Delete and trash needs to be good public relations


Have you ever stopped to count the number of enewsletters or other emails you get from organisations? Or consider their value as PR communications?

Have you ever checked the process of how they are sent – and why – within your organisation? Are they part of your PR communications audit – and do you evaluate the public relationship value that they are delivering (or aren’t)?

Even more importantly, have you ever tried to stop receiving these? Or checked the steps required by your organisation to end an email relationship?

Let me tell you, engaging with the humble ‘unsubscribe’ link is a public relations education.

Most of these emails are not really an indication of a fully formed relationship – I’m not talking about communication from organisations where I am a paid member or where I may know people or care about organisations in some shape or form.

But they aren’t unsolicited either. The majority originate from having registered on a site to download a paper or something else that has been of value, or when you’ve bought something and had to supply an email, or otherwise had a contact, not matter how fleeting or superficial.

Whether we label this as ‘relationship marketing’ or some other contemporary term, the truth is that the approach can quickly become annoying. It clogs up email boxes and rarely offers anything that would be likely to make me take action. But over time, I’ve allowed the emails to keep coming and responded with a 99.9999999% ‘delete and trash’ approach.

But these past few weeks, I’ve felt like I’ve had enough of the daily updates, the weekly summaries, the special offers, the Father’s Day promotions (ignoring the fact my dad died several years ago now), the latest news and all the rest of the malarky.

So I started unsubscribing – or trying to do so. I’m careful to only click on bonafide links so my action has been directed to credible organisations. However, they seem to do their best to prevent me from deleting and trashing our contact on a more formal basis.

Rather than recognising our ‘relationship’ is nothing more than the equivalent of having struck up a conversation with an employee in passing, they are reluctant to let me go.

Like Columbo’s ‘One more thing’ – they just keep coming back.

Are you sure you want to delete these emails, they ask? Just indicate on this multipart form why you want to end things? We’ll do our best but it could take up to a month to stop bugging you. We can collate to a monthly round-up instead, they wheedle… Or they acknowledge your request, but just keep sending them. How many times will I have to unsubscribe before they get the message I wonder?

As Englebert Humperdinck has been crooning ever since 1967, please release me, let me go.

My plea to all public relations practitioners is to check what happens when your organisation sets up a mailing list – whether that is going from a sales team, the marketing function, outsourced or your own PR activities. Surely it isn’t good public relations to never bother to find out if you are being irritating, or whether your missives are valued in any way.

Most importantly, if someone is trying to say goodbye, allow them to formally delete and trash. No hoops to leap through, no bells or whistles to ring or parp, just part on good, professional terms.

Published by

Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

4 thoughts on “Delete and trash needs to be good public relations”

  1. Heather
    Astute, insightful and sensible as ever.
    Always annoyed me how many institutions and organizations rushed headlong into abandoning their well established and cherished publications to be replaced by e publications – for ‘better use of resources’.
    Yet, with a reality within the PR sector of a 12% click open rate – meaning around 9 out of 10 don’t ever actually see or engage – how cost effective is the reality of these online alternatives?
    Sadly, much of digital marketing is dominated by number crunchers rather than relationships builders, so we will continue to witness many of the pitfalls and perils you identified.

  2. Thanks Andy – I think you are right about print, if the same rules of relevance apply. I confess that most of the ‘contract magazines’ I receive from brands, along with trade publications, end up in the recycling bin (or on the fire in the Winter).

    Of course, all forms of ‘direct mail’ are governed by anti-spam law. However this of course varies from country to country. This site seems to provide useful information regarding e-mail marketing from a UK legal perspective:

  3. So true Heather! My private Gmail address has run amok with unwanted alerts, reminders, newsletters, etc. I’ve systematically gone through every one and followed the unsubscribe link but they still keep coming! Not only do companies and organisations need to be smarter about sending emails, they need to be quicker about respecting someone’s desire to opt-out.

  4. Meg – sorry for not noticing your comment was waiting approval. I think it is the opt-out that is particularly annoying. I believe some organisations deliberately ignore opt-out requests or make them complicated. One I have now done several times involves clicking separately on around 30 different options. You cannot select all – and so it has totally put me off ever engaging with that company.

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