Should PR Be CAN-SPAM Compliant?

If the pitch is marketing communications, it should be subject to the rules

by Jason Falls |

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:


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:

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

Please remove me from your email list. Thank you!


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

About the Author

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).