Is Cision Accountable for PR Spam?

As a blogger, I receive a fair amount of PR spam–5-10 emails every day pitching crap I would never write about. And 9 times out of 10 this spam is illegal. It’s unsolicited commercial email in blatant violation of numerous provisions of the CAN-SPAM act. Day after day, week after week, the crap just rolls in, and frankly it pisses me off. Most of the time I just delete it and forget it. Recently, however, I started receiving spam at an email address I created specifically to keep “clean”, meaning I’ve never registered it anywhere or opted in for any list, though I have it posted as an “at dot com” address on my personal blog About page. So I started responding to the spam by asking where my name was sourced so I can get off the list. No one has ever responded to my request. Until today. Today, one spammer apologized and told me my clean email address was sourced from Cision and a product they call the Media Map. Interesting.

After Tweeting about this discovery, I connected with a Vice President at Cision by email. I’m not going to publish her name or emails without permission, because I didn’t open the communication with the intent of entrapping her. But I will publish the gist of the email, because she’s a senior executive with Cision and a communications professional. I’m sure she can take care of herself, and I told her I would let her know when I posted this. My intent in writing this post is not to throw a bomb at Cision, but to open a public dialog about the practice of social media relations, and the behavior of Cision specifically. The executive assured me her intent was to be open and accountable and I take her at her word.

Cision bills itself as “the leading global provider of media relations software services and solutions for public relations professionals.” Their homepage is full of social media products and services, and they offer a steady stream of webinars and whitepapers helping PR professionals navigate the brave new world of social media. So. To cut to the chase. Why is Cision harvesting my email from the web without permission, and providing it to PR agencies as part of a paid service to allow them to spam me with social media pitches? Call me crazy, but that doesn’t exactly jive with any notion of responsible social media marketing I’m familiar with. In fact, it sounds like Mercenary Marketing 1.0 cynically repackaged with a shiny Web 2.0 wrapper.

When I asked these questions of Cision, the very polite response was, yes, they did “recruit” my email address from the web “prior to opt-in”, but they just hadn’t “gotten to the point” of asking me to opt in. They were, however, able to sell my address to PR agencies for the purpose of pitching me. At this point, by my reading of , this is illegal spam, although it’s a bit of a grey area. Cision is not emailing me, so they’re not sending spam. The PR agency is indeed spamming me–sending an unsolicited commercial email–but in all likelihood since they’re buying a professional service they’re under the impression it’s legit. One question I neglected to ask is whether Cision is representing the list I’m on as opt-in. I’ll let them answer for themselves.

The Cision exec was also very polite in saying she’d be happy to note the names of any repeat offenders, but I told her that was unacceptable. Part of my annoyance with Cision is that it took me this long to figure out where my name had been sourced–which, if I were less charitable, I’d suggest was by design. The spam laws are clear that commercial emails must contain contact information and a way for recipients to unsubscribe. In none of the PR spam that I’ve received has there ever been an unsubcribe link or any mention of Cision. The only contact is the PR flack who wants to book an interview. This is not a transparent or accountable business practice on Cision’s part–and frankly, the responsibility cannot be pawned off on the poor naive agencies. Cision bills itself as “Helping Communications Professionals Navigate the Evolving Media Landscape”, and they are proud of the numerous webinars and whitepapers through which they educate PR professionals about the practical requirements of social media. But not one of their clients is following the most basic guidelines of responsible email marketing, not to mention the law? What does that say about Cision’s effectiveness as a social media leader?

Fundamentally, I have no problem with Cision’s professed vision. There is a legitimate opportunity for someone to help agencies navigate the shifting media landscape. But in my experience, Cision’s practice doesn’t measure up. Whether they call it harvesting or recruitment, they collected my contact information and sold it to agencies, no matter how deeply it may have been embedded in a product or a service. They did not seek my permission, and they had no means of holding their clients accountable for the most basic legal and ethical marketing practices, whether or not they’re educating those clients through their webinars and whitepapers. However laudable their messaging may be on the subject of social media, they’ve treated me, the blogger, without respect. And in enabling PR agencies to continue the practice of unaccountable spamming, they have done no favors for their own market. I am far less likely today to pay attention to any email from a PR agency, which is a direct result of this experience.

