The PR Guide To Email Pitching
The PR Guide To Email Pitching
by

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 the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
  • Rekinek

    I i have a game youtube channel and the question is what to send to a PR, what i should put in the mail. Any Idea?

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  • Patrick Rafter

    Jason:
    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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  • FormerReporter

    I disagree. As a former reporter (left in March 2011) I needed content and welcomed pitches. For me it was about the quality of the pitch, not who was pitching it. Yes, if I know you that ensures I will read your pitch, but I did not have time to take calls to get to know PR Pros. This post says to me you don’t really KNOW the media.

    • Well, there are exceptions to everything of course. I’m glad you were open to random pitches. But in my time as a journalist, a blogger and a public relations professional, the majority of media members I do know would just as soon get Viagra emails than random pitches from PR people who don’t do a modicum of homework to find out whether or not their pitch is even in the ballpark. Yes, if you’re scouring for a story, you’ll read more than the headline on a few that come in, but spam is spam and the best public relations outreach happens because the PR pro knows the media doesn’t want it. 

  • LRKN

    Jason, do you think it’s acceptable to approach a list of persons that you don’t know in person, but who are point of contact of potential to-be client companies for a new venture? Is this still falls under the “can be considered as spam” category?

    Thanks,
    Lior

    • I don’t think cold calling is 100% spam. Introducing yourself and making that initial connection has to happen somehow. But I do think many people consider any uninvited contact spam. It’s just the nature of the market. We’re approached ad nauseum these days, so we react as if every contact is just someone else trying to sell us something.

  • Shakil 1256

    Great advice. i was in great problems with spammers. Now it has been decreased and hope it will be solved. Thanks for the post.

  • Adamsclay

    Most of the time the spammer hampered me much. So It helped me much.  I’m agreed with Tony. Great Advice.

  • Adamsclay

    Most of the time the spammer hampered me much. So It helped me much.  I’m agreed with Tony. Great Advice.

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  • Tom Nunn

    Very helpful, Jason. (My background includes 20 years in media, mainly covering business, and 12 handling public affairs/media relations for a large publicly traded company). Great advice.

  • Great post, couldn’t agree more. Thank you.

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  • This is a wonderful and very useful post. I think the key to great pitches is to try and make sure that you treat the journalists with respect and personal attention. Otherwise, how *is* your email to them anything more than spam?

    We’ve had newspaper editor and journalist friends for years (long before I was ever in PR) and the dinner table conversation with them has always reflected the unthoughtfulness of some of the outreaches that they get or have had to deal with. It has certainly made me sensitive in my personal approach to members of the press. I prefer to know them as people first that way my contacts become friends and remain that way long after they’ve moved on from their current media outlet. People first.

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  • Jason, you’re bang on (as usual). I’ve been with PRN for 16 years, and to a person, almost every journalist I’ve ever heard speak at an industry event or one of our media forums has complained that most pitches are way off target. Results from the surveys we’ve done with PR Week over the years also bear this out.

    I wonder, however, about tactics to make good pitches more useful – such as providing a tweetable links, and links to visuals – and also to capitalize on the fact that many journos and bloggers are also active on other social networks, and it behooves PR pros to make it easy for these coveted influencers to share info. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

    And I thought you’d get a kick out of Daily Dog article I wrote back in 2009 on pitching and social media: http://budurl.com/DogPitch

    • I’ve always been a fan of multimedia newsrooms where you can send a media
      member/blogger and they have all the assets they might need right there. But
      I still think you’ve got to sell through the idea. All the multimedia in the
      world won’t get them to write about a dumb story.

      And Tweetable links are awesome if you’re driving customers somewhere, but
      I’ve never understood the use of them for media members. Media folks
      normally don’t want to send Twitter or Facebook followers to a story before
      the write it. Even then, they want to send them to the story they wrote, not
      some press release or blog post on someone else’s website.

      Make sense?

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  • While the letter of the law might say that pitching a reporter for the first time is technically spam, the spirit of the law is to avoid email barrages. A pitch relevant to a targeted reporter whom you never worked with isn’t spam; there’s a basic symbiotic relationship that says a reporter reads your brief pitch, if they’re interested they respond, if not everyone moves on. But you don’t know if you don’t try.

