Filtering flacks

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A colleague, who shall remain nameless, tossed this one my way. I’ll offer my two-bits and then ask for your input, if I may.

Like you, I get a lot of email from marketers and PR firms. And, probably like you, I get this stuff because my name’s on a list somewhere and PR reps who should know better send me releases about products, services, trade shows, interview opportunities—you name it—that have nothing to do with my beat. I’m trying to come up with a reliable way to filter this material. What do you do?

I feel your pain, oh unnamed colleague. To put this in a broader context, how do you go about filtering out a class of mail that isn’t exactly junk but still not worthy of a place in your inbox?

For awhile I created a mail rule that directed marketing material to a special Marketing Flack mailbox. Whenever I received a pile of promotion from a new source, I added their name (or the portion of their email address after the @ symbol to try to catch any material coming from a particular PR firm) to the rule. It didn’t take long for that rule to become unmanageable—all those names meant too many conditions.

What I needed was a single entry that represented a large group of people. And, of course, that means a group within my address book. Doing this in Mail is, frankly, a pain. It’s no problem to tell Mail to move any messages from members of the Marketing Flack group, but it’s tiresome to add contacts to that group. You have to open the message, click on the sender, add the sender to Address Book, open Address Book, and then drag the contact into the Marketing Flack group.

I use Entourage as my main email client and dumping new contacts into groups isn’t much easier. Time to look elsewhere. I next turned my attention to Entourage’s Categories feature. Here’s what I do now:

I’ve created a new Marketing Flack category (in pink, if you must know) and created a rule that tells Entourage to move any messages from individuals categorized as a Pink Marketing Flack to the Marketing Flack mailbox. When a previously unknown marketer flings a press release my way I select the message, press Command-+ to add that individual to my Entourage Address Book, and then, from the Categories pop-up menu at the top of the contact window, assign Marketing Flack to that contact. When I close the window, that person has joined the ranks of marketers without actually having to become part of a group. Future correspondence from that person is automatically shuttled to the Marketing Flack mailbox thanks to the rule I created.

And now, your input. This system works but it still take too many steps for my liking. How would you do it differently?

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