Stop Spamming Journalists

Blasting a news release out to as many reporter and blogger email addresses you can find is PR spam. It’s one step removed from buying email addresses on the black market and sending enlargement offers. Whether you pay for access to a media database like those offered by Cision or Vocus, or you build your list from scratch,  you don’t have the right to mass email media you think may be interested in the topic you’re pitching.

If you’ve gone through the process of getting journalists to opt-in to receive your mass-distributed news, that’s different. Either way, most journalists are fine with you emailing them directly, provided your pitch is genuinely targeted to the areas they cover, and not a mass email.

As many of you know, we’ve had our latest example of a PR person spamming a media list. It seems like there’s a new story like this every couple of months. If there’s one group of media contacts you really don’t want to piss off, it’s the social media crowd. I don’t need to throw this person under the bus, since AdAge, TechCrunch and a few dozen or so other media outlets have done so already. The point I want to make here is that if you mass distribute a PR pitch or press release via email, you could be next the next PR person with a target on their back. Don’t mass pitch.

The only way you can keep yourself off PR spammer lists is to never spam journalists. It’s that easy. I get how this happens though, it’s so tempting to just send the pitch to 100 or so outlets that might be interested and call it a day. Rather than spending weeks on pitching and follow up, one email can save a lot of time. It’s also the least effective way to generate favorable publicity for your clients.

What Happened With This Recent Example?

In case you don’t know about the latest PR spam fiasco, I’ll paraphrase for you. A PR professional put together a list of social media reporters and journalists, put together a pitch, and inadvertently CC’d the list (instead of BCC). Within minutes of the pitch, dozens of reporters and bloggers on the list started to “reply all” – some of the replies were heavy-hitter bloggers. Everyone on the list got ticked off and started getting irritated by all the reply alls (and the lack of a clearly defined opt-out option on the email). It wasn’t pretty. The offender was also slow to respond to the mistake she made, which only made matters worth. As a sidenote, even our lowly blog was on the distribution list, along with a bunch of top-notch bloggers (which I know from the reply alls).

Most people were irritated by the number of emails created by everyone clicking “reply all” to voice their opinion about being pitched via CC. The pitch wasn’t that bad, it was the CC that pushed people to get out their pitchforks and skewer this PR firm. By now, I would think that most of us are Web-savvy enough (especially a social media group), to know you don’t “reply all” to an email like this. For that, the repliers are partially to blame. But ultimately, this all could have been avoided if she hadn’t sent a mass email pitch to the list in the first place.

If the PR person had tailored a pitch to each reporter or blogger, based on what they write about, their audience, and the reasons why they should be interested in the pitch, the outcome could have been more favorable. I’m sure this is the last time this person will pitch via mass email, but somebody else will repeat the offense. This just makes it more difficult for any PR pro to break through the filters and get media attention.

So this is my call to all of you thinking about sending your next pitch via mass email – don’t do it. Please stop spamming journalists with your pitches.

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(Image Credit: Spam Jam 2009 by madmarv00)

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.

9 Comments

  1. I agree that spamming reporters is something PR people should avoid doing, but the more I’ve read about this incident the more I wonder how many of the reporters and bloggers hit “reply to all” on purpose just to make a mountain out of a molehill.

    • I’d like to think they have better stuff to do with their time (though some may not). Of course, it’s also possible that they’ve just had enough. If 90% of the work-related phone calls and emails you received had nothing to do with what you do, you might have a short fuse too.

  2. Jeremy,

    Good post…important too. That recent gaffe on which Abraham and Harrison’s Chris Abraham also posted was just one example of a very bad practice in media relations that the advent of automation has enabled. Lost is the art of tailoring each pitch to an individual journalist based on his or her actual interest.

    If you haven’t heard about the PR search application and engagement tool that I helped develop (www.prmatchpoint.com), you should know about it. Its latest version allows journalist engagement, but limits outreach to one journalist at a time to avoid spam. More importantly, the journalists whose names/contacts surface through the search are those whose bodies of work actually “match” the searched-on pitch letter or press release. It does not rely on vague job titles for targeting.