    • Great point. I would only disagree that the first email being a pitch is
      kinda spammy in my mind. I try to email folks and say, “Hey. I’m Jason. I
      work with this client. I’d love to talk to you about them, but also be
      helpful to you should you need me. ” Then I throw in a get to know you
      tid-bit … “loved your piece on x. Have you seen the New Yorker article
      about y. Interesting take, too.”

      Then I wrap it up.

      Just an intro. Nothing specific. I just want them to know who I am. I may
      also ask them how they’d like me to get them information about x company,
      too.

  • I get the ‘opt-out can spam’ for mass blasts, for generic pitches sent randomly to as you say, out of date, automated media lists. I can’t remember the last blast pitch or release I sent; that’s what newswires are for I suppose. ;-) Been to local media panels the last few years and almost every writer/editor had the same advice: Email. Intros are nice, be careful of the follow-up calls, watch and/or ask the schedule so you’re not bugging them on deadline. Almost everyone had some version of: if the story is legit, relevant to my beat and audience, exclusive to my outlet, will get me a well-placed story with REAL NEWS then yes send the best custom, personalized pitch you can. Guess that puts me in Rachel’s camp of not considering those spam. FWIW.

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  • Opt Out? There is a lot of great advice in here, I am major advocate for the PR/Journalist relationship repair and targeted outreach but if every email contained an opt-out, I would be doing a complete disservice to my clients. Explain to me how this works? Lets say you have a reporter that isnt interested in a story idea on one client, and is on another? If he/she opts-out of the first, how would you ever know if they would be interested in another? Does this mean you are to never write this reporter again? Reporter behavior towards PR can be very reactive so I think you are setting yourself up for failure if this option is presented to them. And doesn’t an opt-out link simply label your email as spam anyway?

    Lets be serious on CAN-SPAM, show me some precedence on a PR pro being prosecuted for outreach to a reporter. I think its a little irresponsible to even compare general media outreach to what CAN-SPAM tried (and I mean tried) to accomplish.

    • That’s the point, Tony. There is no precedence. But do you want to be the
      one?

      • I would guess there is probably a very good reason why there hasnt been any precedence.

        Ive worked with many reporters over the last decade and a half, Ive worked well with largely all of them but I am sure Ive pissed off a few along the way but I would think, even the ones that have been most frustrated would probably not want wish a $16k fine for a misguided email. However, myself and my colleagues are pretty good at our job so perhaps there is some really egregious email practices going on out there that I am not aware of.

        I think my biggest question is how this Opt-Out option works. This seems to not make a lot of sense to me. I am also a little confused by the introductory email? So if I have never worked with a reporter before and I am presenting a new idea to them, you believe these guys want me to send a first email just to say hi? Most folks I work with, new or old, just want me to get to the point.

        I swear I am not attacking you here, I truly believe you are on to something. PR spam is a huge problem and something I have personally tried to correct at my own agency but I think some of your suggestions are really, really idealistic and in practice just simply couldnt work. … just my $.02

        • Good discussion points, Tony. I think the main difficulty for all of
          us is that not every reporter/project/reason for communicating/size of
          audience is the same.

          The opt out link would occur if you use an email marketing solution to
          send mass emails. The regulations, however, only call for clear opt
          out instructions. So you can just say “Let me know if you don’t want
          me to email you” an be compliant with that part of the Act.

          To your general point, no I don’t think reporters are going to start
          one-offing complaints hoping PR folks get $16,000 fines. But remember
          all the illegal music download targets the government wound up going
          after in 2002? 12 year old girls who had traded files on Napster and
          were fined 10s of thousands of dollars?

          Granted, it’s going to take some complaints, lawsuits, someone like
          Assange to come along and force the issue, but the simple fact
          remains: current Standard Operating Procedure for many PR folks in
          many situations can be interpreted as in violation of the law.

          My post is offering some advice to not be the example.

