Letter: Legitimate E-Mail Marketing Needs Protection

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Glad to hear someone note the thundering silence on this most recent ruling ("This Silence Is Dangerous," Feb. 3). New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer obviously has political officeholder aspirations, and I'll bet you a bag of beer nuts that when it comes time to run a campaign for governor he and his staff will turn to e-mail as one way to get the message out.


The Direct Marketing Association needs to understand the landscape and work with and protect legitimate marketers online. In Congress, state attorneys general offices and other places the standard has become:


· Clear sender information. No masking of sender or "spoofing" headers.


· A toll-free number to unsubscribe or get off the list.


· A clear, easy-to-use unsubscribe option.


This is what lawmakers have said is important. Numerous studies show that when e-mail is done responsibly, complaints and problems drop significantly.


Good people are always going to bicker about what is and isn't permission. But if people can get off lists effectively and know who they are dealing with, then permission becomes less important. People get upset because they get an ad for an MLM (multi-level marketing) deal or a Pasta Pot or something, and they have no idea who the sender is, no idea how to get off the list and, worse, they are reluctant to unsubscribe (entering the e-mail address or clicking a link) because another avalanche of usually raunchier crap is soon to follow.


So, what is "responsibly," and what can the DMA or other groups do? Here are some things to consider:


· No more than one third-party message daily (even that is a lot), unless the consumer specifically elects for more.


· Every e-mail marketing company or entity that signs up with any bandwidth provider be registered with the FTC/DMA/whomever, agree to best practices and suffer fines and/or blacklisting if they fail to adhere. If bandwidth providers knowingly provide services to slash and burn spammers, porn pushers, etc., they can suffer penalties, too.


· Find entities that use the unsubscribe process to "verify" deliverable e-mail addresses and sell them. Take 'em out back and beat them vigorously about the head and upper extremities. Well, maybe not. Stop them somehow.


· Talk to e-mail marketing companies that strive to perform ethical e-mail marketing and are responsive to consumer requests to get information about entities that are engaging in methods that are abusive and/or detrimental to the industry. I know one company that mails the same address 15-20 times a day and is not making the slightest effort to gain any real permission, yet they are regarded in the industry as a "good" company. They are killing good marketing. An associate of mine asked them about their practices, and the answer from the CEO was, "Well, you saw a lot of commercials during the football game this weekend, right? What is the difference?" That mentality has no place in direct marketing and is injurious to others. But you'd be surprised at how pervasive it is with some companies.


· Lastly, work with the ISPs. They need love, too. Their users (paid, in many cases) complain about spam and leave them. So they have to stem the tide of crap. That means guys like us who occasionally send e-mail to a few hundred thousand or more of their people can get shut out, too.


I just had a go-round with AOL. We'd been white-listed with them for more than a year and a half, then we had a problem. We had to get a trouble ticket, explain, write letters and finally got to someone who knew us, our business practices and had cleared us previously. They reopened the gate. This is very disruptive when you have a project for a major client scheduled at that time, but I sympathize with them in a way.


The DMA had better invest time and resources here or someone is going to take its coffeepot and start another deal elsewhere and the DMA will be out, if it isn't on the way out already. We need action, and we need representation on these issues because e-mail marketing is not going away. It's just being refined.


I was recently in a call center for a cataloger and online marketer. They told me that more than 60 percent of their buyers had a catalog open, used an item number to search their Web site, got more information and then either called or placed the order online. More than 60 percent did the transaction with both the catalog and while being online! Many received an e-mail alerting them to the sale.


There always will be the Eliot Spitzers who understand as much about permission, good and legitimate e-mail marketing as I do the particular dialect of Farsi in Qom. Which ain't a whole lot.


Mike Carney, President, DirectQlick.com, Mission Viejo, CA,


mike.carney@directqlick.com



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