I have no doubt Cision will respond ably to this post. But it’s a commitment to action I want to see. Specifically:

  1. End the practice of “recruiting” emails and including them on any list before permission is explicitly granted.
  2. Require every agency using one of your lists to include a footer, or a post script, that includes an unsubscribe link with a Cision contact. You can not claim to be accountable if the bloggers you “recruit” cannot close the loop with you about the communications we receive.
  3. Create a clear set of marketing guidelines for which you hold your clients responsible, including adhering to provisions of the CAN-SPAM act, and provide a transparent place for your “recruited” bloggers to register complaints.

If you’re truly the social media leader you position yourself to be, this shouldn’t be any issue at all.

Update: I’ve gotten a few emails, and a few comments below, directing me to other posts and comments online about similar experiences with Cision–and, frankly, similar platitudes from Cision about accountability and desire for “dialog”. There’s a pattern emerging, which you can clearly see , and . Someone calls Cision out for enabling spam, Mea Culpas ensue with perfectly played “openness and accountability” and yet Cision doesn’t change its behavior. The post you see here, including Cision’s careful self-defense wrapped in a “willingness to listen” are played out again and again, month after month making idiots of us all. So Heidi. C’mon back. Let’s have a real discussion about the game Cision is playing.
As the cyber crime rates are growing, the most vulnerable victims are the younger generation themselves


  1. Tabz–Thanks for giving another perspective. I would honestly like to get it, but Cision never gave me the chance by 1) telling me they were putting me into a contact database, and 2) giving me the opportunity to make choices about how I’m contacted. If they had, I would have provided another address and been pretty clear about what I’m interested in. I get a lot of pitches through HARO that I value, along with a lot of junk I just delete without complaint. But in this case, I had to hound spammers to find out where they had sourced my name. I don’t think that’s cool, and frankly, I don’t think Cision is being all that candid about why this even happens in the first place.

    But I do appreciate your comment. As I said in the post, I don’t have a problem with Cision’s stated intent, and as you point out, it serves a purpose when done right; I do have a problem with Cision’s execution.nn1

  2. If you are willing to become a public personality and you place your contact information inthe public sphere, why do you act surprised when people take advantage of it? It’s like being a celebrity – if you are willing to live your life in the public arena, you forfeit the right to be angry when people take an interest in you. If you place your e-mail address in a public place, it belongs to the public now. We live in a capitalistic society which is growing ever more competitive due to the recession. PR Professionals are simply taking advantage of any lead they have in getting ahold of you. I maintain a blog and people e-mail me constantly telling me they disagree with my beliefs. I may not want to hear people who disagree with me, but I don’t have much of a choice – I decided to put myself out there. Man up and deal with it.nn1

  3. Jason–Thanks for the balanced comment. You’re right, it takes a while to turn a big ship. What troubles me is that, so far, I haven’t heard any acknowledgment that anything is really broken–just well-controlled communication-speak on open discourse and good intentions.

    If you’re right about junior staff scraping names for lists without fully appreciating the ins and outs–which sounds like a reasonable thesis–I think it calls into question Cision’s priorities. They make a lot of hay about their free Webinars and Whitepapers–activities with a well-known ROI–but how much effort are they spending on staff training and accountability, if indeed that is the problem? Unfortunately, the ROI on junior staff training isn’t as clear a line to revenue and market share. It’s far easier to measure the quantity of names collected than the quality of the experience.

    Moreover, since Cision’s revenue comes from agencies, not bloggers, they’re not motivated to spend real time worrying about the blogger experience until we make a lot of noise. And no, I don’t count appearances at blog expos as a real investment in that relationship. That’s corporate marketing. A real investment would be making a commitment to end the practice of PR spamming, which they know is happening, and they know is enabled by their service. I suggested 3 simple things they can do to end it, and I’m interested in hearing their clear response to those items, not happy talk about relationships and intentions.