          • Thanks for your measured response, especially, “The regulations, however, only call for clear opt out instructions. So you can just say ‘Let me know if you don’t want me to email you’ and be compliant with that part of the Act.” Agree.

            I get sorta violent about this topic :) mostly because I’m relatively new to PR and destination marketing, so I’ve been careful to do my homework, only to look around and see so many who do not. Makes me crazy. Guess I should cut back on the coffee.

          • It’s an easy topic to get fired up about, especially if you’re a
            blogger/media member who wasn’t conditioned over decades of being a reporter
            that spamming is what many PR people do. (Relax folks … it’s not all or
            nothing. I said “many.”) Bloggers were the first media members to ever say,
            “Wait … I didn’t ask for this! This is spam!” Journalists just got so used
            to it over the years they ignore it and don’t worry about it. Bloggers are
            always looking for vitriol to fuel their ego pads … er blogs. Heh. So PR
            folks are an easy target sometimes.

            I genuinely think most bad pitches are done out of ignorance. Junior level
            folks don’t know any better and are told to reach out to 5,000 media members
            by EOD Friday. Blasting is all they can do. The media database companies are
            getting better at making that possible and still somewhat okay (by including
            opt-out links, etc.) but blasting in and of itself just should be outlawed,
            in my opinion.

            Still, sometimes you need to reach a big audience with no advertising budget
            and a deadline from hell and blasting is what you’re left with. I had to do
            it recently with a client. I didn’t like it, but they needed the message
            delivered to a lot of people fast. So I did what I could do to make sure the
            pitch was personal (ninja stuff with my email marketing solution) and
            included the disclaimer I left in the post above.

            It didn’t work much. We got about a 17 percent open rate and about a 5%
            click through rate to the site we asked them to see. And to date we got zero
            placements. Which is what I told them we’d get. I’ve followed up and called
            a dozen or so who might do something with it, but they don’t sound all that
            interested because the topic of the outreach frankly wasn’t a huge deal. It
            was okay, but it wasn’t awesome. As Scott Stratten says, nobody wants to
            share “meh.”

            None of this is easy and pretty. I have been and am often on both sides of
            it, so I see it differently than both sides of it for the most part. Just
            doing my part to see if we can’t figure it out at some point.

            Thanks Sheila.

    • As one who is on the receiving end of wads of crap that do not conform to CAN-SPAM, let me tell you what I think of “show me some precedence on a PR pro being prosecuted for outreach to a reporter.”

      No, wait; perhaps my salty Navy language might offend Jason’s delicate ears.

      Do it because it’s right and it’s professional and it’s the law.

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  • It seems like every time there is a post on SME about the bad habits of PR professionals it gets a rousing reaction. The recent ones haven’t even been all from you Jason. It is very interesting to see what strikes a nerve in that industry. Almost emphasizes the points in the articles really.

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  • Anonymous

    Jason,
    This blog post on blog.uk.cision might offer some current details re: journalists’ use of/ preferences for PR professionals using social media / press releases / emails / phone calls to submit info for consideration.

    http://blog.uk.cision.com/2010/09/2010-social-journalism-study/
    –quoting from the September 10, 2010 cision.com blog post.

    “In stark contrast to journalists’ heavy use of Social Media for example for story sourcing, PRs shy away from contacting journalists through such platforms with almost 70% of journalists reporting that they ‘Never’ or only ‘Occasionally’ connect with PRs that way. Here, traditional communication tools such as press releases with 33% and telephone calls with 24% still dominate.”

    Thanks,
    Joanne

  • Anonymous

    Jason, it looks like you have hit a nerve with your post so it must be a sensitive discussion on the part of those who receive news releases and request to link and post on blogs… and those who send the information out. As a long-time marketing / pr person and at one time, a journalist, I’ve been on both sides of the discussion and I’m perennially sensitive to coming across as a spammer when I am distributing something for a client. I wonder what Bacons, PitchEngine, Vocus, Cision, etc. would have to say on this subject — and how many of the media who receive their endless releases/pitches don’t even open the emails because they are not personalized.

    Does anyone know if there are statistics out there that state media’s preference for phone call vs. email pitch? Society for Professional Journalists might have this information. Anyone from SPJ want to get in on the discussion?

