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PR Behind-the-Scenes, A Tutorial on Mail Merging

October 4, 2010

As PR professionals, we will constantly have a need to send personalized messages… to a mass audience. Whether pitching bloggers or news media, announcing a product release or attempting to acquire sponsorships, a huge part of our jobs is to create relationships with constituents across the board–in little to no time at all. Every advice column we’ve ever read tells us to speak specifically to each individual we pitch to, to make every letter personal to it’s target. But how (oh, HOW?!) do we do this with so little time in the day?! Ladies and gentlemen… it’s only the beginning… but, we present to you: mail merge.

Mail merge is a nifty tool (lifesaver) in the PR (and business) world that allows you to send a general message to as many people as you like, with specific inserts that personalize to each individual you send it to. For the sake of space, scroll all the way to the bottom for a final example. This will serve as a tutorial on how to best achieve this, on both a PC (upcoming post!) and a Mac.


Step 1:

Using Excel, create an outreach list with the following headers: Company, Title, First, Last, E-mail, Phone, Notes, etc. in column A-G (or whatever letter you get to) – 1. Avoid formatting the spreadsheet any other way, the headers will NEED to be in the “1” row to work properly. Also, make sure all information (specifically e-mail, name and company) is 100% correct. Any discrepancies within these fields will cause the merge to not work properly (which will be discussed later in this post). You can include any amount of information in these columns (i.e. personal paragraph or closing to each if you like), just make sure to keep the formatting the same.

Step 2:

Save the spreadsheet somewhere easily accessible. If you are saving to your client drive (usually lots of folders in), save to the desktop as well, for ease.

NOTE: If you are sending something to only certain contacts within a spreadsheet with multiple “sheets” or divisions within a sheet, save yourself some trouble and create a new spreadsheet with only pertinent information to the specific message–it will be much easier that way.

Step 3:

Open Microsoft Word. Create the message you want to send to your audience. (i.e. Hi X, Hope all is well. With fall weather in tow, we hope that Y Company…. Best, FPRA Exec) Save it.

MAC using Microsoft Word and Entourage 2008——–

NOTE: Entourage must be set up with the e-mail account you wish to send the message from, as well as be selected as your default e-mail client. You must re-start your computer for these changes to take effect.

Step 4:

On the toolbar, select “Tools<Mail Merge Manager.” A grey pop-up box will appear. In order, selsct:

1. Select Document Type. Select Document Type<Create New<Form Letters.

2. Select Recipients List. Get List<Open Data Source. Select your spreadsheet from the desktop. A pop-up box that says “Open Workbook” will appear. For ease, select only the tab necessary for your merge (as previously suggested, it is best to have only one tab on the spreadsheet you are using, in which case, keep the default selection “MASTER” and “Entire Workbook.”

3. Insert Placeholders. The “Insert Placeholders” box will show each header you placed in A-G – 1 of the spreadsheet as a “placeholder” under “contacts.” These “placeholders” are your instant personalization. In your document, drag the appropriate placeholder to wherever in the document you want to be changed. The placeholder will appear as <<Placeholder>>. (i.e. Hi <<First Name>>, Hope all is well. With fall weather in tow, we hope that <<Company>> …. Best, FPRA Exec)

4. Filter Recipients. If you need to do any editing of your recipient list (which you shouldn’t, since you saved your list separately), you don’t need to do anything here.

5. Preview Results.This is so, so, SO important. Click the “<<ABC>>” button to show the actual text (which is being imported from your Excel sheet) that will show in the messages you send out. Make sure that each and every one of your messages makes sense and is addressed appropriately. Especially when inserting company names, make sure that the grammar surrounding the sentence that addresses the company is appropriate to each name. Remember, the point is to make each one of these messages appear as if it was individually crafted to its recipient. Take the same care as you would in an individual message. Also, make sure to omit any extra punctuation or “X” that was there before your nifty placeholders.

6. Complete Merge. Here, you can select “Merge to Printer or New Document” for letters, and “Generate E-mail Messages” for e-mail. Clicking this will finalize your merge. There is no going back. For e-mail, Entourage 2008 will open automatically and send your messages. You will see each of the individual messages in your outbox, and (from experience) you can expect to receive a bunch of “out-of-the-office” replies immediately. Each of your e-mails is individual from here out, so no worries about replying to the whole list when you send a reply to one.

PC using Microsoft Word and Outlook——–

Check back soon!

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