How to Keep Your PR Email List in Great Shape

“The money is in the list” is a common adage in email marketing. It applies to PR professionals, too – can you imagine doing your job without a media list? We rely on our databases to send press releases, pitch stories, and keep in touch with the media. 

But how reliable are your media contacts? How do you know when your media list needs a refresh? What email addresses should you be extra careful about – and why? 

Stay with me for some practical tips on email list maintenance and why it’s vital to your PR success.

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Why you should keep your PR email list in shape

Think about it this way: as a PR professional, you’re in the reputation management business. Through everything you do, you improve and maintain your client’s image. The better their reputation, the higher the chances for positive media coverage.

Email works similarly: as someone who sends emails, you have a reputation, too. And the better your sender reputation, the more likely your emails are to reach people’s inboxes. 

Prowly PR Software - Email
Emailing your contacts via Prowly

Imagine you have an important piece of news to announce on behalf of your client. The press release is ready, your pitches are flawless, and you’re even planning to reach out to a few new writers. It’s time to hit “Send”!

Look at that, a few responses already: bounce, bounce, spam complaint, bounce… While you may think that’s no big deal, bounces are a red flag for Internet service providers (ISPs) and email service providers (ESP). So are spam complaints.

Emailing bad email addresses – and doing so repeatedly – shows that:

  • you don’t really care about email best practices,
  • you haven’t cleaned your media list in a while, and
  • in fact, you’re willing to add any email address to your media lists just for the sake of having lots of contacts.

I get it: as PR practitioners, we work hard to build a solid list that we can reach out to when we have new stories to tell. The more contacts we gather, the more confident we are about the coverage we’ll get.

However, when you email indiscriminately, in the eyes of ISPs and ESPs, you’re acting like a spammer. And they do everything in their power to protect recipients from malicious senders.

That means your emails may start:

  • arriving in people’s spam folders (good luck getting read by anyone!)
  • or not even making it there (sometimes, when you have a poor reputation, your emails will be blocked altogether.)


What exactly is your sender reputation?

In a nutshell, it’s how ISPs and ESPs perceive you as a sender. 

Do you get a few bounces every once in a while? Everyone does, but make sure you don’t exceed the industry standard of 2% – that’s when things get risky. 

Did someone mark your email as spam? It’s ok, but if your spam rate is higher than 0.1%, it may be time to take another look at your content and contacts.

Bounces and spam complaints are just two things that affect your sender reputation. Apart from invalid and abuse emails, there are other types of email addresses that can cause you trouble. 

Let’s see how they affect you and what you can do to protect your PR email list and sender reputation.


Email addresses you should remove from your list

Every email list will have a few bad addresses. That’s because data decays pretty quickly – on average, by 22.5% every year, a Marketing Sherpa study shows.

An email address you added to your list today may bounce next month, or even in the next 10 minutes! 

Here are some of the riskiest emails you could have in your database, and how to keep them at bay.


Temporary emails

Their name is self-explanatory: these email addresses aren’t meant to last long. They can self-destruct within a short period of time and will undoubtedly bounce. People use them when they don’t want to reveal their real email address, either to protect their privacy or to avoid being added to an email list. These addresses are also known as “disposable emails.”

When you add a new contact to your list, make sure it’s from a reliable source. Even better, run it through the ZeroBounce email verifier – it doesn’t cost a thing and it’ll return your result in seconds.


Spam traps

These types of emails are honeypots for spammers. Blacklist providers and ISPs will place spam traps randomly on the Internet, where spam senders will harvest and use them. For years now, it’s been an effective way to catch and block spammers – but since you aren’t one, you shouldn’t have any spam traps in your list. 

Be extra careful about people who don’t engage with your emails for more than six months. Some spam traps are recycled email addresses – meaning emails that were abandoned and that ISPs and blacklist providers now use to lure in spammers. 


