Who has responsibility for addressing PR spam?

Since I last wrote about PR spam a few weeks ago, I’ve been keeping an eye on some of the email that’s ended up in the spam folders in Outlook.

It’s a never-ending stream of spam, and it’s getting worse – it’s now running at an average of 10-15 emails a day.

Recognizing that ‘spam’ is a rather subjective word in this context – one man’s spam is another man’s treasure, etc – here again is my definition of PR spam:

  • The product or service being pitched by email is so obviously not one that I would have much interest in, a fact that would be very easily apparent if the pitcher had taken even a cursory glance at this blog or listened to my podcast.
  • The email includes an unsolicited Word document attachment. And it’s worth noting that not everyone uses Word. I do but the pitcher doesn’t know that.
  • The pitcher writes a pseudo-friendly greeting but it only looks like a bad database mail merge. My favourite: “Hi, Neville ,” (notice the space between my name and the final comma). A close second is the simple “Hi ,” with that same space (yes, I’ve had lots of emails like that).

From scanning through much of the recent stuff, I’ll add another one:

  • The email contains nothing but the text of a press release. That sin is compounded when the email subject line says (you guessed it) ‘press release’ or ‘latest announcement from XYZ Company.’ The nail’s in the coffin when the email also includes the press release as a Word attachment with lots of font and other document formatting.

A handful of such email does include a nice little sender’s opt-out paragraph as illustrated in this example:


“Apologies if this story is not of relevance to you”? Sorry PR folk, that doesn’t cut it. The responsibility is yours to research whether your story is of relevance to me, before you send out your mass emailing. (I really don’t mind receiving a mass emailing as long as it’s relevant.)

Otherwise it just ends up on the spam blacklist and gets written about in blog posts like this one. Note that I’m being nice by pixelating out identifying names, email addresses, etc, in the screenshot.

I’m now more convinced than ever that the key issue with PR spam is simply lack of care, common sense, even knowing what to do, by the email message creator as I wrote in my last post (PR spam is mostly the result of being careless).

I also think this is a symptom of a wider issues in the PR business, a similar one to that afflicting journalists with the rise of churnalism – the pressure to do more in less time and so cut corners in order to meet such targets.

Can’t do much about time pressures but there’s a lot to be done about the basics of care, common sense and knowing what to do.

Agencies and other organizations in which PR people work have the prime responsibility to ensure their employees know what to do. Managers and supervisors really ought to exercise individual responsibility in this regard for the people they work with.

And what an opportunity for the professional associations – PRSA, CIPR, IABC, etc – to take a firm leadership position and address an issue that clearly is one at the heart of people’s negative perceptions about PR, including many in the profession itself.

This isn’t about best practice or anything terribly complex: it’s about the basics!

At 6pm UK time today, Shel and I will be hosting an FIR Live on BlogTalk Radio discussion about PR spam and what to do about it. What I’ve expressed in this post is purely one point of view and I’m sure there will be plenty of depth in today’s discussion.

If you have an opinion, we’d welcome your participation.

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