Mar 3, 2010

The whole PR profession really needs to get a grip

That title up there is a quote from an article by Michael Arrington from TechCrunch: I pissed off a spammer today. (h/t to @wise_laura for the link)

This isn’t the first we’ve seen of PR email spam…

Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief at WIRED magazine, pissed off a lot of people in the PR world back in 2007 with: Sorry PR people, you’re blocked. Ironically, his own PR firms have been accused of sending PR spam to his benefit.

Clearly, PR people are in a catch-22. They want to get the word out to the press, and email seems like a fast, cheap distribution method. It’s just that when you send unsolicited email in bulk, that is the very definition of spam.

One more time: Sending a personal, one-to-one email to a journalist is fine, even if it’s unsolicited. That’s called "doing business." But when you cross the line and send in bulk, a whole new set of netiquette (and law!) applies. You just can’t assume you have permission.

To send email in bulk, you have to 1) earn permission, then 2) send your PR emails responsibly (here’s how one company, in the anti-spam industry, sends PR email responsibly).

It’s that first part, "earning permission," that’s hard. Some people call this "growing your subscriber list," but the problem is a lot deeper than that. Tactics like "include a link to your signup form everywhere!" are fine and dandy, but they aren’t going to make a huge enough impact on your email list size.

Be an expert. Or, just be more interesting.

Fundamentally, it’s about making yourself and your content actually useful to others. If we think you have interesting insights, connections, or news, we’ll subscribe to receive your emails. Wait. Honestly, no we won’t. That’s admittedly a stretch. I would never sign up to receive email newsletters form a PR person.

But if you say interesting stuff on twitter, people will follow you there. I think Jim Caruso, from MediaFirst, does this well. He’s been at every single technology event I’ve ever attended in Atlanta for the last 10 years. He knows what’s going on. He’s a technology geek at heart (who needs to stop hacking at his website and just hire a web designer, for pete’s sake! 3/6/10 UPDATE: Looks like Jim recently did! Sorry, Jim!). And he’s on twitter, tweeting about local startups, global technology news, and of course, his own clients.

I follow him on twitter.

Full disclosure: MailChimp was once Jim’s client (and a happy client, too) but we ultimately stopped doing PR after deciding that the email industry is still very young, and all our press releases were just being read by other ESPs.

Anyway, twitter is perfect for PR professionals, because you can tweet about anything you want, and only interested people will actually follow you. Then the question becomes how to get found on twitter. Yeah, we’re back to the "be more interesting" part. It just takes time. But there are tools out there, like Journalistics, that can help you use twitter in a non-spammy way. Go do that. Not mass email.

How PR professionals should use email marketing

Okay, so besides Jim, I’d probably never, ever, ever subscribe to any PR firm’s list. Ever.

I’d more likely subscribe to receive emails from a company that a PR person represents. So the sequence of events goes like this: PR person represents Acme Global, and tweets something interesting about that company. It gets re-tweeted, and re-tweeted, until I see it in my own twitter stream, thanks to someone I respect and follow. I click the link, learn more about Acme Global, and if they seem interesting (i.e. offer some kind of useful content), I sign up for their emails.

So whenever a PR person asks me "Can I use MailChimp for my business?" I tell them, "If you mean sending unsolicited mass emails to journalists on your clients’ behalf, then no. For the love of all things holy, no no no. That’s a violation of our terms of use. If you mean sending newsletters to your own clients, then sure. And if you mean helping all your clients setup double opt-in email subscription forms on their websites, so that you can help them responsibly (and consistently) send out truly useful email press releases to journalists who actually cover your clients’ industries and who opted-in to hear about your clients, then absolutely MailChimp can help you."

Furthermore, these features might actually be useful for you and your clients: