PR and Email Marketing: A Marriage Made In Heaven

The following story is real. None of the characters were made up. All names and events discussed are real. This post is a joint effort by DJ Waldow and Jeff Rutherford. You can find the same post on both and It’s the real life story of what happens when a PR guy and an email marketing guy connect. Enjoy.


Meet Jeff Rutherford: PR guy for Return Path (and other firms), and self-proclaimed “news junkie”, voracious reader, gadget enthusiast, and technology fan. @JeffRutherford Learn more about Jeff.

Meet DJ Waldow: Director of Community @BlueSkyFactory, U of Michigan alum, knowledge craver, sponge, lover of beer, coffee, and people and self-proclaimed Social Butterfly guy. Learn more about DJ.

Jeff and DJ first met over email. Jeff (PR) sent DJ (Blogger, Email Marketing guy) the following email:


This initial, seemingly innocuous, FYI-type message set off a series of email replies, forwards and general banter. Some of these exchanges were friendly; others a bit more animated. Saving you the (juicy) details, what it ultimately led to was the following:

DJ picked up the phone and called Jeff. They agreed that it was a series of misunderstandings on both sides. This is where the conversation could have (and often) ends. In this case, the “bad blood” turned into a positive.

The conversation turned to email marketing best practices and how they apply to anyone who sends out an email…

Talk to any reporter or blogger, and they’ll tell you the same thing – they’re bombarded with emails from PR people. Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief at Wired, routinely blacklists PR people who send him non-relevant press releases or announcements.

Unfortunately, many PR agencies get desperate when a client is complaining loudly about lack of press coverage, and they commit the same sin as desperate marketers – spray and pray (or “batch and blast” they say in email). They build lists of reporters, any reporters, load up a bulk email program and start hitting the send button.

Not surprisingly, the same best practices for email marketing also apply to PR people’s use of email.

Best Practices that apply to both PR and EM

1. Start with a good, clear subject line and from name. This will help get the email opened

Why this is important for PR
Reporters and bloggers are bombarded with email. High profile reporters for publications such as Fortune, Forbes, New York Times, routinely receive hundreds and hundreds of emails per day.

Amidst trading emails with sources, editors, and trusted PR contacts, reporters have to quickly scan numerous emails and mass delete. If a PR person doesn’t write a relevant, compelling subject line, their email will never be opened.

Why this is important for an email marketer
There are 3 main types of “email consumers” when it comes to open/delete/mark as spam decisions. The first group opens based on who the email is from (dont’ recognize, don’t open). The second bases their decision on the subject line (not interesting? delete.). The third are those that open every single email. There are also variations of all three depending on time of day, mood, etc. Bottom line is this. Take time to think about who the email is being sent from and what your subject line says.

2. Brevity rules. Keep your emails short and to the point. It’s 2009: Nobody reads anymore!

Why this is important for PR
Twitter and text message attention spans grow every year. If a reporter opens an email filled with dense verbiage, they’re simply not going to read whatever it is you’re trying to interest them in.

Figure out what you want to say and cut it to the bone, create succinct bullet points, and then edit it again, before hitting send.

Why this is important for an email marketer
I need to know “what’s in it for me” after a quick scan. If I’m getting bombarded with marketing offers, I don’t have time for them all. If you make me work to find what the email is all about, I’m gone. This is a similar concept to website design. If I can’t find what I’m looking for on a page, I’ll go somewhere else as I can be certain someone else offers it at the same, if not better price.

3. Relevancy – why should I care about this?

Why this is important for PR
As Chris Anderson noted in his blog post referenced above, he blacklisted PR people who emailed him press releases and information that were completely irrelevant to his interests. If a PR person can’t bother to research what a reporter is interested in (for example, Anderson has published two books The Long Tail and Free. It’s not too hard to figure out his specific interests.), they shouldn’t be sending emails.

Non-relevant emails sent by PR people are such a problem, the Bad Pitch blog has an endless supply of ill-conceived PR pitches to write about.

Again, PR people feel pressure from clients and start sending and hoping and praying some reporter “sees the light.” What they should be doing is pushing back with clients and brainstorming, rethinking whatever news they’re pitching in order to make it relevant for reporters to write about.

Why this is important for an email marketer
Again, it goes back to time and attention span. If you – the marketer – are not ensuring that this email is relevant to me, I’m not going to read it. Worse, I may even report it as spam. For example, if I am a University of Michigan alumni I don’t want to get emails about Ohio State (delete/spam). If you know that I’m a male, age 33 who has a history of buying downhill ski equipment and accessories, don’t send me an offer for a snowboard.

Use the data you have about me to personalize the message and the offers.

4. Frequency. Overmailing your list – or reporters – will reduce the effectiveness of your emails.

Why this is important for PR
The PR people who often get results for their clients may go months without emailing a key reporter. Yet, when the PR person finally has a good tip or story, the reporter opens their email within minutes. The reporter values that the PR person hasn’t wasted their time with routine announcements that the reporter will definitely not cover.

Inundating a reporter with emails isn’t going to increase the likelihood that they will respond.

Why this is important for an email marketer
This all depends on the individual consumer, but there are few examples of marketers who can effectively email at a high frequency. The general rule applies: If you don’t have anything good to say (email), don’t say (email) anything at all.

Subscribers who receive too much email from a marketer either ignore it (delete) or eventually mark the emails as spam. It’s not that they didn’t opt-in, they just no longer want to read your emails. Be sure to look at your metrics – open, click-through, convert – to learn how your subscribers are interacting with your emails over time. If you see downward trends, it’s time to take action!

Email Remains A Powerful Tool If Used Correctly

As we’ve outlined, there are many parallels between how PR people and email marketers use email. It seems odd to be writing yet another blog post/article about email best practices. Unfortunately, though, the ease of loading up an email is almost too easy. And the bottom line is the same – if you send a cookie-cutter mass email that has no relevancy, you won’t get results.

Ultimately, you won’t to succeed. Right? It may take longer for an email marketer to send a highly personalized, targeted email to a smaller list, but your results will likely be higher. For a PR person, you may have to fend off bosses and clients who want you to spray an email at any reporter/blogger/podcaster with an email. Yet, if you send 8-10 highly targeted, laser-focused, relevant emails relating to what the journalist has written about before, you may very likely see better results than sending hundreds and hundreds of form emails that end up marked as spam or unread.

The old cliche still applies – if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing it right. If an email’s worth sending, it’s worth sending it right.

Jeff Rutherford – PR Consultant, Jeff Rutherford Media Relations
DJ Waldow – Director of Community at Blue Sky Factory