    Thanks Jason.
    Joanne from Lincoln Maly Marketing in Cincinnati, Ohio (but born in … and still love … your very own Louisville, Kentucky)

    • Great thoughts, Joanne. I know Cision, Vocus and PitchEngine fairly well.
      (Bacons was bought by/became Cision.) They do a good job of including the
      opt-out links, etc., in any emails you send from their platforms. They also
      do a good job of educating and advocating for best practices in the
      industry. But media databases are still problematic. They’re attractive
      solutions because you can tap into a big database and build a big list fast.
      They’re not inherently conducive to personal outreach.

      But I like what each company has done in terms of trying to steer
      journalists to update their info and PR folks to respecting the inbox.

  • Jason – Great post and points we should all know by now. Anyone who uses a targeted approach to media relations knows it’s more effective in the long run.

    I may be in the minority, but I have to push back on the insistence that we need a note at the end offering reporters an opt-out. If I legally need to add that onto every email I send then that’s definitely news to me – but I’m not an expert. I’ve never added a statement like that on my emails and I don’t foresee doing it. I also don’t send mass emails to reporters – we actually don’t permit it in our office. All of our pitches are tailored. That doesn’t mean we don’t strike out, but it means we are getting our story ideas in the hands of people we’ve worked with, or who may have an interest in covering our client’s material.

    Quite frankly, when I get a pitch from a PR person I’m actually very turned off when I see those unsubscribe notes at the bottom, because it’s a pretty sure indication to me that I’m one of 300 people who also got the pitch, which doesn’t do anything to motivate me to write on said story. And I’ve never had negative feedback from a reporter for not having that note. Not once.

    I’d love to know how many PR people have those disclaimers on their emails – I’m going to survey some of my friends and see. 

    Rachel Kay
    @rachelakay

    • Thanks Rachel. If you’re not blasting and every pitch is tailored, good for you. You’re in the minority, but good for you.

      However, I still caution you (and the purpose of the post was to caution all PR folks) that the Federal Trade Commission may not agree that you don’t need to put a clear opt-out instruction in your individually tailored emails. It is a commercial communication. It is promoting a product or service or client. (Yes, there are gray areas.) So if a media member complains about you to the FTC, the Commission reviews your email and elects to fine you, your opinion that you don’t need one isn’t going to matter.

      I’m not claiming that my recommendations here are chapter and verse. But in thinking through the issue, reading the CAN-SPAM act and looking at how the legal system has typically handed interpretations in new media over the years, I don’t recommend risking it.

      • First of all, thanks Jason for raising these issues. There are still way too many PR pros who blast irrelevant e-mail pitches and give our industry and their clients a bad name.

        That said, the “opt-out disclaimer” point is a hard one for me to swallow. I looked at the CAN-SPAM act and see where you’re coming from. But I also strongly agree with Rachel — you send me an e-mail that has an opt out at the bottom, that says spam to me. Whether it should or not. “Hey, you might want to opt out of this e-mail because I just blasted it off to 500 people I don’t know and am now sitting in my office praying someone will pick up my story.”

        Like Rachel, we spend the time and effort to research and personalize pitches. And it takes a lot of time and discussion. Every time I pitch someone I don’t know, I introduce myself at the start of the pitch. And I can guarantee the pitches are relevant to the recipient. But I would hate to take the time to research and craft a personalized pitch only to have the recipient read what could look like an automated opt-out message at the bottom and go, “uh, seen this before…no thanks.” Because that is how I react when I get those e-mails.

        • That’s where people assume … the guidelines only say, “Your message must
          include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out
          of getting email from you in the future.”

          You don’t have to use an email solution with newsletter-like opt-out links.
          You just have to say, “Let me know if you’d rather not receive emails and
          how I can get information to you.”

          But you still must clearly state the message is an advertisement/commercial
          message and you can’t mislead people with headlines, etc. It’s not pretty
          and there’s plenty of folks who will say that CAN-SPAM only applies to
          sales, not PR. But until the FTC interprets the act (and it’s been around
          since 2004, so I’m not thinking they’re going to anytime soon) and says PR
          is exempt, I wouldn’t recommend anyone chance it.

