Yikes, the deadline for POPIA compliance is here! But if you’re still feeling a little unsure and fuzzy around the edges of exactly how this will affect your marketing and PR work, you’re not alone!

Stressed PR person

On one end of the spectrum, people are ignoring the POPI Act’s existence entirely, while over on the other end, some are in an overly-pedantic panic, closing down their long-established, perfectly good mailing lists and asking their contacts to freshly subscribe to new ones! Also known as marketing suicide.

So it’s time for a little common sense conversation.

The POPI Act is not about destroying businesses or your ability to communicate with your contacts.

In fact, if you’ve already been following good, honest practices in your emails and communications, then very little needs to change. It’s the dodgy direct marketers and email spammers that will need to clean up their act the most!

Quick disclaimer:

We are not legal experts. We’re simply sharing the plain English, common sense understanding of the POPI Act as we have come to understand it, following advice we’ve received and our own research.

If you’re unsure of exactly how this applies to you and your business, you should reach out to your own legal advisors for advice.

 Okay, but let’s talk about publicity, contacting journalists and managing your media lists…


Contacting journalists:

Journalists are exempt from certain regulations in the act, but that doesn’t mean that your interaction with journalists (and the safe-guarding of their personal details) is exempt.

If you’re holding anyone’s contact details and personal information, you’re now expected to take responsibility for ensuring no unauthorised access to that information, that you only use the details for the purposes intended, and you respect people’s wishes in how they want to be communicated with.

This includes deleting their details entirely should they request you to do so.


But their details are public, right?

Many journalists will publish their contact details publicly, because they need to receive fresh stories, content and contacts to do their job!

However, journalists also get overwhelmed by irrelevant content and what they call ‘PR spam’.

Unfortunately, due to years of bad PR practices from a few bad apples, the journalists’ now well-practiced reflex action of deleting or unsubscribing is swift!

And with POPI, it’s now unforgiving too. Once someone unsubscribes or asks to be removed from your list, that’s it, you can’t contact them again or you’ll be in breach!


So what to do?

We have always recommended pitching journalists directly and personally with a targeted and relevant email, matching your content to their media title and audience. And now, this practice is what will be required for successful and thriving media relations.

We know, it’s a time consuming approach!

However, our experience is that this has always and consistently delivered the very best short and long-term results. Mostly because journalists can spot bulk emails within a millisecond, and it’s just so darn easy to then ignore, delete or unsubscribe!

In contrast, a thoughtful, relevant and personalised email stands out from the rest and builds trust and good relationships with the journalists. This practice will serve you well, not just for one press release, but for many more in future.

With POPI in place, it’s just not worth sending out an otherwise good press release to a poorly targeted and vague media list of unknown age and origin.

The chance is high that some journalists on that outdated list will perceive your press release as irrelevant, because they may have since changed topics or jobs – changes are happening all the time! And therefore, the chance that they unsubscribe or ask to be removed from your list is high too, and this will affect every future press release you need to send.

NOTE: This is not to say that you can’t use autoresponder software to send out multiple personalised emails. You don’t have to send your emails one by one, especially if you have a breaking news story that needs to go out quickly!

However, you’d be wise to spend more time in the preparation and management of your media lists.

We’d highly recommend that you segment your lists into tighter and tighter interest topics (or journalist beats) to ensure that the email you’re about to send is going out to the most relevant list of up-to-date contacts as possible to match each press release.


Quick tip:

If you’re using an autoresponder to send press releases to a journalist, forego the fancy templates!

Think about it, if it looks like a newsletter that’s being sent to many, then it’s easy to ignore at first glance.

And secondly, journalists are BUSY and don’t have time to ‘click to download pictures’ and so your professional template with pretty graphics is probably lost on them.

Instead, design the template to look like you’re sending a personal email – plain, simple text that they can easily read (or scan, more likely).

And bonus tip:

Whether you’re using an autoresponder or not, don’t hide your name and contact details in a fancy signature image where none of your links are clickable! Make it super easy for busy journalists to take the action you want them to take.

Managing your media lists:

Your biggest priority here is relevancy, relevancy, relevancy and value!

Are your emails relevant to the journalist and are you offering value?

If so, you’re not giving the journalist any reason to unsubscribe, and in fact, they’ll be more likely to spot and read your emails in future.

As a starting point, we recommend sourcing the very highest quality, updated and targeted lists you can get (we recommend ours, of course). 😉

But you still need to take it one step further.

We recommend that you work through your media lists and always pick only those journalists who are the most relevant for that particular press release/email.

For example, some food journalists are interested only in luxury foodie products, others in affordable pantry items, or kitchen gadgets, or chef interviews and recipes.

Encyclomedia media lists are packed full of PR opportunities, but not all of these will be relevant for every story angle. From your list, you’ll need to hand-select the right contacts for the right client/ brand/ product/ press release to ensure your emails are always relevant.

If not, you risk losing your ability to contact that journalist again should they unsubscribe.

Your accountability & responsibility

As for protecting the personal details you hold, take all reasonable efforts to password protect and secure the data, with no unauthorised access, and with appropriate firewalls and up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware protection.

Any removable storage devices containing personal information, including flash drives and backup drives, should be kept with paper files in a secure area such as a locked cabinet, drawer or safe. Restrict access to these areas to only those who have the need for the information, and with the correct training on how to access and edit the data responsibly.


Bringing back the relationship in Media ‘Relations’

While some might view it as a pain, with the right mindful approach, POPIA actually creates new opportunities for PR professionals who go on to create more meaningful, mutually-beneficial media relationships built on trust and respect.