    Glad to see you’re keeping the industry informed and honest.

    All best,

    Peter Himler
    Founding Principal
    Flatiron Communications LLC
    http://www.flatironcomm.com

    • On the flip side of the equation, I’ve spent a lot of time tailoring pitches to individual journalists in the past, only to have the email automatically deleted or never read. It’s still all about relationships. If you have them, you can get your clients more press. If you don’t, you’d better start figuring out how to build some, or find a different profession.

      As far as MatchPoint goes, I blogged about it after you launched. Let me know if you’ve made any improvements to the search algorithm since then (or other features improvements) – I think it’s a great idea and that it can help to some degree.

  3. PR professionals are not the root of this problem, the infamous and gigantic corporations are. They spend millions hiring PR companies to do their dirty work for them and get their message or product on TV, radio, websites, blogs, social networking sites etc., which costs less then advertising. This tactic can also be more efficient sometimes because the message or mention can be subliminal. For example, the next time you see an interview on TV or hear one on the radio with a doctor explaining a disease or mental disorder – 90% of the time they are being paid by a pharmaceutical company that may not ever be mentioned. How is that unbiased medical advice? Stations should disclose who the sponsor is, but many times they don’t. Or my favorite – corporations pairing up with non-profits, which the corporate sponsor can then hide behind, but still get in their mention.

    The corporations are the ones we should be criticizing because they are the driving force behind spamming. The next time you receive a pitch, find out who the sponsor is; don’t shoot the messenger. Instead, reply and let them know that you would prefer they not contact you again or explain what you prefer or completely block their email address entirely. We’re all just trying to get by even though we may irritate one another.

    • Thank you for your comment Eve (even though I completely disagree). I don’t think the blame should go to corporations. Yes, they do spend millions on PR firms, but those PR firms sign-up to do the work. They also decide on the strategies and tactics to deploy. I would be surprised if the author of a book on social media (in this instance) asked the PR firm to blast a news release out to a thousand or so journalists (I doubt the client knew as of this happening).

      This really comes down to whether or not the PR professional is willing to spend the time it takes to do things the right way, or if they’re going to opt for the lazy, less-effective and more risky option.

  4. Not sure I completely agree with you on this. I appreciate getting emailed press releases for a variety of reasons. However, I fully agree with the cc issue. Big no no. But a direct emailed release is fine with me. I’ll add another however though. Don’t email me 13 releases in the same hour! Prioritize your release and accept the fact that I may only “use” one in ten.

    I don’t see how any PR firm has the time to personally contact individual journalists and ask permission to send them a release. In my little niche world of agribusiness there are about 1,000 journalists (print/web/broadcast/freelance) for example.

    I believe the answer lies in being courteous and treating a journalist like you would want to be treated.

  5. I for one do not have time to tailor a separate pitch for or get preauthorization to email each of the 150 or so journalists on my email contact lists, but I do have time to listen to what their needs are. Most of my contacts are editors or G.A. reporters. Beat reporters, and smaller media outlets do not get every release just those they’d have a legitimate reason to want. I’m not sure they do want all of them, but it apparently isn’t killing any of them to hit the delete button when that’s what they feel they need to do. Many times, instead, they have provided us advice on what they want or alternative emails to send releases.

    New clients may mean unsolicited emails to new media outlets, but once again, if “unsubscribe” or “send it somewhere else” is what they want, they’ve got it. But even more often, we end up placing a story in a media outlet we’re not familiar with, due to geography or other factors.

  6. Yet another example of a lesson learned the hard way. I’m with you in not favoring a continued effort to throw this PR firm under the bus. PR pros certainly aren’t perfect. But you’d better be pretty darn close. But, screw-up aside, this is a valuable lesson for PR pros to learn from.

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