Email Marketing & Email Marketing Automation

PR Professionals: You’re not exempt from CAN-SPAM

The CAN-SPAM act has been out since 2003, yet public relations professionals continue to send mass emailings on a daily basis to promote their clients. The CAN-SPAM act is pretty clear, it covers “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.

PR professionals distributing press releases to bloggers definitely qualify. The FTC guidelines are clear for commercial emailers:

Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand.

Each day I receive emails from public relations professionals and they never have any opt-out mechanism. So… I’m going to begin holding them accountable and filing an FTC complaint with each email I receive that does not have an opt-out mechanism. I would recommend other bloggers do this as well. We need to hold these professionals accountable.

My advice to PR Professionals: Get an email service provider and manage your lists and messaging directly from there. I don’t mind receiving relevant emails, but I’d like the opportunity to opt out of irrelevant ones.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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  1. There’s a separate question here, which is, “why aren’t those PR people crafting tailored pitches?”

    As a PR guy myself (never having approached you, though), I cringe at the idea of mass email blasts. The best practice continues to be to know your audience and to craft pitches that appeal to them, rather than to spray and pray.

    Your post leads to a follow-up question though – should we then put a “Please let me know if you’d rather not hear from me”-esque line at the end of every individually-addressed email?

  2. Hi Dave! At minimum, there should be a line in there. Whether or not an email is individually addressed doesn’t mean it’s not SPAM. There’s no ‘minimum’ list size for commercial-based email. 🙂

    As long as it’s not personal and it’s promotional in nature, I believe PR professionals should be compliant.

  3. I think you’ve got a great point. You would think that at some point PR professionals would learn that they need to market their clients based on strong relationships instead of push media… They should at least know that you shouldn’t piss off a blogger with an audience 😉

  4. Complying with CAN-SPAM should be an easy bar to get over, but there are some unique ramifications for the normal PR process if you enforce true compliance. Adding an unsubscribe link and your physical address should get you most of the way to where you want to be and everyone PR practioner should be doing this. However, technically under CAN-SPAM, once someone unsubscribes you can never send them an email again, unless they opt back in. You could consider different clients as “different lines of business” underthe Act as a reporter may kill for story on one client, but consider your release on another a waste. Also, as an agent (acting as a publisher) of the advertiser, you would need to share your opt outs with the advertiser (your client) so they do not send to that email address either- again problematic in the PR process. You could also argue that you are not selling the product in question to the reporter as the final consumer, so technically you are sending an informational or transactional email. And if someone publishes contact information for the purpose of receiving press releases, there is implied consent. The posters here are correct that it is all about targetting and most of all relevance to the reporter. Spam is in the eye of the beholder. Just some fun CAN-SPAM thoughts for the day!

  5. Todd- I know there have been over 100 Can-Spam prosecutions. The FTC can sue and also State AG’s, and ISPs like AOL can sue under Can-Spam. So companies like Microsoft have won considerable damages from criminal spammers and I’ve seen the FTC get anywhere from $55,000 to upwards of $10 million. Facebook has gotten the largest awards coming in around $80 million. The flipside is that the most of the awards are never collected. Also many investigations end in settlements with no press release, so the true number of enforcement actions would seem to be uncountable. I’m actually going to ask their public information office about this and see what I can dig up. Cheers!

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