Officially, I’m still on holiday from the office, but I dropped by a place with a broadband connection yesterday to pick up my work email in case.. oh, so there’d be less to wade through on Monday, really.

1300-odd messages (about 200 per day I’m away). Lots from PR companies hoping to get my attention. And spammers too.

As I point out when I give talks about this (as I do from time to time), I read all the email that gets to me. But first it has to evade my two spamtraps (three if you count the corporate one, but that’s very innocuous) and then get my interest.

My time is limited, and email isn’t the most important route to me anyway, so how can you beat my spamtraps? (The principal one is Post Armor, which I heartily recommend: Java, so runs on every platform; highly configurable; can be run as a corporate spamtrap if you like. And the developer is a helpful guy.) It examines the headers.

OK, here’s how to get to [email protected]’s maibox..
1) don’t use ALL CAPS or multiple exclamation marks!! Both are common things spammers do.
2) don’t be emailing from Latin America or the Far East (the LACNIC and APNIC IP sets). I score heavily against them.
3) don’t have multiple spaces in your subject line.
4) don’t have nothing at all in your subject line.
5) have a meaningful subject line: spammers now use random phrases like “Re: contrition”. Zap! (Well, actually I just ignore it, and eventually Post Armor just kills it for me.)

If you get past that, then you get to my Eudora program. Here, more filtering: some stuff just gets junked based on who it’s from. More stuff joins a long list of press releases. Here again you’re fighting to get me to read you.

Now, which is more likely: I’ll read something called “Press release” with no more clues on its content, or “Microsoft announces new contracts with Newham”? Even if both emails in total have the same content, I’ll spend my time on the latter.
Especially if when I open the “press release” email, it says “Please find the attached press release” – a document entitled “Press Release.doc” – and nothing else. Typically I get one of these clueless emails per day. I generally email back saying “Please find I don’t read things called “Press Release”.”
Plus, how much sense does it make to have a program for text (email) to which you attach more text which has to be read in another program (word processing)? None. It’s an outgrowth of the old “create a corporate memo” thinking. In other words, outdated.

So here’s the skinny: have a snappy, meaningful subject line. Put the content of the press release in the email. Have a web link for more info. Don’t send pictures – send a link to them on the Web. (It’s faster to download a big file over the web than by email, for arcane reasons to do with packets and handshaking.)

There’s two further reasons not to send documents unless you really, really have to:
a) Word documents can have macro viruses
b) in the era of GMail, one can search email but not attachments. OK, search is going to improve, but I archive all my email back to 1995, and I can search the message contents of all of those with one keystroke. I can’t do that for my press release attachments – I junk those after a month. If the PR company hasn’t put a copy on the Web, it’s lost to me, unless I’ve made a very special effort to keep it (say, if it incriminates someone :-))

Such simple axioms, yet people just don’t get them. Too many PR companies are focussed on the supplier end – producing something the client will approve – than the “consumer”, ie us hacks. Yes, plenty do send useful emails.

Even so, I worked out that on average, only 1 of 200 emails I ever use feeds directly into a story at once. In the longer term, it’s much more. But only if I get it – and can search the contents in the future.