As AIM Stays Quiet, Members Get Vocal

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Members of the Association for Interactive Marketing are lobbying Direct Marketing Association board members to have DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen fired over what they perceive as his silencing of AIM and mishandling of issues surrounding e-mail.


"A lot of us think he's representing the interests of the interactive marketer extraordinarily poorly in his public relations, and he has completely denied AIM any voice in this discussion," said a current AIM member who requested anonymity.


Another AIM member said it is "not a cohesive movement" to oust Wientzen.


However, it is clear that a significant portion of AIM's membership is angry with the DMA over its actions concerning AIM and e-mail: Wientzen claiming that spam is only fraudulent e-mail, for example. Several companies are considering dropping their memberships.


Michael P. Donnelly, founding partner of interactive agency One to One Interactive, Boston, said he was unsure whether his firm's AIM membership had expired but that he would not renew "if the DMA continues to keep AIM under wraps and continues to take positions that are contrary to what we would consider best practices in interactive marketing as it relates to e-mail."


Donnelly, however, does not support removing Wientzen.


Several current and past DMA board members returned calls for comment from DM News but would not speak on the record.


AIM, which was acquired by the DMA in 1998, has been literally silenced since Kevin Noonan took over as executive director in October.


Though the annual net.marketing trade show carries AIM's name, the last networking event AIM held was one of its signature Dinner & A Deal events in New York on Nov. 19, where Noonan was introduced. He has since been barred from talking with the press.


Some AIM members also are upset at the DMA's repeated delay of AIM's Council for Responsible E-mail's e-mail marketing best practices document, an initiative that was supposed to be published last month to help e-mail marketers avoid spamming. CRE members worked for months on the document, only to see it disappear in the DMA's approval process.


"AIM charges us a bunch of money to belong to it every year," a source said. "And when a whole bunch of good work gets flushed down the toilet, it makes those of us who are collectively paying, what, $300,000 in dues, $400,000 in dues, think we should be putting our money somewhere else."


Among the DMA's problems with the best practices document was that it contained what the DMA considers to be an overly broad definition of spam -- unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail sent to people with whom the sender has neither a prior business relationship nor permission to send e-mail -- contradicting the DMA's fraud-only definition.


"I don't think Bob is acting maliciously," said one person who is lobbying to remove Wientzen. "I think he truly believes that unsolicited commercial e-mail is OK as long as you can opt out of it, but that's bad for the industry for a number of reasons."


It is unclear how much influence AIM members have. When the DMA announced Noonan's appointment as executive director, a press release put AIM's membership at 300 companies. But sources close to the DMA said the figure was more like 100. Noonan's mandate was to sell 100 new memberships in his first year, according to one well-placed source. It is unknown how he is doing.


In any case, the DMA claims nearly 4,700 member companies -- many of which do not share some AIM members' passion for e-mail issues -- and the industry is rampant with rumors of companies letting their AIM memberships expire over the e-mail controversy.


"Unfortunately, AIM members are taking their anger at the DMA out on AIM by resigning, which will leave AIM as a shell of its former self," a source said.


In the most high-profile example so far, Ian Oxman, vice president of e-mail consulting at RappDigital Innovyx, the e-mail marketing arm of Rapp Collins Worldwide, resigned July 28 as co-chair of AIM's e-mail delivery committee. Moreover, RappDigital Innovyx let its AIM membership lapse.


Meanwhile, several AIM members said that a compromise is needed concerning the best practices document, and that publishing some standards is too important to let political issues stand in the way.


"It's important that there be a broadly accepted set of standards for best practices for e-mail marketing that can be referenced by marketers for their own use," said Kevin George, vice president of client services at e-mail marketing services provider Silverpop, Atlanta, and co-chair of the CRE's delivery committee. "The only thing that's going to solve this ... is getting all the people [representatives of the DMA, AIM and CRE] together at one table and ironing out what we're going to do about it."


George said he will push for such a meeting before the next CRE conference call in early September.


Meanwhile, the Interactive Advertising Bureau -- whose e-mail committee chairman Michael Mayor yanked its support for the best practices document -- reportedly still plans to publish at least some of the early draft CRE document as its own initiative.


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