AIM's E-Mail Best Practices on Hold; Co-Chair Resigns From Committee

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In a move that many think exemplifies a drastically shortened leash put on the Association for Interactive Marketing, the trade group's long-awaited e-mail best practices document has been put on "indefinite hold" by its parent, the DMA, according to sources.


Moreover, a prominent member of AIM's Council for Responsible E-Mail has resigned over what he perceives as the Direct Marketing Association's mishandling of AIM and the e-mail issue.


Other AIM members are considering letting their memberships expire, sources say.


The best practices document was meant to help e-mail marketers navigate sensitive issues, such as how to avoid spamming. But early versions of the document, which was slated to be released last month, set stricter standards than the DMA endorses for e-mail marketing.


For example, a June draft of the document contained a definition of spam that the DMA reportedly refused to endorse because it considered AIM's definition too broad.


In another example, the draft obtained by DM News said: "Marketers/List Owners should never send unsolicited commercial e-mail to an individual's e-mail address without an existing or prior business/personal relationship or obtaining consent/permission."


However, the DMA does not condemn prospecting via e-mail without permission.


The DMA has deemed e-mail marketing "too charged an environment" to publish the document, said a source who requested anonymity. But the decision could be reversed at any time, the source added.


"That document has been a particular source of agita [ulcers] for the DMA hierarchy," said another source, who also requested anonymity.


Michael Della Penna, chief marketing officer at New York e-mail service provider Bigfoot Interactive and also CRE co-chair, did not immediately return a call for comment yesterday.


Many in the industry fear that AIM, once considered an independent subsidiary of the DMA, has been gutted since Ben Isaacson resigned as executive director and Kevin Noonan took his place in November.


Isaacson's voicemail yesterday said he would be out "with extremely limited" access to voicemail until later this month. The DMA does not allow Noonan to talk to the press.


"Many of us who have been involved with CRE over the years have grown increasingly frustrated with the turns they're taking away from their previous positions on opt-in and permission e-mail marketing," one source said. "It's very much like the feel of Hong Kong with control reverting to communist China, lip service paid to continuing past policies and freedoms, but slowly over time the liberal policies are being edged out."


Ian Oxman, vice president of e-mail consulting for RappDigital Innovyx, the e-mail marketing arm of Rapp Collins Worldwide, resigned July 28 as co-chair of AIM's e-mail deliverability committee.


Oxman cited concern over the direction the DMA has taken with AIM as the reason for resigning his co-chair position. In addition, RappDigital Innovyx declined to renew its membership over these issues.


"The last few months we've been increasingly concerned that AIM is not moving in the right direction for the permission e-mail industry," he said. "The DMA continues to hold to direct mail philosophies and is trying to push that on the permission e-mail industry, and it just doesn't work. … The bigger issue is that the direct mail industry fears that actions taken in the e-mail space will be the slippery slope into increased regulation of the postal mail world."


Oxman also cited the DMA having barred Noonan from talking to the press as another reason for RappDigital Innovyx opting not to renew with AIM.


"We would like to see the association very vocal and loud in the industry," Oxman said. "We tout to our clients that we are members of AIM's Council for Responsible E-Mail, and 'look, see what they're doing in the industry.' Well, you can't show anybody what they're doing because now they're completely silent."


Oxman also cited AIM declining to be officially represented at a meeting of the recently formed E-mail Management Roundtable, an informal group of executives from large ISPs and spam-fighting companies that meet at the offices of Habeas Inc., as another reason for resigning.


"That was the third strike where we said, 'we're out,'" he said. "They [the E-mail Management Roundtable] invited us and AIM declined. I was like, 'What the hell are we doing here on the deliverability committee if we can't accept an invitation from the receiving end of the [e-mail world]?'"


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