Public relations professionals responded en masse to last week’s post offering some guidelines for email pitching. My assertions that PR outreach via email is, indeed, a commercial communications and, thus, falls under the regulatory purview of the Federal Trade Commission and the CAN-SPAM Act was polarizing.
Many did not agree with my opinion that the CAN-SPAM Act also encompasses public relations communications, particularly when a PR person is reaching out to a media outlet or blogger to just establish that all-important relationship. Honestly, I do think there are a lot of gray areas here, but when it comes to following the letter of the law, can we really afford to play in an unclear pool?
My recommendations to include opt-out instructions or links and clear statements the communications is advertising or commercial in nature are not based on what I personally believe is the most appropriate approach. They are based on what I believe to be the most appropriate approach in light of the law. While the courts have yet to interpret or consider cases that fall into this part of the gray area of CAN-SPAM actualization, I believe we should err on the side of caution. Hence the recommendations.
But those were my thoughts for the public relations side of the aisle. I have some thoughts for the media or blogger side as well. It is my hope these ideas will further spread understanding of what the law asks for. On a parallel path, we’re enlightening those who perform media and blogger outreach as to best practices for us. (I’m assuming the role of blogger/media outlet for the sake of the rest of this post.)
Instead of filing FTC complaints, launching public wikis of email spammers and outing PR pros for bad pitches or even potential CAN-SPAM violations, we should do our part to make things better. We should first understand that while social media and bloggers as media have been around a while now, we’re still in the infancy of this new marketing landscape.
Reacting like a spoiled child does no good. No one thinks of Chris Anderson or Gina Tripani as heroes for having hissy fits on PR people back in 2008. Bloggers who followed suit and copy-pasted awful pitches, outing and embarrassing the offenders, just showed their ass with their virtual temper tantrums.
What we should do is embrace and educate. While I certainly recognize that it is no media member’s responsibility, bloggers included, to respond to every bad pitch with soothing instructions and helpful pointers on improving their chances of being heard, I do think we can take some simple steps to improve things.
Here’s what I suggest:
Write a helpful canned response. Here’s mine:
Thanks for your email. I noticed you didn’t include an opt-out link or instructions. Did you know this may be in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act? Since your email was commercial in nature (promoting a product) not including opt-out links or instructions could subject you or your firm to fines.
Just thought I’d let you know. Please do remove me from your list. If you’d like to know how to get my attention better for future pitches, my “how to pitch” ideas are here: http://socialmediaexp.wpengine.com/how-to-pitch-sme/
Keep that canned response in an easily accessible text file or even use a custom template tool like WiseStamp (email signatures) or even Tout that allows you to easily populate an email with your canned responses.
As you go through your inbox and find offending emails, click a button or two, copy-paste if needed, and send.
In just a few seconds, you’ve helped bring the CAN-SPAM Act to light for public relations professionals who may not be aware of it, politely responded to and dismissed the pitch and moved on.
Until the FTC further interprets the CAN-SPAM Act (it’s been around since 2004, so don’t count on that happening anytime soon) or an organization like PRSA or IABC comes down with a firm stance and recommendation for their members on the issue, this is the world we live in.
Public relations professionals are going to screw up outreach. Some will do it out of ignorance. Others may do it intentionally. But media members/bloggers are as much a part of the evolution of the current environment to something more amenable to everyone as the PR folks themselves.
So let’s chip away at the stone, gang. Eventually, it’ll be gone.