E-mail For PR Firms

Dear E-mail Diva:

I'm part of a very small public relations agency. One of our services is to maintain lists of journalists who cover our clients' industries and send press releases to these journalists via e-mail.

Currently we are not using an ESP for these mailings but we are considering engaging one. I've looked at the Web sites of several ESPs and none seems at first glance appropriate for our application. We don't send marketing e-mail. We don't send a newsletter every month and we don't maintain a single mailing list (we have a separate list for each client).

Can you direct me to a Web site where I can find recommendations of ESPs that are especially useful for press release distribution?

Also, can you advise me on whether an e-mail containing a press release is considered spam under U.S. federal spam legislation?

A Public Relations Professional

Dear Professional,

The E-mail Diva receives many communications from PR agents on behalf of their clients. Some are people I have met and corresponded with, and with whom I've developed a collegial relationship. When they send me an e-mail with their client's latest announcement, I expect something of interest and they can expect me to read it. Many PR firms, however, added my e-mail address to their lists and send me generic announcements and press releases that are marketing messages at best and spam at worst.



What does the FTC have to say? While you should get your lawyer to guide you in this area, here is the original definition from CAN SPAM: "The term 'commercial electronic mail message' means any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including content on an Internet website operated for a commercial purpose). The term 'commercial electronic mail message' does not include a transactional or relationship message."

Additional clarification follows, which you can read here, but I don't think it helps answer your question. The question is: which type of PR agent are you? Do you have relationships with writers who know you and value the information you offer, or do you take a shotgun approach? Most likely, your efforts are a mix of the two, and if so, you are engaged in the "promotion of a commercial product or service," albeit one step removed from the customer.

From the ESP standpoint, the difference between sending PR notices and "marketing messages" is irrelevant. You want to manage lists, compose messages, optimize delivery, track response and manage opt-outs and address changes. Invest in the oft-recommended Marketing Sherpa Buyer's Guide to Email Service Providers, and you'll be able to find a low-end ESP that will meet your needs.

If the volume is so small that you can't justify the investment in an ESP, consider Polite Mail, which works with your Outlook e-mail client and has the features of a low-end ESP. The E-mail Diva started a free trial of this product just last week for a client that wants to track an internal newsletter to its employees. While I haven't given it a full workout, my initial impression is very favorable.

Good Luck!

The E-mail Diva

Send your questions or submit your e-mail for critique to Melinda Krueger, the E-mail Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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