a slight loss of perspective about how the service works. In order for ResponseSource to work at all it must work in the right way for journalists. I am not suggesting participation by the PR community is not vital – of course it is, but getting a wide variety of journalists to use it is by far and away the greatest challenge. If we want more journalists to use it we need to be prepared to compromise.

It’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of other developments on the ResponseSource service in recent times have been aimed primarily for the PR subscriber’s benefit – for example the online preferences system which allows filtering by various categories of request and the ‘blacklist’ function that allows PR professionals to block enquiries from certain senders. And there are more PR-facing developments in the pipeline.

ResponseSource is a huge success. But it would be wrong to rest on our laurels. We have a responsibility to our subscribers to reach as many journalists with the service as we possibly can and encourage them to use ResponseSource regularly. Although around 6,000 journalists a year use the service there are many, many more out there who have never tried it. So that is the objective of this change – to get more journalists to use it, particularly those from higher circulation outlets, and to get them to use it more often. Enquiries from journalists is what ResponseSource is all about, so that is what we remain dedicated to delivering.

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