I’ve always considered myself a public relations professional by trade. Even when the general perception of PR isn’t all that good, I still try to advocate for stronger ethics, better measures and more honorable tactics than those that give the industry an iffy reputation. But despite the last several years of trying to help many of my colleagues better understand that blasting and lists and impersonal communications is not only generally not effective but under certain conditions illegal, too many still don’t get it.

So let’s review … and this time pay attention:

  1. If you email a blogger, media member or otherwise individual with a pulse and they do not know you and didn’t ask you to email them, you are — at most — introducing yourself. If you do anything more than that, you are spamming them.
  2. If you email anyone for a commercial purpose — and outreach on behalf of a company or organization is for a commercial purpose — your email and company or firm is subject to the CAN-SPAM act. As such, among other things, your email has to have a “clear and conspicuous” explanation of how to to opt-out of your emails. By the way, you also have to clearly identify the communication as advertising. And if you think PR isn’t advertising in this case, roll the dice. I’m sure a judge won’t agree with your COM 204 professor’s definition. And PRSA is understandably nut-less, all but endorsing email spam, when it comes to their official reaction to this notion. (Thank you for prodding them, Josh.)
  3. Media database companies cannot possibly update tens of thousands of media member’s contact information or preferences to the extent you can rely on them to not get you in trouble with a blogger who agrees with the first two points. Automation, even using companies claiming to have awesome data to drive it, is not cool.
  4. Yes, this makes scaling your media outreach next to impossible. But that’s a good thing. Your “list” is supposed to be a list of personal contact information for people you know and have some sort of professional relationship or contact with. They should be glad to open your emails. Any list that is more than that is one that should comply to No. 2.

Yeah, I know it sucks. I used to think PR was easy, too. I’d download my list of 400 outlets that qualified under my target parameters, copy and paste my press release and hope like hell for some pick up. I’d follow up and call about 15 key media outlets and develop the relationship part, maybe get 5-6 of them to bite on the story, along with the 2-3 dozen small town newspapers that were so starved for content they copy-pasted my release, and made my clients or bosses happy.

You’re in the communications business. Communications wasn’t meant to be one to many. It’s unnatural.

You can build a list all you want, but call each person on it. Reach out to them. And reach out with nothing but getting to know them a bit in mind. If the list is too long for that to be practical, then the list is too long for that to be practical. Edit it.

And if your back is against the wall and you have to communicate one message to a lot of people you don’t know in a short amount of time, at least comply with the law with perhaps a little note like this at the end:

I’m careful to send emails to media outlets that serve audiences that may find the subject matter useful. Sometimes, media databases aren’t as accurate with the topics as I’d hope. To protect your inbox, I’m using an email software. If you’d rather not receive messages from me relevant to you and your readers, just opt out by clicking here. If I’ve sent an irrelevant message, I apologize. It was unintentional.

And while I’m not the know all and end all to PR or outreach and your response and feedback is not only welcome but encouraged, there is one thing I’d like to ask you to do in addition to share your thoughts:

  1. Share this post on Facebook
  2. Tweet a link to it asking your PR colleagues and friends to read it
  3. Email the link to any PR people you know, especially since they could be fined $16,000 per incident of not complying with the CAN-SPAM Act.
  4. Go update your information in media databases, or reach out to them as ask to be able to
  5. Stop … and I repeat … Stop sending email pitches without an opt-out.

Once you’re done, you can go back to your regularly scheduled blog reading. Void where prohibited.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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  • Patrick Rafter

    A provocative post!  
    I must disagree with your take that sending a member of the media is spamming them and a violation of CAN-SPAM.

    There’s a huge difference between mass mailing pitches (which are truly SPAM, IMO) and 1-to-1 emails to a single journalist from a respectful PR person who has researched, and written a thoughtful message that is truly relevant to the writer’s beat.

    As a PR pro with 30+ yrs experience, I’ve tried to be respectful, facilitative, not annoying or irrelevant.

    Surely email remains one of the most efficient media for PR-to-Media-to-PR dialogue. Certainly better than telephone cold calls, Twitter, etc.

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