Avoiding the Shadow of White-Collar Spam

What is white-collar spam? It’s the spam that nice, professional people like us send out. Not at all like blue-collar spam. Blue-collar spam is that nasty, grimy junk email sent out by get-rich-quick groupies and pornographers.

White-collar spam is particularly insidious because it makes it much harder for genuine opt-in emails to break through that inbox clutter.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I’m not picking on these guys because I think they are particularly bad. I’m picking on them only because their email arrived in my inbox about 15 minutes ago, just as I was wondering what I should write about this week.

The email was from Natalia Sandin of A&R Partners, which, she tells me, is MC/Adweek’s PR Agency of the Year. The client it was representing in this email is Adobe. All very respectable.

“Hmm, wait a minute, Nick,” someone is thinking, “That’s not spam, that’s a PR agency emailing an online columnist. That’s fair game.” Could be, but not necessarily. That’s the thing about white-collar spam — it’s always deniable and always justifiable.

Here are three reasons why this email is spam.

    1. I had no prior relationship or correspondence with this company.

    The email came at me, out of the blue.

    2. The subject line reads “re: story idea.”

    See the plan? By adding that “re:” to the subject line, A&R Partners gave the impression that we were in the middle of an ongoing correspondence. By saying “re: story idea,” the senders were guessing, quite rightly, that I would open the email just in case this was part of a conversation that had somehow slipped my mind. But it wasn’t.

    3. The email was sloppily executed and clearly not personal.

    These guys knew that I was a columnist or journalist; hence, the subject line. But that was where the “personalization” of this email ended. They made a number of mistakes.

    First, the greeting consisted of one word, “Nick.” Trouble is, “Nick” was in 12-point Times New Roman, while the body of the text was in 10-point Times New Roman. In other words, the text of the message was a boilerplate, and my name was sloppily tagged on at the top.

    Next, the email suggested to me that “Adobe’s products such as Photoshop, Illustrator, GoLive and LiveMotion are indispensable Web design tools to prevent e-tailers from becoming Zzzz-tailers. They empower designers to provide compelling and otherwise unattainable Web experiences.”

    Anyone who had taken the trouble to read even a couple of my articles would recognize that I am very unlikely to be impressed by the idea that glamorous visual additions to a site would “provide compelling and otherwise unattainable Web experiences.”

What should these guys have done? Either they should have just been straight about it and spammed me, or they should have taken the time to really speak to me personally.

But what they shouldn’t have done is pretend that their bulk email was “re: story idea.”

White-collar spam is spam that pretends to be something else, because it comes from “decent” companies. It’s damaging because it throws into question every legitimate piece of email that arrives in our inboxes.

And as writers, how are we meant to come up with effective subject lines for opt-in emails if white-collar spammers are using those self-same subject lines to steal our attention?

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