Should PR Be CAN-SPAM Compliant?

by · August 5, 201316 comments

Public relations is a subset of marketing. Sure, some might argue that marketing is a subset of public relations, but those people are delusional. They read press releases for fun.

But going on the general premise that public relations is marketing communications then a public relations pitch should be considered marketing communications outreach. By that definition, PR pitches should be compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act. Sadly, few are.

Before any of PR types blow a gasket, let’s first remember what the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 actually is. It does not say that you cannot send unsolicited emails. (Though in my opinion, it should.) It does not prohibit you from using Cision or Vocus or some other media database company to select media outlets based on some predetermined criteria and sending them your nonsense. So my argument won’t prevent you from your Parades of Irrelevance. Rest easy, Spamalicious.

The CAN-SPAM Act asks for three basic things from emails that are primarily sent as marketing communications vehicles:

  1. An opt-out
  2. Honesty and transparency in content and ownership
  3. Not sending mail using black-hat techniques like open relays or by harvesting emails unethically

What CAN-SPAM Compliance Means For Your Pitches

To make your public relations pitches compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act, you simply need to do the following:

  1. Provide an “unsubscribe” or Opt-Out link and honor that request within 10 days. This means you either need to use an email marketing service to send or you need to factor in some legwork to maintaining your lists.
  2. Put the street address of your firm or organization in the email so the recipient knows who is sending it and where to send the C&D if necessary (heh).
  3. Be honest in your headlines and content. Don’t mislead the audience. I don’t think this applies to the bombastic bullshit you write about how awesome the product or event or thing your client or organization is doing, unfortunately. So you can still use 15 superlatives in the same paragraph, even if they are inaccurate. But you can’t have a header promising news on winning the lottery only to have the content about the shiny new paperweight you’re selling.
  4. Get emails from a trusted media database company not some mail order, buy-a-list program.

If you’re not going to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, at some point the government may force you to. Until then, you can get used to seeing responses like the one I send folks who spam me these days. I encourage anyone who is routinely pitched to copy-paste this as an auto responder to further the cause:

Hello,

You’ve sent me a PR pitch that is not CAN-SPAM compliant. It doesn’t have an “unsubscribe” or “opt-out” link or instructions. Since it is marketing communication, it needs to comply with email marketing laws. You can learn more about the CAN-SPAM act here:

http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/bus61-can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business

You can order my book, “The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing,” here:

http://www.amazon.com/Rebels-Guide-Email-Marketing-Biz-Tech/dp/0789749696

Please remove me from your email list. Thank you!

Jason

Okay … who’s gonna crucify me first? Heh.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://indispensablemarketing.com/ Patrick McFadden

    Jason I like your point-of-view. And you even gave ways to be compliant. Great post my man!

  • Eti Nachum Finkelstein

    Tnx, Great post.

  • wesmorgan1

    I would add, “Due to your lack of compliance, both your firm and those firms you represent will be disqualified from doing business with our firm.” If you’re a media outlet, change it to something like, “Due to your lack of compliance, we will not be using any material(s) delivered by your firm.”

    Make them realize the real-world consequences. I will NOT do business with any firm that spams me, whether they do so directly or through a marketing/PR firm.

  • http://www.thesocialcraft.com/ Cindy Meltzer

    Couldn’t agree more. I did a blogger research study this past spring which found that 97% of bloggers get email pitches daily from PR firms. 40% of bloggers say very few to none are the right fit for their blog. That’s a lot of spam, with no way to opt-out. I’m a marketing consultant but after attending several blogging conferences my email has landed on dozens of PR lists — so I get pitches for everything from apps to diaper cream crowding up my inbox every day. Make it stop!

  • http://www.sheilasguide.com/ Sheila Scarborough

    I am flabbergasted by how many of the pitch/PR emails I get are not CAN-SPAM compliant (mostly, no Unsubscribe link.) These aren’t sent by some flack with an aol.com address,either – they are from agencies and “professionals” who should know better.

    If there’s no Unsubscribe link, I either hit Spam or set up a quick email filter so that any future emails from that person skip my In box and are deleted immediately.

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  • Adeel Vanthaliwala

    CAN-SPAM really is “you can spam” in my opinion.

    What’s equally mind-boggling about these techniques is how badly those email are written and designed. If you do want to play risk with the law, at least make sure you can get some benefit out of it.

    Why would you take the risk and then send me an essay to read, or blabber about how great you are and not use my attention (which you caught by surpirse) and make it nice, short and engaging in nature. Like, why not ask me a simple question and see if I reply. At least that’ll begin a relationship.

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  • geofflivingston

    Hey Jason, as your friend and as a blogger, I so agree! I cannot tell you how many annoying pitches I get that seem like they are out of left field.

    I’m also the acting director of PR at Vocus (for just a short while longer)… I know Vocus encourages our clients to “utilize the media database to carefully target pitches so as not to be identified as spam…” But that does not mean people listen. Some forego that and blast their pitches to 500 people + at once. And that’s too bad because really they lessen the value of the tool, their brand, and the tactic in general. It always pays to use a list as a starting point to cultvate relationships, broker information that’s valuable, and not to straight out pitch.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Valuable perspective there Geoff. Thanks so much for chiming in. I’ve always valued the fact that Vocus and some of your competitors have been very attentive to this issue over the years. We appreciate it.

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  • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

    I’d reckon that the vast majority of PR spammers, are in fact not PR people, but marketers (or SEOs) trying to do a little PR on the side, but they missed the 101 level course work.

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