New CRE Co-Chair Aims to Define Terms

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The e-mail marketing industry may yet adopt a common definition of "opt in."

Among the priorities of the incoming co-chairman of the Council for Responsible E-Mail is to get the council's definitions committee rolling on murky terms in e-mail marketing such as "opt in," "list manager," "list broker" and "e-mail service provider."

Michael Della Penna, chief marketing officer at New York e-mail service provider Bigfoot Interactive, is the CRE's new co-chairman, it was announced yesterday. The CRE is part of the Direct Marketing Association's Association for Interactive Marketing.

"A critical first step for us is to continue the work the definitions committee has started," he said. "Legislators, press and even service providers are referring to a lot of the terms within e-mail marketing in a very different way. We're going to define everything from what's a list manager to a broker to what is spam."

CRE members, who often refer to themselves as "legitimate marketers" as opposed to the get-rich-quick and pornography spammers, still lack a common language. For example, critics note that e-mail marketers even lack an industry-wide definition of "opt in." As a result, addresses on third-party e-mail lists regularly are marketed as having been "opted in" when it is unclear what the names on the lists were opted into.

Moreover, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer recently won a decision against Niagara Falls, NY, e-mail marketing company in which the judge defined opt-in e-mail list building as only when the recipient gave permission by checking a box.

Many marketers build e-mail lists with the permission box pre-checked and claim they received implicit permission and that, therefore, the addresses were opted in since the recipients did not uncheck the box. Under Spitzer's definition, marketers who use these lists are spamming.

And as states continue to craft anti-spam laws, this lack of common language increasingly stands to haunt direct marketers who use e-mail.

"First, you need to define what everyone's role is in e-mail marketing: What's a broker? What's a manager? What's an e-mail service provider?" Della Penna said. "Then you've got to define the terms that are broadly used by many folks when writing legislation, and writing about critical issues: What is spam? What is unsolicited e-mail? What is opt in? What is confirmed opt in? What is opt out?"

Another CRE priority is "educating the marketplace," he said. "We're going to start an advanced e-mail marketing seminar series out of the CRE [in March or April]. We're also going to be focused on developing the guidelines and best practices on the important issues within both acquisition and retention-based marketing."

Della Penna joins co-chairman Ben Isaacson, former executive director of AIM, who has served AIM on a consulting basis since he resigned his post in September. Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president at list company Worldata, Boca Raton, FL, is outgoing co-chairman of the CRE. He now chairs the CRE's list management and brokerage committee.

The CRE has about 60 members and is run mainly by executive volunteers from the e-mail marketing industry. Accomplishments include having issued guidelines for e-mail marketing, appending postal files to e-mail and e-mail list merge-purge.

AIM's CRE also published the "E-mail Marketing Compendium," a book of best-practices articles by industry executives.


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