    Thanks, Jason.nn1

  4. you must have very few deadlines to meet (other than your own) to complain about this. i bet you are one of those reporters/bloggers that likes answers sent to your inbox verses picking up the phone and connecting with someone you are about to source.

    you know what, i just deleted about SPAM 40 emails from my hotmail account. wow – it took all of 20 seconds. i wish i could have that time back, chris. i also wish i could i have the time back that was wasted reading your long-in-the-tooth post. you could have made an effecitve argument without writing “war & peace.”

    take care.nn1

  5. I found you fantastic article while Googling to try and figure out why I was getting pitched to do an exclusive interview with a very big household name celebrity…for a blog I setup a month ago and have not really started rolling with yet. Its been bothering me for a few days…why my brand new blog with 10 hits a day? At first I thought it was cool. But I have a few other sites that are a bit more established and I get those sorts of requests often in a different and more personal format. It had me scratching my head wondering if it was legit. Contact info in the pitch checked out…but who sends an e-mail blast offering that type of interview. And it was a well known PR firm doing the blasting.

    I’m not sure if it is Cision specifically, but its gotta be one of these services.

    I wonder, if they blast out an offer for an exclusive interview with all the bells and whistles, if you can hold them to it. It would be terribly poor publicity for their client, to put them on a no-name blog with no traffic whose target market will laugh at the interviewee, but they offered right? I’m tempted to pursue it just to force them to admit they blindly blasted. But then I wonder, how much are Cision et. al. making on my contact info?

    The thing is, I have other more established blogs that would be a great fit. But if the firm is dumb enough to send an untargeted blast like that, I don’t know that I would want to offer that opportunity to them for fear of what they might do after the fact and how poorly they might handle that follow on publicity.

    The blog they blasted this to will grow quickly once I focus on it and I’m tempted to write a post like yours and let it live on the blog so people see it down the road. Given who their client is, if I were the client I’d be mortified. I’m surprised I have not come across any articles about the fallout between clients and PR firms using these services when they realize the damage they are doing to their reps. And from what I’m reading in the comments above, it sounds like Cision and similar services are selling a random collection of email addresses as a much more filtered and targeted list than it apparently is. If I were the PR firm, I’d cancel my subscription and ask for a refund.

    In any event, I thought getting that email was cool for about 10 minutes, but now I’m just left shaking my head in bewilderment.nn1

  6. So after all this.. do you have any constructive advice on how to be a good and wholesome PR worker? I have been shopping for a tool like Cision and it looks like a dream come true for a small company to post news about their own business to increase brand visibility on a smaller budget. What PR/Media monitoring and distribution services are playing by the rules? How does one find themselves in the eye of a popular blogger or journalist that can make a difference for these small companies?nn1

  7. I am the VP of Research from Cision that contacted Chris after his tweets (thank you for the privacy & protection, however, Chris). What I like about your post is that it continues the dialogue between PR professionals and journalists on how to continue to improve the interactions between the two communities.

    The current state of PR is definitely changing. The bad habits of certain PR people who do just pull massive un-vetted lists and then send emails in the bcc: line carelessly without reading what someone writes or how they want to be contacted are definitely giving PR a bad name.

    At Cision, our aim is to provide PR professionals the resources to identify potential journalists who would be interested in their story. We are constantly enhancing our pitching tips, profiles and additional info to help PR people customize their list and find the contacts relevant to them. Great PR people use those lists and then read what each journalist is writing about before pitching.

    As you mention in your post, through free webinars, white papers, CisionBlog and conferences, we are constantly working on educating communicators on the best use of our data and best practices in public relations.

    Cision is looking for ways to better serve both the media and our clients. Your suggestions above will definitely be part of the conversation at Cision as we continue to find the best ways to provide a services that connect PR professionals with journalists in the most mutually beneficial way possible.

    As I mentioned in my email, we are discussing bad habits of some PR people that have been built up over at least the past decade – and that simply can’t change overnight. However, I am always open to hearing feedback and promise that I will continue to work to improve our business in every way I can.

