How to keep organizational issues from thwarting e-mail marketing

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At a recent e-mail marketing conference, I was struck by how many marketers, for both big and small brands, already know the "right things" to do. What they don't know is how to get those right things done -- chiefly because of organizational issues.

A large part of the issue is that e-mail marketing is often decentralized and inadequately staffed. On the one hand, a person may be responsible for running an e-mail program. On the other, that person has no authority over the Web site, database or creative assets and may actually spend only 15 percent of the workday focusing on e-mail.

Now multiply that part-time e-mail manager by a few different business divisions, and you get the second major organizational issue: too many constituents within the same company e-mailing the same list, often on the same day. As a fellow campaign manager, you have no say in other teams' (over) use of the subscriber list.

Obviously, roll-up-your-shirtsleeves marketing staff cannot solve companywide organizational issues without some decision-making on high. That said, you can take some preliminary steps.

First, make the case for one dedicated employee to manage outbound communications companywide. This director or manager of e-mail marketing needs the authority to enforce guidelines on how often subscribers can be contacted and what kind of messaging they receive - which should all be based on subscriber opt-in preferences. This e-mail czar also should be able to direct IT and creative services resources as appropriate to implement e-mail marketing best practices.

Perform a companywide e-mail inventory and clarify what's happening today. Three good places to start include: your sales organization's messages from the customer retention management system, the various marketing teams' campaigns, and your Web site's transactional engine, which spits out automated responses ranging from welcome e-mails to satisfaction surveys to receipts. Your detective work should reveal how much mail is going out and who in the organization runs which programs.

Push for a companywide e-mail marketing calendar. Owned by your e-mail czar, this is an ironclad system for deciding who sends what and when. All affected departments get to have their say - but in the end, happy or not, they must all abide by the centralized schedule.

It may take a bit of time - and a lot of political wrangling - to change your company's approach to e-mail marketing, but the overall success of your program depends on it.

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