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MSNBC braves email ads

As part of a campaign to get hits on its newly redesigned Web site, MSNBC is sending out email advertising to an undisclosed number of Netizens.

MSNBC is boldly going where few other mainstream companies have dared to go on the Internet: in your email box.

As part of a campaign to get hits on its newly redesigned Web site, MSNBC is sending out email advertising to an undisclosed number of Netizens.

It is unclear whether the message falls under the prevailing definition of spam--unsolicited commercial email--although at least one recipient of the email called it junk and said he did not appreciate it. The company handling the campaign for MSNBC says the email addresses come from a targeted list of people who expressed an interest in technology-related promotions and had the option of declining to receive email.

In any case, few major companies have been willing to use any sort of email advertising for fear of garnering the unenviable label of spammer, earned or not.

Companies that have sent out email advertisements, even in highly targeted situations, have found themselves criticized for doing so in some circles. For instance, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com recently came under fire for sending out targeted email advertisements.

So bad is spam's reputation that people have taken to forging it in an apparent effort to sully the reputations of companies. Samsung, for example, has had to spend time defending itself against spam that it said it never mailed.

MSNBC is sending out the email as part of a campaign to promote its revamped Web site. The email sent out directs people to a promotional Web site where they can then enter online contests for prizes, such as modems and hard drives.

Beth Pastor, vice president for Quantum Leap Communications, the public relations firm handling the campaign, said Quantum used its own targeted private list, but she would not say how many people were on the list. She added that people on the list have had the opportunity to "opt out" of getting email but wouldn't disclose how names were gathered.

"The people it went out to were on a proprietary list that we own, of people who have responded and expressed an interest in technology-related promotions," Pastor said. "It was a very selective list."

Pastor and MSNBC spokeswoman Debby Fry Wilson said they realize how sensitive people are about getting spam and that they took that into consideration before sending the email.

Wilson conceded that some people would not appreciate the email. "It is possible that a handful of individuals didn't appreciate it, and we certainly would regret that. We have attempted to be very careful on this issue and follow proper Netiquette in all our endeavors."

People who want to enter the contest have to scroll through the designated story of the day to find the flashing icon that will lead them to the place where they can enter for prizes.

Once people get to the site, they have to enter their names and email addresses to win anything. Wilson said MSNBC has no plans to use that information but did not specifically say that it would be tossing it out, either.

"We have no immediate plans to use the names," she added. Beyond getting people to see the new site, she said MSNBC has "no other agenda whatsoever."

Besides the email ads, Quantum Leap also is buying more traditional forms of advertising such as banner ads and full-page newspaper ads to promote MSNBC.

In other news, MSNBC will lay off 10 to 20 percent of its staff--or as many as 40 employees--now that the redesigned site is live, according to Wilson. She added said that it had hired extra staff, mostly on a contingent basis, to gear up for the relaunch.