  8. Thank you for responding Heidi. I appreciate Cision’s aim, but there’s a disconnect with practice that is the starting point for this discussion. You’re calling out the bad habits of PR people, but you’re glossing over your own bad habits and handing them the ammunition. Cision found my website, collected my email address and sold it to PR agencies for marketing purposes without my permission, and with no mechanism for ensuring accountability for the agencies using it incorrectly. I think the conversations starts there. And I am curious–when the PR agencies acquired my name through Media Map, were they under the impression that the list was “Opt-in”? That seems to me a key point of accountability. Thanks for your willingness to carry this discussion out openly.

  9. Welcome to the New World! PR as we knew it before is on life support! Oh, and Chris, if you want to blog about anything worth reading, being in public eye and your inbox is the cost of doing business. I like to compare this whining to when the newspapers were calling Google out for stealing their expensive journalism content.

    Goggles response: Dont allow us to index you and you wont see any trouble from us. The trouble is nobody else would see theyre precious journalism either.

    So like my Grandpa used to say, suck it up and dont be lazy about cleaning out your email.

  10. Interesting logic: since we all know bad behavior exists in the marketplace, we should all just keep quiet and take it; calling it out is “whining”. Sorry, but when a company positions itself as a social media leader, accountability is also a cost of doing business.

  11. I have used Cision before and received Can-Spam threats from journalists I thought opted into their service. I no longer user their service. If they are selling these lists illegally, how are they not shut down by their ISP provider?

  12. Great discussion, Chris.

    I work on the development team for an application called MatchPoint which we see as a solution to many of the problems stated here.

    Our direction is to get away from broadcast emails and move to one-on-one engagements between PR folks and journalists / bloggers. The PR person identifies a journalist by their recent content, not by title or beat which is usually outdated in media contact lists. This will cut down on, if not eliminate, the irrelevant pitches being sent.

    On the “other side” of the conversation, the journalist or blogger can rate and give feedback on the information they’ve received (PR pro’s who send out spam get banned).

    I’d love to have you and your readers give take a look and give me your feedback:


  13. Jack- Thanks for commenting. Interesting approach. One of the key points I’m complaining about is that bloggers have no control over how their information is used, and no recourse when their information is abused–which is frequent–and as I’ve said, I think Cision needs to remedy that immediately.

  14. As a PR gal AND a blogger, I have a very interesting take on this.

    My blog is listed in Cision. I get about 5-8 emails every day from PR folks. Most of them are somewhat related to me (the blog talks about a lot of different things in pop culture and technology).

    But, the nice thing about Cision is that you can clean up or change your profile easily. You can put things like “only contact me via email” or “I only respond to pitches about….”. Most of the time the problem is that the profiles in Cision aren’t very complete and VERY general.

    And really, this is nothing new for most journalists… bloggers are just now getting it too.

  15. Good that you’ve pushed this out there again, Chris. I know Heidi and Cision well and was even part of the spark that pushed them down the road of enhancing their practices with similar spam talk a year or so ago.

    At the risk of upsetting my friends there, I think you’re right. They should stop the process of scraping email addresses and adding them to their database without consent from the media person in question. I know that they have improved their practices and are doing better jobs of reaching out to confirm contact information, ask for permission to place the emails in their database, etc. But they obviously haven’t completely fixed the old media practice.

    They shouldn’t blame bad PR practices. They should make sure all the emails in their database are of people who have opted in or are okay with their email address being there.

    To defend them a bit, though, there are hundreds of people in the company. They are paid to collect lists of relevant media in various categories. This research is often done by junior folks who don’t think about the ins and outs of the ethics. And no matter how quick you change policies, it’s not easy to turn a cruise ship on a dime. This isn’t to say they’re justified. They need to get better at this.

    I’m interested to hear more from Heidi. I know there are some very good people who get it at Cision and that they want to do the right thing. My hope is this issue will help them do so.

    For what it’s worth, I’m sorry your email got scraped. Shouldn’t have happened.

  16. @Indifference–

    Another brilliant point from the “shut up and take it” choir. I have no problem with people who read my blog commenting, sending me email, even yelling at me in public–all of which I’ve experienced and accepted since I started out in journalism 15 years ago. I do have a problem with mercenary marketers buying and selling my name while wearing the cloak of social media leadership. That hypocrisy warrants a bright spotlight, as does the mind-boggling irony of PR people spamming me about products to help me connect more authentically with my market.

