Productivity discourse can often be, for lack of a better term, mechanical. And not mechanical or industrial like this late Sir Ken Robinson TED Talk about how our school systems needs to evolve, and not cool or mechanical like the latest odd contraption your local broke disabled person has come up with to survive. Mechanical in a clinical, a sterile, an almost creepy sort of way.
Which leads me to a problem that I have with my freelance career as a journalist. People, in their public conversations on social media especially, do not default to being kind. They default to righteous indignation, they tend to default to conflict, they—and I’m mostly talking about he very loud minority here—treat everything and everyone like it’s a journalism school thought exercise when it comes to those who they don’t feel they are in community with.
I, for better (and, occasionally, worse), am not that guy.
For those who don’t know, the intersection between journalists and public relations (PR) is often portrayed as a war. The thought goes that the journalists are the righteous truth tellers and the public relations professionals are snake oil-selling charlatans. Their job, so the teaching goes, is to obscure, to make things more difficult, to get in the way. With very few exceptions, I have not had that experience. PR staffers know the industry, many of them are former journalists, they get the push and pull of the story versus what the people in the story would (in an ideal world) like said about them. If they’re asking you for something that they shouldn’t, they’ve usually been forced to ask.
Bringing me, not so swiftly on, to email templates. Blame my anxiety disorder, but I’ve always felt kind of bad that I can’t reply to all the people who share their stories with me, and that extends to PR staffers. Freelancers often complain, in varying degrees of acceptableness, about editors not replying to them. They forget, sometimes, the absolute dumpster fire that your local newsroom leader’s inbox is. Meanwhile we, the writers, sometimes don’t make a conscious effort to get back to people who reach out to us if they are not a good fit. I’m not saying everyone does this, there are exceptions, but it is true for many. It’s a simple question of time and how we spend it.
I decided, a few weeks ago, that I could actually change this dynamic within my own practice. Public relations professionals are often judged on how replies they get, how many stories they can land their clients in and, and this was important for me to learn early on in my freelance career, a simple no can be a very fruitful data point to make their lives easier and their industry better. I would still ignore the ones where someone didn't do their research, or where they pitched me things that are opposite to my beliefs (don't, for example, send me pitches about miracle cures for autism), but otherwise I would specifically make a point of replying.
So, I resolved to write an email template which, barring my email signature because you’ve seen that already, is below.
Thank you for your email! This isn't currently a fit for me but I will circle back around if something changes. I may also pass this along to other freelancers/staffers who I think this might be a good fit for.
Lastly, I am a generalist who mostly covers sport, health, media, art, tech, and disability. What I cover can change drastically from week to week so please don't hesitate to reach out if something you are involved in feels like a good fit. I know it sucks to get no answer to your emails, so here's hoping this reply helps you in some way.
All the best,
Now, I get 10 PR emails in my inbox on a slow day, this would not be sustainable for many people, but I want to challenge myself to see how these little automated tasks can increase my kindness level—yes, I’m aware that also sounds clinical but it’s also a Friday afternoon over here. In using this template over the last couple of days I have made minor changes to customize that email, but the skeleton of it has remained the same. It’s a small sample size thus far, but every email that I’ve gotten back has been kind in return.
So, here’s my question for you to ponder over the weekend: How can you, using a semi-automated tool like a template, add a little more ease for you and a little more comfort and care for another person?
I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.