Seasonal spam

If I can borrow a thought from Gertrude Stein, ‘a spam is a spam is a spam’.

And I think it’s safe to say it’s something we all despise.

This year, spam has turned seasonal with the proliferation of holiday e-cards. They’re coming fast and furious and there’s no way to stop them.

Now, I’m no Scrooge McDuck. In fact, I love the Christmas Spirit. If you listen to Inside PR #184, you’ll hear me say that I think we should go back to saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and not rely on the euphemistic ‘happy, etc. etc.’ Having grown up without the holiday, I’m a big fan of the celebrations, the parties, the lights, the songs…

And the cards. I even like receiving cards from people I don’t know very well, but who have at least made the effort to sign them.

However, e-cards are a completely different thing. In the same way that PR people used to blast out mass uncustomized pitches in a bcc list to hundreds of journalists (or more), these e-cards do nothing to build a relationship. They don’t offer a genuine greeting, but attempt to sell you something. In fact, since I’ve been writing this post, I’ve received four more – all from companies I’ve never heard of!

‘They’re just using Christmas to market their own shit’, says Louise Armstrong, who, if you read her blog and know her, is not prone to using that type of language lightly.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy (honoured) to be on your mass distribution list if we know each other (and I appreciate the gesture). And I will admit that we’ve sent e-cards in the past, though we put people’s names in the to line, emailed them one at a time and only to people we consider colleagues and friends.

This is a wonderful time of year to reach out, reconnect and show people you’re thinking about them. Like social media, why not make it personal and meaningful?

So let’s get away from Christ-mass: please stop sending out seasonal spam. (Pass it along.)

Spammers one, believers zero*

When people from my agency go on vacation, we try to give them an email holiday, too.

We stop cc’ing them and prepare an update that they receive just before they get back with a summary of what happened, the most recent drafts of documents and so on.

Of course, that doesn’t mean emails shut down entirely. There are still times when you need to be copied or sent a note. But it sure cuts down on the clutter.

So when I returned from my time in NYC (nearly a week), I was pleased to find only about 250 emails in my inbox (very manageable and totally non-stress-inducing).

However, when I checked my spam filter, I noticed it also contained about 250 messages (many about debt control – is spam a barometer of the environment or are they trying to tell me something?).

This reinforced the fact that spam isn’t something we can turn off or even control. We can redirect it, try to ignore it, but it bombards us; like cheap verbal junk food, clogging up our online arteries.

And it made me realize how careful we, as PR people, have to be when we’re distributing a news release or other information on behalf of our clients. In the olden days (say three or four years ago), we used the bcc function and blasted emails out to an unspecified, but often long list of media.

Thinking back, I’m sure these lists contained a fair number of journalists who viewed PR missives in much the same way that I view spam. Unsolicited, untargeted and unwanted. This probably came to a public head with the Chris Anderson affair.

I say it’s time to leave our subscription-based media databases behind and put an end to PRspam. Our industry needs to be smarter, learn more about the influencers we’re trying to reach and offer them something of value. Let’s get back and do what Giovanni Rodriguez describes as the essence of our profession’s name.

Building relationships with our publics. You know, the kind where we talk to (as opposed to pitch) each other.

*Thanks to my friend Joey Ax for inspiring the title when he reminded me of the country hit: Liars 1 Believer’s 0 (sorry I couldn’t find the song).

Insult spam

For the past several weeks, my spam filter has been blocking emails I’m calling insult spam. The New York Times wrote about them in June, around the time I started receiving them.

(Oh, how wonderful it is to be an early adopter!)

Basically, these messages have a customized subject header that says things like: ‘You look stupid mwaxman’ or ‘You look like a moron mwaxman’.

At first glance, I was taken aback. I mean who are these people to tell me I’m a moron?

But then I had to laugh at the the absurdity of the situation. I mean, here I was feeling bad about a silly comment from someone I don’t know who’s ostensibly trying to spread a virus or sell me something.

And I wondered, who in their right mind, would open an email like this?

On further reflection, I realized messages like these are aimed at our neuroses, in much the same way as so-called complimentary spam (notes that say things like, ‘You look hot’ or ‘I noticed you across a crowded room’).

Essentially, they’re preying on our need to be liked.

And I think it’s high time we started doing a better job of human-filtering; of seeing things for what they are and leaving our insecurities behind.

In a world where communications plays such an important part of our lives, we owe it to ourselves to develop and practice good critical judgement.