    Without any standards of behavior, without anyone calling people out for bad behavior, power flows to the knuckle-draggers. I realize there are plenty of people happy with that kind of world, as long as they can exploit it for a dollar. Is that where you stand? You’re not “Indifferent” enough to take the time to post here. What’s your stake in stifling and belittling complaint?

  17. Thanks for the heads up, Isabella. I posted a comment. What a travesty. So much for Cision’s willingness to have a dialog and be accountable. So far, they’re just playing the Teflon Accountability game–talk up “openness” and “willingness to listen” but make no acknowledgment of a problem and no commitment to change.

  18. Chris — The issue as you state it is: “Cision found my website, collected my email address and sold it to PR agencies for marketing purposes without my permission, and with no mechanism for ensuring accountability for the agencies using it incorrectly.”

    My perspective on it comes from blogging since 2002. The amount of spam continues to increase. Now people are even pitching me using email marketing software.

    I can handle that they scrape data. Unfortnately it stops there. By simply engaging with the bloggers….more than the one time “confirm your profile accuracy” email, I think they could offer a much more valuable service. I could tell them that I am in their database twice for two different blogs and they really need to note this on both entries. I always wind up getting the same pitch twice because people are not scrubbing their lists (much less going beyond the lists and spending time on the sites they want to pitch). More recently I started getting pitched at work…when I have other more obviously public emails pointing to me online. So it looks like whatever pops up first on Google gets scraped. The scrapers at Cision are spending as much time or less creating the lists as some of their users spend fleshing out a list before blindly sending them emails.

    Big opportunities missed. I can handle the extra spam. But it’s not helping anyone.

  19. chris, that is just it. no matter what, you’re going to get spammed and you will continue to complain.

    every person i know with an inbox gets spammed (all of mine do). we get spammed by vendors such as cision, too, you know! oh the horror! same goes for any human being with a phone or those with a mailbox at the end of their driveway. it is GOING to happen no matter how much complaining takes place. my advice, is let it go…throw it away or delete it.

    there are many more problems in the world that are worth spending time to fix, worry or complain about, right?

    I apologize about the get-a-life handle for this convo…that was rude. but this argument is as old as AOL or even GUI.

    finally, how would you go about pitching yourself and a potential story idea to a new editor/outlet if the email addy’s weren’t posted online?

  20. Well, now we have a discussion.

    1. I fundamentally disagree with the “Shut Up and Take It” mentality, even if you frame it as “Grin and Bear It”. Responsible businesses know to think twice about spamming precisely because there has been a long and loud chorus of outrage and complaint. Will that stop the irresponsible businesses? Not entirely, but we do have continually improving filters, mechanisms within ISPs for blocking spam, and legislation like do-not-call lists and CAN-SPAM precisely because people are angry about it. I now get *far* fewer telemarketing calls than I did five years ago, and I consider that well worth the time people have taken to express their outrage.

    2. My specific complaint was not about spam per-se, it was about Cision masquerading a social media leader, while not only practicing marketing tactics that fly in the face of that positioning, but enabling others to do so as well. I have been a journalist on marketing issues since I wrote a column on marketing for Business Week online starting in 2001. I will not be shouted down by ~anyone~ for calling out bad behavior in my profession.

    3. I donate a lot of time to non-profits and activists to help them raise awareness for their causes. That doesn’t stop me from taking on issues at the heart of my profession.

    4. I put my email address in binary on my site so ~people~ can contact me, not harvesters. If you’re a PR flack that can’t even take the time to understand what I write about and whether there’s any correlation with what you’re pitching, and you simply want to spray your crap all over the internet hoping someone will write something about it, then use a newswire or a free article site–people looking for free and easy content will find it. Don’t waste my time forcing your crap into my face just because you’re too lazy to do the real work of reaching out and building relationships.

    Maybe you can enlighten me why people come on to my site and argue forcefully against calling out bad behavior. It doesn’t add up, unless I assume that you’re in some way complicit with what’s being complained about.

