How to avoid spamming in your PR outreach

Yesterday, CafePress VP of Digital Strategy, Jason Falls wrote a post warning PR professionals to ensure their emails are CAN-SPAM compliant, especially when sending them his way.

Today, I thought it would be a good time to review what is spam exactly and why it’s the last thing you want to send. The CAN-SPAM Act while good in it’s intentions, actually made spamming a little easier by not requiring marketers to get permission before sending email.

First of all, consider that reaching out to someone personally is a lot more likely to generate the results that the client is looking for. Personal relationships are the gold, the currency of the PR realm and any PR practitioner or firm should have an address book filled with contacts and strong relationships. By making one-to-one, personal outreaches, you also negate the CAN-SPAM Act entirely as it only applies to bulk email.

If you absolutely must send out an email to a media list, here are a few rules to follow:

1. Make sure there is an unsubscribe link somewhere in the email and that if someone clicks the link they are actually unsubscribed within 10 days. Most email service providers do this instantly. (Most ESPs won’t let you send to media lists in the first place. Most.) Anyone that opts out of your list should be removed and placed on a suppression list so they aren’t accidentally emailed in the future.

2. Bet you didn’t know that one of the rules of compliance is an accurate from line. Don’t send email that is vague or only has your company name in the From: field. Use your name (example: Chel Wolverton – SHIFT Communications).

3. Relevant subject lines are important. Think about it for a moment. Will YOU open an email that has a subject line that doesn’t tell you what is in the message if it’s from someone you don’t know? How many messages get ignored because they are from people we don’t know AND the subject line isn’t clear. Get to the point. It not only keeps you compliant but is more likely to get opened.

4. It’s very important that at the end of the email you include an actual physical location of the business who is sending the email. In the case of sending on behalf of clients, it works to include their mailing address. P.O. Boxes are acceptable.

5. If the content is adult only, it should be labelled such. I would recommend that if you have adult content that you mark it so inside the subject line of the email. Embarrassing a reporter at work, even if it’s a relevant story, would likely place any emails on their “do not respond to” list. Here’s where CAN-SPAM compliance rules get a little bit technical.

6. Do not send a message through an open relay. Some mail servers that allow anyone to send mail through them can be used to relay messages that aren’t actually from said domain. Don’t do this. It’s sneaky and underhanded on top of being illegal.

7. Messages to harvested emails are a big no-no. If someone scrapes the web for email addresses and blindly sends to them without permission. Well, do the math on that one.

8. Messages should not contain a false header. Don’t use another company’s header to get your message through. Ever seen a phishing email from what looks like a bank that you’ve never had an account with? That’s a false header.

There are some exemptions for the CAN-SPAM Act which includes messages from religious organizations, political organizations (of course they did), and national security messages. On top of these rules, there are some that apply to hackers that we won’t go into here, but I hope this serves as a reminder to what spam actually is and how to avoid it.

If you follow these rules, you are also more likely to get your email read. And that’s always a great thing in public relations, right?

Chel Wolverton

Senior Marketing Analyst


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