Catch-all emails

These accounts will accept all emails sent to their domain, even if the email address doesn’t exist. Sometimes, organizations will do this to ensure they don’t miss any communication. The problem with catch-all domains is that they can be turned off anytime and will stop accepting all emails. Furthermore, catch-all email accounts are more likely to bounce due to the volume of email they get. 

If your email verifier has identified a catch-all domain in your list, try scoring that address. A good email scoring system will detect that email’s activity levels, so you get a chance to see whether it’s in use or not.


Abuse emails

We talked about them earlier: they’re some of the worst you can have in your PR email list. Abuse emails belong to habitual complainers, people who often mark emails as spam – either because they don’t know or remember you, or they consider your content irrelevant. 

Instead of waiting for someone to mark you as spam, validate your list regularly, in bulk, to detect regular complainers ahead of time. An email verification service will remove them and help you prevent the risk of being labeled as spam.


Invalid emails

They’re common in PR email lists, especially when you consider the fast-changing media environment nowadays. Journalists move from one publication to another.  They lose their jobs and switch to another career. Their email addresses are either deactivated or become catch-all emails. Both of these situations pose a risk to your reputation and deliverability, so don’t hesitate to delete invalid emails from your list.

The best way to find out whether an email is invalid is to verify it. Before you add it to your list, use an email validator. Plus, don’t forget to run your entire database through a validator every few months. You simply don’t know how many contacts could have gone bad since you sent your last batch of emails. 


How I keep my PR email list up to date

I started building my PR email list about three years ago when I became a full-time PR manager for ZeroBounce. It was hard. I’d worked as a PR for a while, but not in the United States and not in the tech space. 

Starting from scratch felt like being light-years behind other PR pros and I often wondered about shortcuts. I wish I’d known about Prowly back then, it would have saved me a lot of time and work! 

In email marketing, buying an email list is a big no-no, and that was the main reason why I didn’t want to go that route. Even though in public relations purchasing a list of contacts is a lot safer, I ended up building my own list of journalists and bloggers. 

As you can imagine, working for an email validation and deliverability company has made me extra aware of the way I handle email. Who wants to get bounces or be labeled as spam, or risk hitting a spam trap?

So, here are the things I do to keep my PR email list up to date and safe to use:

  • Whenever I add a new contact to my Excel sheet, I run it through ZeroBounce. It takes me only a few seconds and gives me the confidence of being able to reach real people, not fictitious accounts.
  • A few times a year, I verify my whole list in bulk to weed out abandoned and obsolete emails. 
  • I also use a reliable email client to organize my pitches and be sure that I’m sending the right things to the right people.
  • I do my best to keep up with the most recent staff changes in the media. If I find out a journalist has left a certain publication, I update my list right away.
  • Every pitch I send is as personal as it can get. Sometimes it can take me longer to reach out to a writer as I tend to read a lot of their work. But when I do reach out, my pitches are successful because I can personalize them beyond a name. Do your research – you’ll be less likely to be marked as spam and your emails will have a higher response rate. 
  • If I email a writer three times and never get a response, I won’t email that person again. They probably don’t care about my content, and that’s alright. Alternatively, that email address may be abandoned and furthermore, it could be a spam trap. 
  • This has never happened to me, but I would never email someone if they asked me to not contact them again. Unless I was really trying to get a spam complaint. 😊

Your PR email list is a precious tool. Take good care of it and don’t let bad emails spoil it. You work too hard on your pitches for them to go to waste. 

Prowly PR Software - Media List
Prowly PR CRM


Don’t have an email list yet? 

Prowly’s got your covered: with more than a million media contacts from all around the globe, the platform is a source you can rely on. You can customize your search depending on your industry and the outlets you’re targeting, and create your ideal PR email list.


About the author: Corina Leslie is the PR Manager for email validation company ZeroBounce, an Inc. 5000 honoree. Most often, you’ll find her on the ZeroBounce blog, where she shares her tips and interviews experts on digital marketing and PR. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Cover photo by Christin Hume