          • Thanks for the clarification. I can see the less-scripted opt-out solution you mentioned working better. Still not jumping for joy on this one, but a more viable alternative. Cheers.

  • Pam

    I wrote PR for 6 years for real estate companies before I became a real estate editor who received press releases. So I’ve sat on both sides. And let me tell you, I used to work my tail off to customize press releases for the editors I sent PR to. There is nothing more irritating than repeatedly getting stuff you can’t use from people that are too lazy to take the time to understand what you can use and what you can’t.

    Get to know the people you want to print your stuff. Don’t just hope. Find out what they use and what they don’t. The editors will be flattered and happy that you asked.

  • God bless you.

  • Lindsay Childs

    Nice post, Jason. Whereas bulk e-mailing is a tactic that every PR pro should ban, I don’t see the evil in sending a tailored, well-targeted e-mail to a single reporter/blogger. (As Charles Arthur points out, it’s much less disruptive than a phone call.) I don’t think an e-mail pitch would be considered spam based on the FTC’s definition: a commercial message is “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.” Technically, that’s not what a pitch is. The primary purpose of a pitch is to share newsworthy information the reporter’s readers/viewers would likely find of interest, and encourage the reporter to share the information with readers. Semantics? Maybe, but ultimately the goal is not for the reporter to purchase the product/service, so I doubt the FTC would impose a penalty on such communication. Nevertheless, your advice to include a means for “opt-out” is a good CYA measure.

    • Thanks, Lindsay. Guess we’ll just have to disagree on the nature of PR
      pitches. They are absolutely commercial advertisement or promotion of a
      commercial product or service. You pitch to the media in hopes they’ll turn
      around and tell their audiences about it. The fact that it is a go-between
      to the public or that it is a B2B-ish channel doesn’t make it
      non-commercial.

      And my cautions are rooted in my opinion (somewhat informed and based on
      historical precedent) that the government typically doesn’t care what the
      offender’s opinion is of the law. If they decide to interpret it liberally,
      and they historically do … though the vagueness often means cases get
      overturned or thrown out on appeal … then the PR person or firm in
      question is facing a whole butt-load of trouble.

      I’m sure deejays in the 1940s didn’t think taking a few bucks from a record
      company to play a record was a big deal. They were wrong.

      • Lindsay Childs

        Yep, agree to disagree. Not every pitch is a “cover my product/service, please” pitch. If I’m contacting a reporter covering Japan’s nuclear crisis offering access to a nuclear power expert, that’s not a commercial advertisement/promotion. I’m not asking the reporter to cover a product/service, nor would the e-mail make mention of such. That’s certainly not spam, and although the distinction is clear to PR pros, I’d think the FTC would have difficulty delineating (and therefore legislating) between the types of pitches that could be considered spam and those that would not.

        • Fair. And there aren’t clear, black-and-white rules. Which is again another
          reason why I wish PRSA would take a firm stand and give PR professionals
          some direction on the matter, rather than just saying, “Here’s some general
          best practices, but go ask the FTC if you really want to know.” They should
          say, “For the best interests of our members, here’s what we recommend.”

      • Greg Jones

        Jason, your anology to deejays in the 1940s is flawed: PR professionals merely propose storylines and sources; journalists at legitimate media outlets tell the stories. Last time I checked, they weren’t accepting a few bucks to run stories.

        • Didn’t mean it as a direct correlation. The parallel is in the actions
          government takes when they sink their talons into new industries.
          Social AMD digital media are in for a rude awakening and PR sending
          email spam is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • i really like when pitches are personal and mention a detail about my blog they liked.

  • So I saw your preview of this post yesterday and I thought, “Oh good, I’m itching for a fight.”

    Sadly, I agree with everything you have here, and in fact, going back to another post of yours, I tend to refrain from asking people on Twitter to promote my blog posts for a similar reason. “A Spammer says wha?”

    Sharing now:)

    • Sorry to not piss you off? Odd thing for me to say, I suppose. Heh.

