I signed up for a free service called “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO) last week, which sends out emails a few times each day notifying me of reporters who are looking for expert sources. HARO is owned by Vocus, a public company that provides software for public relations professionals.
Shortly after signing up, I received a marketing email from a Vocus representative named Lauren, who hoped to sell me additional services. I don’t need them, so I deleted the email. (The email had no option to opt-out.)
Yesterday morning, Lauren left me a voice mail, in which she said: “Looks like you’ve expressed some interest in some of our marketing solutions.” I’m not sure how she gleaned that from my deleted email; nor does the HARO sign-up form say anything about opting in to marketing. (For the record, I’m not averse to marketing in exchange for receiving free services, but would like it disclosed in advance with an option to opt out.)
After she left me a voice mail, she followed up moments later with two emails, one of which was marked HIGH PRIORITY, as signified by the red exclamation point that marks a particularly important email.
That’s when things started to go downhill.
I emailed Lauren back and wrote:
Please remove me from your list.
Also, there is absolutely no reason to put a red “exclamation point” on a marketing email. This is not high priority.”
My response may seem sharp, but I receive hundreds of emails per day, and senders who use the “high priority” flag to instantly grab my attention for mundane marketing purposes leave me feeling deceived.
Lauren responded. But the email she sent my way was clearly not intended for me:
This is who he is. Read about him before you see what he said back”
Whoops. She responded to me instead of the person at Vocus to whom she intended to send this message. Strike two. I responded:
Mistake number two: sending this email to me instead of the intended recipient. This will make one heck of a blog story.”
With that, she knew I was a blogger. And had she simply apologized (or even said nothing), I would have probably let this go. But then came this response, also sent with HIGH PRIORITY:
I apologize for accidently forwarding you a link to your own credentials. I was simply checking out who you were and what your business is for reference purposes. Clearly my lesser than status has amused you and I look forward to the blog post. Please send me a link when its live. Sorry to waste your time.”
Wow. Her “lesser than status?” Had she spent 30 seconds on my blog, she would have seen that my usual targets are people in power, not sales reps.
“Has amused you?” No, Lauren, I’m not amused. I’m busy. And your HIGH PRIORITY emails, each of which lack an easy opt-out, takes up time I desperately need to do more important things.
This incident highlights an important point that I repeatedly make on this blog: everyone associated with your brand is a brand ambassador – and thus, every employee is a potential media spokesperson.
Early in this back and forth, I posted to my Twitter account about Vocus’s aggressive marketing:
— Mr Media Training (@MrMediaTraining) February 20, 2013
Stacey Acevero, Vocus’s Social Media Manager, responded instantly.
@mrmediatraining Do you mind forwarding me what you received so that I may take a look? vocuspr(at)vocus(dot)com.
— Vocus (@Vocus) February 20, 2013
We exchanged numerous emails (most of which I agreed to keep off-the-record), all of which were tone-perfect, polite, conciliatory, apologetic, and professional. She’s exactly the right type of person to manage a company’s social media accounts.
I offered Stacey the chance to offer an on-the-record comment regarding this incident. She wrote:
“This shouldn’t have occurred. Most of the time, our process works, but a few times, mistakes are made. And, this appears to be one of those cases. We are looking into what happened and will rectify the issue. We value customer as well as prospect feedback on our practices and will use it to improve.”
But even Stacey’s response doesn’t erase the bad taste in my mouth left by the exchange with the Vocus sales rep. And that brings up another important lesson: all of the great work done by a company’s PR team can be undermined by a single employee who goes rogue.
I unsubscribed from HARO yesterday afternoon.
What do you think? Do you react as badly as I do to marketing messages marked “URGENT!” or those without an easy “opt-out” link? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.