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Overwhelmed by (PR) e-mail

As editor of this magazine, I get a lot of e-mail -- good, bad and indifferent. And I mean a lot. I've never stopped to count and classify it as good or bad. And, unfortunately, I had to take FCW's editorial team off our spam filter because it was blocking too much and, more importantly, not letting me know where it went. People would just be notified that their e-mail was blocked and... bye-bye. We get a lot of stuff, and it often comes from places where we don't know the people or where it is coming from or who the PR agency is. And I try to be as available as possible to whomever wants to e-mail me.

That being said, the amount of e-mail can get overwhelming. The editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson, has a wonderful post on his blog where he lists all of the e-mail addresses of "lazy flacks [who] send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can't be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they're pitching."

Fact: I am an actual person, not a team assigned to read press releases and distribute them to the right editors and writers (that's [email protected]).

So fair warning: I only want two kinds of e-mail: those from people I know and those from people who have taken the time to find out what I'm interested in and composed a note meant to appeal to that (I love those e-mails; indeed, that's why my e-mail address is public).

Everything else gets banned on first abuse. The following is just the last month's list of people and companies who have been added to my Outlook blocked list. All of them have sent me something inappropriate at some point in the past 30 days. Many of them sent press releases; others just added me to a distribution list without asking. If their address gets harvested by spammers by being published here, so be it -- turnabout is fair play.

Anderson then posts a list of... I was counting, but... let's just say a whole lot of e-mail addresses of people he has blocked.

I didn't see any from people I know, but...

If you visit this post, be sure to read the comments. They range from people aghast that Anderson would post the e-mail addresses to those who are cheering him on.

Here is one example:

What payback! Excellent.
This reminds me of a testy exchange I had recently with a person at a local (Boston-area) PR firm. She was insulted when I told her she had no right to send me news releases without an unsubscribe link.
Worse, her client is in banking, and we're a health care publisher. (Relevance? What's that?)
She was also clueless to the notion that the more she protested, the bigger the hole she was digging for herself and her client.
As a last resort, I ratted her out directly to her client. The e-mails stopped.

I'm not nearly that bitter.

Two points.

One, while I certainly understand Anderson's point, I'm not sure I want people thinking about whether something matters to our readers. That's our job. Increasingly, in these days of a torrent of information, our job is to sort through all the stuff and tell you what matters in your life. That is why I pulled FCW's editorial team off the spam filter. It couldn't determine if something mattered. Maybe we'll get there someday... and then my job will no longer be necessary. All of that being said, the best PR people are the ones who think like editors. They know me, my magazine, and our readers, and they are looking for ways to speak to those readers. Then -- talk about value add.

Point two: I can imagine it must be very difficult for PR folks. Unfortunately for PR people, reporters and editors are people and we all have our own pet peeves. Some of us like getting e-mail but not phone calls. Some like getting phone calls but not e-mail. We all have jobs to do and this all works best when we have respect for everybody else's role.

As I said, we all have pet peeves.

Some of mine:

  • Subject lines. I can't stand people who don't use the subject line. As I say, I get a lot of e-mail, so the subject line will tell me if it is something that I need to read or that I don't.

  • Obtuse subject lines. The worst is somebody -- and there is one industry group that does this all the time -- they send e-mails with the subject line "press release" and then only have an attached PDF, nothing in the body of the e-mail. Are you trying to avoid getting your release read?

  • Stealth pitches. There are people who will send the same release to multiple people at FCW or 1105 Government Information Group. We have had cases where somebody will pitch two FCW reporters, for example. Do they really think we are going to do the story twice? It is a horrible waste of our time. For me and for us, it is best to copy us all on the same e-mail. Then we can deal with it in the way that works best for the reader.

  • The lazy pitch. Yes, we get things from people who simply don't take the time or effort to understand what we do. Frankly, I don't think it is all that difficult to figure out, but if it doesn't have something to do with the government, we probably aren't going to write about it. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are the exceptions. The exceptions come from the people who know who our readers are and they make the case why it is still a relevant story, even though they are not in the government IT market. Those people win gold stars.

I'm sure there are others that I can't think of right now, but it's a start.

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Oct 31, 2007 at 12:17 PM


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