Sorry I didn’t reply

I recently read an article by freelance writer Rob Boffard, who I’ve worked with many times over the last few years, lamenting the fact that so many editors don’t respond to emails from journalists.

Of course, I immediately assumed that he was writing about me and started feeling a little sick when I thought about the unread emails by said writer (and others) sitting in my inbox. It really hit home when I thought back to a press event I went to and met a journalist whose email I know I hadn’t replied to. On apologising, he replied, “It’s ok. You’re just one of those editors who doesn’t reply. Sue said the same thing.”

Crap. I’m one of those people.

Rob’s post made this stomach-punching realisation even more unavoidable and got me thinking about a few things that I experience as being both client/editor and supplier on a daily basis. In particular, not replying to emails from journalists.

At the same time Rob’s article made me a little less guilt-burdened: “Yay! I’m not the only horrible human being in the world”. It confirmed my suspicions that I’m not the only editor with such selfish and thoughtless email etiquette. Although Rob assures me that I’m not the editor he’s talking about, I think we all know he’s too smart to overtly admit it (even if I’m only one player in a team of editors he has to deal with).

So what do I do all day? I’m an editor in the content marketing industry and work on a range of websites, projects and publications for corporate clients. What this means is that I am simultaneously client and supplier.

I’m the supplier of content marketing services to my clients and in turn work with a range of suppliers such as freelance writers, photographers and designers. In this instance I become the client.

On an average day I probably receive about 100-150 emails. I probably send about 50, but sometimes this number has gone as high as 100. These are mostly responses to client requests and mails related to stuff that needs to be briefed, checked or confirmed. I have no idea how many emails people on bigger projects usually receive, but in my books, that’s a lot of emails. And while I strive for inbox zero, there have been times when I’ve had about 234 Unread emails – much to the horror of the obsessive compulsives in my life.

How do you get anything done with that number hanging over you? I cope, I think.

When dealing with that volume of correspondence, unfortunately non-urgent freelance pitches often disappear in the quagmire of my inbox. Indeed, even critical emails including awesome copy supplied on due date have mysteriously vanished into the depths of my inbox without even a ripple, prompting one of those awkward “Where’s that copy you were supposed to supply last week” emails followed by a forwarded mail of the exact same email that was sent last week.

This makes me a lot more understanding when I send emails to my clients and they don’t respond – sometimes for days and even weeks. Even though they’ve briefed me and are paying me for the work I’m doing. I know that sometimes what I am supplying is yet another sardine in the swarming shoal of emails – the numbers make it hard to catch the good fish.

When it comes to freelancers who I’ve been particularly bad at responding too, there also sometimes comes a point when I become too embarrassed to reply at all because it’s been months since my last email, hence what Rob describes as radio silence… even though I’m still Tweeting.

Email is a terrible project management system. Sadly in my industry this is still the main way that most people communicate and organise projects. Combine that with the CC THE WORLD mentality and it’s easy to see why stuff goes missing. I’m married to someone in the tech industry and through his influence have discovered great project management tools such as Trello, which I am currently implementing in the work place (albeit with lots of grumbling from colleagues).

Unfortunately email still rules. (As does my husband’s hipster ginger beard.)

I don’t want to be defeatist, but until better systems are standard, in my world at least, I’ve come to terms with the fact that emails will continue to disappear and remain unanswered. Them fishes are squirmy little buggers.

As a client and supplier, I have learned the subtle art of gently and persistently pushing my clients to give me a response, and until I have a better system in place, I guiltily ask that my dear freelancers keep nudging me too.