Six Ways To Avoid Going to PR Prison



Spam comes in many variations.

In fact that thoroughly researched email pitch you just sent to a blogger or journalist might just fall into that category.

According to CAN-SPAM Act, the following transactions are subject to the Spam Laws:

The CAN-SPAM “covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including email that promotes content on commercial websites. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email – for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line – must comply with the law.”

There is no debate this is as gray as a Chicago day in April. When I’m sending a targeted pitch to a journalist I don’t know, but whom I’ve researched extensively, is that spam? Arguably, yes.

What if it’s a pitch to a journalist I already know? Is that spam? Well, according to this, it’s considered a commercial message, and subject to compliance with CAN-SPAM Act.

Let’s be clear here, if they were to actually enforce this, they’d have to set up a really large, special prison for PR pros. It wouldn’t be hard to build one, actually; just a building with no Internet, no magazines, no iPhones, no wine, and no talking. Sounds like hell to me.

But we’re in PR, and ethics plays in a big role in our industry, or so I’d like to think. These regulations shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Jason Falls blogged: The Blogger’s Guide to PR’s Email Pitches suggesting what bloggers can do to help spread awareness of this law by responding to the offending PR people with a kind explanation that they may be, you know, breaking the law.

I like the idea in theory, but I’d be hard pressed to get a response from many bloggers, let alone an explanation about how I’m violating the law, accompanied by some suggestions on how I can better pitch them in the future

I represent both sides here. As the chief content officer for Spin Sucks, I am pitched regularly. There is no way that I can respond to every email I get. I know, I know. I’m on the PR side too, so it pains me because I send out many targeted pitches with the best intentions for them, and I hear back on a small percentage of them.

But that’s life. I’m used to it. I have a thick skin. I know if its relevant and the journalist/blogger can do something with it, he or she will respond. I love it when people take the time to say thank you, not this time, but keep it coming. And sometimes, I get a take me off your list please. Which is fine if it’s respectful.

Back to my blogger position; it is not my job or my place to educate PR pros about the laws.

On the other hand, I’m not going to throw a hissy fit and throw you into an Internet-free prison, either. It’s much faster to hit the delete button.

But just in case, why not play conservatively and add a little bit of language at the bottom of your email pitches? Law firms, real estate companies, all have legal disclosure at the bottom of theirs emails.

Six Key Things to Add to Your Email to Avoid Spamming

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. (here, I’d say who the client is that I’m representing)
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located. (valid physical postal address)
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Just say reply to email and I won’t email you anymore! (doesn’t’ need to be anything fancy)
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly.

I am now adding this to my outgoing unsolicited email pitches. Every now and then, I email press releases, but it’s pretty rare these days. Those will have my basic boilerplate fine print at the bottom as well.

It seems a bit excessive to me, I’ll admit. But why not abide by the rules, and set a good example for the industry?

I am in no way affiliated with the FTC, this blog post is based on my research and understanding of the CAN-SPAM Act.

~ Lisa

What do you think? Do we need to add more to our emails to avoid PR Prison?

Thanks to AsianWeek for the image.

About Lisa Gerber 4 Articles

In 2001 Lisa Gerber escaped the city life and found the dream life she had envisioned from her Seattle office cubicle. She now lives on a mountain outside of Sandpoint, Idaho with her husband and two dogs, where she telemark skis, mountain bikes and practices yoga (all so she can indulge in her passion of fine food and wines), and where she has been telling the story of organizations small to large since 2004. 

Her firm, Big Leap Creative, is a mountain lifestyle public relations and strategic communications firm catering to the outdoor, hospitality, recreational real estate, food and wine industries.

You can read more of Lisa's writing on her blog, The 26-Hour Day where she would blog more frequently if the day did indeed have 26 hours, and you can also follow Lisa on Twitter.


  1. Excellent advice Lisa! I hear from writers all the time who, at best, just delete the pitches they get and, at worst, send a snarky or offensive reply, however I’m a big believer in not destroying what could potentially turn into a good working relationship, so I always respond even if it’s to politely decline. And yes, I can hear the “Oh but I get so MANY…”, I get a lot too…..

    • I’ll admit, I don’t respond to the super spammy ones – the ones you know are mass emailed and not at all on target. other than that, I agree – a quick “thank you but not thank you” is helpful.

  2. Just curious, but if I send an email to friends with a link to an article or new travel guide I’ve written, and tell them how they can read a portion of it for free (then feel free to buy it!), does this fall under spam? Also, many of us include links to stuff we’ve written (one of mine is to my guidebooks), is this also spam? It would seem the stuff in our signature (at least in mine) would make this a spam.

    • Hi Cheryl, I’m not an expert, but read the link I posted above the CAN SPAM Act to see if your particular emails would fall under that. If you’re sending to friends, I would think not. But it’s very loosely defined as you’ll see.

  3. Having JUST finished my presentation for BlogWorld this week, which speaks to how PR pros should pitch bloggers, this is top-of-mind right now. I really love the idea of adding language at the bottom of the emails we send to bloggers and journalists. Now will you relay that message to the rest of our team?? :)

  4. I totally agree with you Lisa, to be honest I think that approach of being honest is the best one we could use nowdays.

    People are kinda tired of all those sales marketing techniques, if we talk to then in a manner that they feel we´re being objective and honest, I think they tend to be much more acceptable to the message we trying to give.

  5. Lisa, I know it’s a few months late, but thanks for this post. I’ve added the information you suggested to my pitches. Any idea how this applies for similar UK spam laws? I find myself pitching reporters in the UK and am not sure what I need to include to be in compliance.

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