Press Release or Spam?
February 24, 2005 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Is it a press release or is it spam? Or both?

Like most people who run a web site/forum, I'm constantly weeding out viral marketing, advertising, spam, etc. posted in our forums. It appears constantly.

As an experiment, I've put in a clause in our forum user agreement saying that we do not allow advertising of any kind, and would bill for any advertising posted in our forums.

Recently a marketing firm posted a message advertising their client's website/promotion in our forums. I sent off an email asking them to confirm their billing address so that we may send our billing invoice. As expected, they replied saying they wished to "cancel" their "order". I said we would cancel their order/bill, and all we would need in return is a letter stating they would stop posting advertising in our forums. (Which is all I really want.)

The agency's response was their message posting could never be mistaken as an advertisement, and it was considered a public relations press release, and they wouldn't be offering any promises to stop posting in our forum. Their "press release" wasn't formatted as a press release, had no proper contact info, and it wasn't being directed to a media contact.

So when is a press release actually a press release, and when is it spam? And even if it is considered a press release, is it still not a form of unsolicited advertising, which we do not allow?

Appreciate any thoughts/opinions on this.
posted by jca to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would say a press release is only a press release when it actually hits "the wire" and can be referenced on a real PR site like PRweb.
posted by mathowie at 6:04 PM on February 24, 2005

Press releases are spam. Unsolicited marketing material sent out in bulk from a company.

Keep billing them until they pay you.
posted by cmonkey at 6:06 PM on February 24, 2005

Well, I don't see it on any of the PR wires, but it could easily appear there. Would appearing on a PR wire suddenly make it NOT advertising in the context of posting it as a message in a forum?
posted by jca at 6:11 PM on February 24, 2005

Tell them you are not the press and have not subscribed to any press release services.
posted by kindall at 6:17 PM on February 24, 2005

I would say (to them) that your terms of service are posted and clear. Either they abide by them (post & pay or don't post) or you will be happy to file a (small claims?) action to enforce your demand for payment. If you have a lawyer friend, even better if you send the letter on his/her stationary.
posted by billsaysthis at 6:21 PM on February 24, 2005

Though they're not written in stone, I'd add that press releases usually share common formatting conventions, including an "Attention:" line, a headline, a dateline, text written in standard newspaperese, a "for more information:" footer, and often a "--30--" at the end.

And, although I agree with cmonkey's suggestion to keep billin' them till they pay, I disagree with his statement that press release = spam: They are sent to newsrooms so can't be considered unsolicited.
posted by docgonzo at 7:04 PM on February 24, 2005

Even if it was a properly formatted press release that was sent out to the press, posting it on your web site was spam.

You own the web site, you define the terms under which it can be used. If the terms of use that you have posted on your web site (and/or the instructions on the form for posting messages) do not clearly disallow this type of thing, rewrite them.

Don't use the word spam. You'll just go in circles because they will be using a different definition of spam than yours. Just point out that the clearly stated terms on your web outline these consequences for this action.
posted by winston at 7:06 PM on February 24, 2005

What kindall said. Press releases go to the press. (Matt is wrong about it having to be on an official site or wire - anyone can write up a release and send them out to the media. I get handwritten ones sometimes and they are just as valid, though generally ignored.)

A real press release is normally written like a news story, with a headline and a lede etc. It has a contact name for more information and says "press release" on it. If this thing didn't look like that, it aint one.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:09 PM on February 24, 2005

As winston implied, it's best not to get hung up on labels. You can change your forum user policies to say "advertising, including press releases" rather than just "advertising", notify the marketing firm of the change (and that you will bill them for press releases, hereafter), and be done with it.

There certainly is no law that says that press releases (formatted as such or no) are somehow magically free of charge when published. The marketing firm, for example, can't require that a local newspaper include their press releases without charge.
posted by WestCoaster at 9:39 PM on February 24, 2005

Add "press releases" to your list of forbidden posts in the terms and conditions.
posted by madman at 10:15 PM on February 24, 2005

« Older Any technical writers out there have difficulty...   |   My Coworker Poisons the Office. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.