  • Jason,

    Are you saying that you’re sick of getting 50-100 multi-paragraph pitches every week that have absolutely nothing to do with your business.

    My personal fave;

    Fashion. Why the frick I get pitches sent to me concerning all things “runway,” I have no clue.

    But…don’t you enjoy emailing these flakes back, once in awhile? :)

    The Franchise King®

    • Emailing them back is my follow up post for next week! ;-)

  • Jason, railing against PRSA in a very “Beavis and Butt-head” sort of way (“hehehehe, you said ‘nuts!'”) might have made you feel better but, in your crankiness, is it possible that you’ve misplaced the blame?The FTC, not PRSA, has the authority and responsibility to enforce The CAN-SPAM Act, so why not start there? What’s next — taking PRSA to the Falls woodshed for not enforcing the “National Do Not Call Registry?”Your post also seems to imply that PRSA disagrees with your position; again, for the record, we don’t.Did you know, for example, that PRSA publicly supported (in a blog post, “For Immediate Release” podcast and letter to the editor of PRWeek UK) the Media Spamming Charter advanced by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and supported by the UK’s National Union of Journalists?(It’s no doubt of interest to you that CIPR’s philosophy is similar to PRSA’s, in that the Charter is meant to guide CIPR members and the UK public relations profession on standards of conduct, rather than serving as an enforcement mechanism.)Did you also know that PRSA’s Social Media Policy (which is available free to PRSA members and non-members alike), includes best-practices for working with bloggers, such as the guidance that “An unsolicited e-mail to a blogger from a public relations professional is often considered to be spam?”PRSA’s role is to educate its members and the broader profession on best practices and ethical standards in public relations, not to interpret legislation and assert regulatory authority that we don’t have. (And not to question your interpretation of the CAN-SPAM Act, but PRSA is unaware of any guidance from the FTC stating that electronic communications between public relations professionals and journalists and bloggers are subject to regulation under the Act.)If you don’t agree with the way in which PRSA defines its role, I can only suggest actually becoming a PRSA member and getting involved in setting our agenda.Arthur Yann is vice president of public relations for PRSA.

  • Gsideman

    Lots of food for thought, here. I’m dealing with this exact issue as I pitch a new group of reporters and bloggers this month. It’s challenging to “meet” a new group of media and bloggers and establish trust that you know took years to establish with your core contacts.

    There can be a fine line between truly bugging a reporter (that you don’t know) and providing something you know in your heart his/her readers will use/enjoy. Thanks for the thoughts, Jason.

  • Anonymous

    This perspective is very interesting. While getting a “hit” for a client is important, building a sustainable long-term relationship is typically much more valuable in the long run, for all parties involved. Thanks for the post.

  • Dave

    On a glass-half-full day, PR/marketing spam is a blessing in disguise. It’s always convenient when the “I’m with stupid” arrow on someone’s shirt points up, so you know what you’re getting into from the very beginning.

  • I was looking forward to your post after last night’s warning message. I think it is smart advice. However, Charles Arthur hit on my inclination to not call reporters just to verify their inclusion. In my experience, including a line such as: “if this sort of information is not in your beat, please refer me to the correct contact” works sometimes because I typically do keep to shorter lists. I am working off of the last known assignments and I really do try to check recent stories if possible. But, they might have switched recently or a generalist might be the better point of contact. With voicemail, it is difficult to get through to people to speak and email is less intrusive. Have a good week.

    • Okay, a little pushback here … I don’t think reporters want to open PR
      pitch emails in the first place. This is why I like to call them … or
      connect 1:1 in some fashion – Twitter, etc. Sure, I’m only going to call the
      ones that I put on some sort of prioritized status on my lists, but I’ve
      emailed some reporters until the cows come home and still no response. I
      think they open what they trust. If they don’t trust you, you can’t even get
      their attention long enough to get the right contact or a response.
      Thoughts?