  21. Kevin– Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think you hit the nail on the head. Cision could be delivering a service that does what they suggest–providing value by helping agencies navigate the new world of social media. Why they continue to position on that front while undermining it in practice is mind boggling. I can’t imagine the margin is that great to warrant the backlash.

  22. guilty. i made this mistake once, chris. i blindly pitched a reporter and didn’t know what she wrote, who she wrote for and angles that she liked. i got reemed. and you know what, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. i now study each and every reporter that i pitch and have solid relationships with too many to count. said reporter and i are now good friends and we still have a professional relationship because i earned her respect back after i lost it by hitting ‘send’ too early that first day.

    i’ve shared that story with the people that work for me as a lesson learned. i don’t want them making the same mistake…there was no BPB then and i do believe you should understand a story, industry and those that cover it well before composing a pitch. i know that, my team knows that and most of the people in the industry do. but in any professional, there are good and bad providers and the weak will die off. doctors, lawyers, reporters and pr folks…no matter what, cream rises.

    i’m just sick of the complaint, because this wasn’t about your drive to make inboxes all over the net a cleaner place to hit send/receive or the ineffectiveness of cision. this is about your ego and anger about being inappropriately targeted by a stranger. chris, the next stranger who blindly writes you might become a good source, client, referral, partner, etc.

    as for politicians and people who care too much about CAN-SPAM or Do-Not-Call-Lists, well, i’d say lighten up. again, there are far more important things that need to be debated and fixed NOW in this country, industry, city, town.

    anyway, i’m ~sorry~ that this happened to you. but, you’ve got the collective panties over at cision in a bunch. congrats. but you know what, it will happen again. this is like the healthcare debate…it will go on and on…most likely it won’t get totally solved, it will be debated for years on end and in the end will cost a bunch.

    take care…

  23. If you’d read this post as closely as you suggested in your first complaint about its length, you’d know I wasn’t complaining about one spam message, but about an ongoing stream of spam that is only growing. This post only happened because someone finally copped to where my address was scraped.

    I find it telling that you find no fault with the fact that Cision scraped my name and sold it, nor with the fact that they blame their own customers for the problem and evade being pinned down on their own behavior while talking up their interest in “open accountability”. You can only conclude, ~anonymously~, that the fault lies with my own big ego for calling out bad behavior because hell, any rational person would just keep bending over, since real accountability makes the perpetrators feel uncomfortable and upset. Tell you what. Take a little of your own advice. Get used to it and quit complaining.

    And if you have the open channel into Cision you imply, you can tell them there’d be nothing to get their panties in a twist about if they walked their talk and engaged in dialog. You know, like this.

  24. Interesting conversation. It’s clear to me Chris that your pleas for accountability will go unheard. On Cision’s product page they list targeting “Social Media Influencers” as a key selling point for the CisionPoint upgrade. In fact it’s THE feature that makes the CisionPoint upgrade immediately actionalble. There’s no way Cision will remove the influencers who did not opt-in. The… “access to over 10,000 blogs and social media sites”… listed as the key feature would drop to something like “..over 512 blogs and social media sites …” – not very compelling. I’ve worked at companies where we made up our own product reviews and planted happy customer quotes on influencers sites – the quick payoff of such activities is very tempting to the executive team and unless “someone” complains it won’t stop — bad behavior pays well.

  25. Just thought you should know that I had a demo from a Cision rep today. We are seriously looking at a media platform, because our in-house research costs are becoming more expensive than the cost of Cision and Vocus type products. I thought you should know that the only reason I found this post is because the rep directed me to Google “Cision & Spam”, for doing my own research.

    He also told me that based on complaints that they have been addressing, customers are only allowed to send a limited number of emails through their platform. (That is based on how many you pay for, of course.) That policy, he explained, was intended to minimize the practice of sending out thousands of un-vetted emails, creating spam. I realize that is not exactly the call to action you made, but I, as a prospective customer, have to think that they are making some effort to turn that big boat around. Especially, after listening to many of their competitor’s presentations.

    No worries, we always make the intimate pitch, so I will not be spamming you with your Cision generated contact info, at least not before I know exactly what you write about.

