If you're online, you've undoubtedly received "spam" -- unsolicited, untargeted bulk e-mail. Spam typically hawks illegal "Make Money Fast" pyramid schemes, pornographic pay Web sites, quack health-care remedies, or other come-ons of interest only to the gullible or desperate. Spam, which conjures up images of fatty, low-cost luncheon meat and Monty Python skits, is nearly universally reviled, the most notable exceptions being the marketers who must manage to snag at least a few unwitting victims to make their seamy endeavors seem worthwhile. Unlike postal junk mail, spam places most of the cost burden on recipients and the larger infrastructure. That's why it has long been a violation of Internet norms, and why respectable businesses refrain from it. Spam has been the focus of court cases that have been hugely expensive for spamsters caught in the act and the subject of proposed federal legislation to control it. You might therefore think that e-mail is the last tool you should use for marketing and public relations. Not necessarily. Using e-mail, organizations can reach out to prospects, and organizations as well as individuals can reach out to the media, without incurring the wrath of those you're trying to influence. You just have to know what you're doing. With e-mail marketing, the golden rule is receiving permission: You need recipients' permission to use their e-mail in-boxes. You can do this yourself by offering visitors to your Web site the option of receiving e-mailings from you. To entice people to receive, and continue to receive, your commercial messages, you should provide useful noncommercial content along with your marketing material. Another option is to contract with an "opt-in" bulk e-mail company. Opt-in companies compile lists of people who have opted to receive e-mail about specific types of products or services. These companies will rent their lists to you or carry out an entire marketing campaign for you. PostMasterDirect.com is the largest opt-in service, with more than 3,000 lists, from accounting to woodworking. It creates its lists from visitors to Web sites it has partnered with, such as CNET and CBS Sportsline. It charges 10 to 30 cents per name, which includes e-mail delivery, with a $1,000 minimum. You also can use e-mail to get publicity through newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, whether it's about your business' new product or a development involving your school, nonprofit organization, or community. Just as with advertising-oriented e-mail, you have to be careful with public relations e-mail. Many journalists are overwhelmed as it is with e-mail from readers, sources, colleagues, and spamsters. The trick here is to send your e-mail to only those journalists who can use it and to design it for their purposes. Write a descriptive subject header, not just "Press Release." Be clear in the first paragraph of your message about what you're announcing and why people should care. Use plain rather than formatted text or e-mail attachments. Don't follow up an e-mailed press release with a phone call asking if it has been received. Though it can be time-consuming, the best way to compile a list of journalists' e-mail addresses is manually. A number of companies can provide lists for you, however, which you can search through for journalists covering your area. The best low-cost option is Direct Contact Newswire. The service used to rent out its lists of journalists' e-mail addresses but stopped after receiving complaints that too many messages journalists received were poorly targeted and irrelevant. Now Direct Contact Newswire handles the entire process for you, including choosing the most relevant media targets. The cost is 10 cents per name with a $50 minimum. The service also can send press releases by fax and write the release for you. The best high-end option is Bacon's MediaSource, at http://www.bacons.com. This is a list of comprehensive information about 65,000 media outlets and 450,000 editorial contacts, 75% of which have e-mail addresses. You can rent the list through Bacon's Web site, where it's updated daily, or on CD-ROM, where it's updated quarterly. The cost for either option is $1,895 for an annual subscription. Bacon's also will carry out an e-mail media campaign for you for 55 cents per name with a $50 minimum. Whether you're e-mailing to prospects or media targets, you're better off using specialized software than your regular e-mail program if you're doing it yourself and contacting more than a couple of dozen recipients. Programs such as MailKing and UnityMail automate the process of getting your message out. Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at http://members.home.net/reidgold.