      • You know, it is 50/50 that they open it, 50/50 that they respond. Yes, I’ve also had no responses to pitches but they also don’t pick up the phone either. Voicemail is a tool to block calls, as well as take messages, right? But based on that argument why is a disclaimer necessary if we don’t even expect the pitch to be read in the first place? The unfortunate truth is the PR people who need this advice the most probably do not recognize themselves and/or will not read your blog.

        • You’re right there. Which is why I asked everyone to pass it on to colleagues. I’ve gotten pitches from co-workers of people who know better before. It’s a little step to help educate the masses, I guess.

          And the disclaimer is only necessary if you want to follow the law. I just don’t think the FTC is going to give a crap that you don’t think PR is advertising if they get a complaint and decide to fine you.

          • If it was not clear, I did agree with you and will likely use a disclaimer to play it safe. P.S. I have tweeted and shared this on Facebook.

      • Greg Jones

        Totally disagree. In today’s world, concise, well-targeted email pitches (sans attachments) work very well. That said, in any medium, replies are not assured.

  • This is an interesting perspective, and I think adding the “disclaimer” makes a lot of sense. As a PR person, I am always trying to walk the line between spamming and communicating. Also – while getting a “hit” for a client is important, building a sustainable long-term relationship is typically much more valuable in the long run, for all parties involved. Making it clear that you respect a blogger’s time and interests will go a long way in opening the door to communication.

  • Jason, when I saw your tweet last night addressed to PR people saying that we’ll all be “mad” at you, I half expected some cranky tirade on something hot-button. Dude, this isn’t worthy of us being mad at you. This is a great reminder and (for some, an intro) of some appropriate media/blogger outreach. Will it help? Maybe.

    That said, I respectfully disagree with your notion that PRSA is “all but endorsing email spam.” It seems to me the Nat’l org basically came to the conclusion that they couldn’t *enforce* anything to the extent that Bernoff was asking them to do. PRSA endorses best practices, but perhaps additional education is necessary.

    Good stuff,
    Richie Escovedo, @vedo

    • I was referring to the line where I said PRSA has no balls. Some of ’em will
      get chapped there, I think. I was cranky. But I don’t shrink away from
      thinking that. Heh.

  • Great topic – I didn’t even think about the fact that a lot of the “pitches” I receive really could fall under the header of spam considering I didn’t sign up anywhere to receive them.

    I wrote a post a few months ago about how to do successful blogger outreach in terms of researching the blogger first and personalizing the pitch to ensure it fits the blog and its audience. Sure that would take a lot longer than the mass email, but I think it would be a more effective campaign in the end.

  • If you send me an email and then follow it up with a phone call before I’ve had a chance to respond, you’ll get a dusty answer. I’m in favour of approaches via email, but let me reply in kind. If I think it’s desperately urgent, I’ll respond by phone. Don’t try to drive it – apart from anything, I’m often busy. And I’ll like you even less if your phone call blocks one that I’m really waiting for.

    • Great point, Charles. My only question would be, “What’s the appropriate wait time?” My guess is that it varies. I know reporters who stay so busy and on deadline that they won’t even look at your email if you don’t call them to say, “Check your email.” But that’s the beauty of having a personal relationship … you’ll learn who likes what over time. Still, it’s a fair point to ask … how long is unresponsive vs. haven’t gotten around to it.

  • If you send me an email introducing yourself and then call me before I’ve responded, you’ll likely get a dusty answer. I do like PR where people introduce themselves via email and set out what they look after and what they think I do, but trying to hurry the process along with a phone call ain’t a good idea. I’m busy a lot of the time. And I may be waiting for a phone call that isn’t yours, and if you’ve blocked that call then I’ll like you even less.

  • It doesn’t take long to research the proper target and personalize a clear and concise email to that person. Yet, some of us in the biz still rely on the mass email pitch. I fail to see the value it brings to you or your client. Maybe now that they see it could be illegal, some will change their ways.

  • Craig H Kessler

    Good article and as the industry changes and relationships with bloggers change, so does the pitch. I don’t cold call, and think that is a dicey subject when handling bloggers. Unless there is a set up for the chat, calling can be risky. I also think it’s mandatory to include FTC guidelines. With measurables different for everyone, how do you typically measure and define success, as well as set expectations?