  26. Renee–

    Thanks for the note. I’m glad to hear Cision is taking the complaints seriously. As you said, they’re not following the call to action I’d like to see, but who died and left me king? I’ll take it as a move in the right direction. I’ll see what I can find out over the next few days and do another post if it’s warranted.



  27. After five months of demanding that Cision stop vending my identity, its clients’ spam keeps rolling in while the company remains defiant in its refusal to allow journalists and bloggers to opt-in from its scheme before their identities are sold on the open market.

    “We are not required to provide an opt-in option to list your email address,” writes Cision’s Heidi Sullivan.

    How did they get my unpublished email address? “Unfortunately, we do not keep a record of every single action that one of our researchers makes,” writes Sullivan. That lack of an accountability trail didn’t stop a Cision agent from lying to me in my first phone call to the company about how her firm captured my address.

    Cision refuses to provide a spokesperson for broadcast interview yet it admits that after the cirm allegedly ceases selling your info, Cision clients may continue to spam from its lists. “This is not a practice that we encourage,” writes Sullivan.

    Still, it is unclear whether Cision prohibits such behavior in its user agreements, or whether it requires its clients provide an opt-out remedy in spam sent to Cision victims. Every email I’ve ever received from a Cision client has had none and clearly meets the legal criteria for spam. I forward every instance to the Federal Trade Commission’s spam database and to SpamCop for IP blacklisting.

    Cision profits from turning thousands of corporations and organizations into spambots while inflicting, without permission, junk email on “more than 1.1 million journalists, freelancers, bloggers and key stakeholders world wide.” It is reprehensible behavior that must not be allowed to continue.

  28. @Michael.

    Hmm. I guess it’s time to stir the pot again. Would you mind posting the links to which you’re submitting spam complaints? Thanks.


  29. @ Renee
    I also am on the hunt for a media solution and just experienced a Vocus demo. I used Cision for 2 years with another company and wasn’t extremely impressed. I have for the last few days conducted my research on Vocus and it appears they are super spammers 🙁 does anyone know if the emails coming from Vocus are being dropped into the spam box?? The major difference so far is Vocus appears to be a bit more user friendly but once I added news monitoring and a few other options, I received a sticker shock.

  30. Chris,

    Very interesting topic. I think what the Shut-Up folks seem to miss is not your rights being impinged….Cision is selling bad email addresses. Their customers should be very upset. If I bought a list that was sold to me as Opt-In I expect it to be just that. Doesn’t that qualify their actions as fraud?


  31. Michael H,

    If Cision made representations in writing that the list you were sold was opt-in, you may possess the smoking gun needed to expose these spammers and perhaps bring them to justice. If you’re willing to help, please contact me through my site, linked above. I’m a journalist for a leading Los Angeles radio station and guarantee as much anonymity as you desire. Thanks.

  32. Since the media landscape changes daily aggregated services like Cision and Vocus are necessary for publicity professionals to keep up with the changes. I believe the way to solve this problem is for the aggregator who charges a fee for their media lists to PR pros to send an opt-in email to all contacts on their lists requesting opt in. And only use those. If you already do that – then you also have to make specific arrangements with email campaign distributors such as Campaign Monitor that make it clear they are opt-in lists and are legitimate for publicity campaigns. As it is – services like Campaign Monitor tell agencies it is spamming and they will not allow it — and Cision wants to charge you an additional $3,500 a year to be able to send it from their system. Insane – and should be solved soon. We all need the resources in a crowded landscape.
    Barbara Pflughaupt

  33. I got a release from Cision that had an unsub link, but it just took me to an “update your profile” page that was totally blank. There’s no way to remove or change your address. So if I wanted to “update my profile” with a new e-mail address, I couldn’t delete the old one. Makes me wonder how many stale addresses they are selling.

    Because here’s the thing — even if you did opt in to someone’s mailing list, you still retain the right to opt out when it no longer meets your needs. Well, the PR I’ve received through Cision is uniformly NOT targeted to our newspaper’s needs. But I can’t opt out. That’s not just wrong, it’s a bad business model.

