Return Path Expands Offerings Through 2 Acquisitions

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With two recent acquisitions, Return Path Inc. has expanded its core business from e-mail change-of-address and list-hygiene services to include e-mail marketing consulting as well as products that help ensure that e-mail gets delivered.

Return Path said yesterday it has acquired Assurance Systems, a company whose products help marketers monitor spam blacklists and make their e-mail less likely to trigger ISP spam filters.

The Assurance Systems buy follows Return Path's acquisition of the e-mail strategy consulting division of GasPedal. GasPedal is an online marketing consulting firm run by Andy Sernovitz, who in 1993 founded the Association for Interactive Media, which is now the Direct Marketing Association's Association for Interactive Marketing.

Terms of neither deal were disclosed.

Assurance Systems debuted in October offering three services:

· Message Checker automatically identifies the elements of e-mail marketing campaigns that are most likely to trigger spam filters, allowing marketers to make their messages look less "spammy" before sending a campaign, the company said.

· Mailbox Monitor lets companies monitor when their messages are not getting through various ISPs.

· Blacklist Alert tells companies when their services have been put on any of more than 300 blacklists, or "blocklists" as anti-spammers and e-mail administrators call them.

Blocklists, such as the Spam Prevention Early Warning System and, maintain lists of Internet protocol, or IP, addresses suspected of being sources of spam. Many ISPs and mail administrators use these lists to block incoming e-mail from IP addresses listed.

Assurance Systems founder/CEO George Bilbrey will stay on as general manager for Return Path's Assurance Systems product line, according to a statement.

Return Path debuted in 1999 as an e-mail change-of-address service provider. It has evolved to offer e-mail list-hygiene services as well.

"With ECOA and our list-hygiene products that have been our core business products, we'll continue with our efforts to make lists better," said Jennifer St. Onge, vice president, marketing, Return Path, Superior, CO. "By adding Assurance, we're able to help companies make their deliverability better."

GasPedal offers three e-mail consulting products, St. Onge said:

· A one-day e-mail seminar.

· An e-mail "best practices 30-day overhaul," which includes a 500-point checklist.

· A more involved version of the 30-day overhaul, which entails not only advising companies on e-mail marketing best practices but helping them employ them.

GasPedal will continue to operate as it did as a standalone, she added.

ECOA accounts for 60 percent to 70 percent of Return Path's business, according to St. Onge, who said she was unable to estimate how much the recent acquisitions would change that figure. She also declined to disclose Return Path's revenue.

Return Path claims to have 12 million addresses of people who have requested to have their e-mail forwarded through its system.

Using Return Path's ECOA can result in about 5 percent to 10 percent of an e-mail list's addresses to be updated annually, St. Onge said.

Return Path has about 30 employees, and a second office in New York.


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