  34. I believe the best pratice is to use Cision to create current/updated lists and export them – then use your email campaign software so that media can opt out if they wish from future contact.
    All media should retain the right to opt out and all publicists should want them to have that right. I make lists based on contact topics – if the journalist does not want to hear from me, then I am happy to delete them from upcoming mailings. I want to reach those who are interested in the pitch I have in mind.

  35. I’ve been plagued for about a year now by Cision-enabled spam. My blogs clearly say that I do not wish to be contacted with press releases, etc., but Cision still sells my information to people who think they are buying a legitimate product, pre-screened addresses of value because the addressees are supposedly interested. Well, Cision has promised to remove my information from their database, but the fiction here is that I have “opted out”, as if I had ever “opted in” in the first place.

    One result is that I have trained my spam filters on a lot of legitimate businesses and educational and even governmental organizations, clients of Cision, because the spam has gotten out of control. So these people can’t contact me even if they had a legitimate reason to do so. I imagine others are training spam filters in this way too. Probably not good for Cision’s unwitting customers.

    Lastly: I do not see how small-time bloggers have been conflated with journalists or media. Some might want this kind of “recognition,” but having a blog does not automatically make the blogger a journalist who should have to deal with this garbage, which can ruin all the fun of blogging.

  36. Hi Saffron–

    I hate to say it but being good and wholesome takes work. It’s a lot easier to be slimy. Think about it, to be slimy, you just have to buy a lot of names, spam the heck out of them, and hope that one or two out of a hundred or a thousand names are interested in what you’re selling. To be good and wholesome, you have to expend more effort to actually identify the people you’d like to reach, figure out where they’re hanging out online and what they’re interested in talking about, join those same groups, and have something authentic and valuable to add to the conversation.

    HubSpot has done a very good job of positioning this kind of effort as Inbound Marketing–ie: getting people to come to you because you’re offering valuable stuff–and they publish quite a lot of good ideas and information about it. Here’s one good recent post.

    You can use other social media tools, like HootSuite, BufferApp, and the rather oddly named SocialBro, to help identify people who are interested in the same things you are, and to post on social networks in a way to attract a following. If your company really has something of value to offer, than finding authentic and relevant ways to discuss that in places like Twitter, LinkedIn and even Facebook, should help you attract a small following that will in turn help you amplify your message. Like I said, it takes a bit more work than the quick fix of buying names and spamming, but it’s also more sustainable in the long run, because your entire focus is figuring out how to authentically engage your market. The PR fundamentals of messaging and compelling content still apply, its just that you view your objective as building a customer community, not acquiring targets as efficiently as possible as if you’re on a military campaign.

    If you’re not already familiar with Jeremiah Owyang, I would suggest reading his blog. He’s good hub for ideas and information about marketing both effectively and with integrity. He’s at

    Good luck.

  37. Hi Chris,
    I received an email from Cision asking me to ‘opt in’. I googled them and found your blog so decided against it. Just a few hours later the stream of unsolicited emails came in. I began writing back telling them i didn’t want to be on their lists. Some were politie, others were almost shirty (peeved perhaps that they’d paid for my name and I wasn’t interested?). Clearly Cision is operating in exactly the same way as it was 4 years ago. Can anything be done? I have better things to do with my time than email people I never asked to be emailed by in the first place.

  38. Hi Jan–

    I’m sorry you’re having experience–the only good news is that you’ve done something just by posting your comment here. This post is now appearing on the 2nd page of Google results–the first objective 3rd-party critique of Cision’s practices, and that’s because of the continuing stream of comments from people like you. I’m not sure if Heidi Sullivan still works at Cision, but I’ll send her a note and see if she wants to comment again on what, if anything, has changed at Cision.


  39. Glad to know I am not the only one. Suddenly I have started getting a whole load of press releases to my personal email address and guess where the PR companies got that address?

  40. I’m getting these to my personal address too. The opt outs are for Cision’s individual clients – so yay I can look forward to no more emails about the ‘dust vac’ or ‘building my business’ but who knows what Cisions clients will send me tomorrow. I did not give them permission and I did not opt in.

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