Service Providers Form E-Mail Coalition

Nineteen e-mail service providers formed a coalition to find solutions to fight spam yet preserve e-mail as a marketing medium, it was announced yesterday.

The NAI (Network Advertising Initiative) E-mail Service Provider Coalition claims to represent 250,000 customers. Coalition members are Digital Impact, DoubleClick, Experian, iMakeNews, Aptimus, Avenue A, BlueHornet Networks, Britemoon, Cheetahmail, ClickAction, eDialogue, Eversave, ExactTarget, GotMarketing, MindShare Design, Roving Software, Topica, Virtumundo and Yesmail.

“What we are trying to do is give voice to a constituency that up to this point has not had its own unique voice,” NAI executive director Trevor Hughes said. “We are out there to make sure that e-mail is protected and preserved and [that it] flourishes as a communications medium.”

Increasingly, companies like those that joined the NAI coalition see their businesses threatened by well-intended anti-spam weapons, such as filters and block lists, that block not only spam but also messages that recipients want, he said.

“We're saying, 'Hey, wait a minute. Time out. While you guys are warring over spam, all of this collateral damage is happening to messages people want to receive,'” he said.

Until now, “there were groups representing a portion of e-mail service providers' interests, but there was no one group representing their interests in as comprehensive a fashion,” Topica president/CEO Anna Zornosa said.

She cited the broad range of companies that joined as evidence of her claim.

However, one company conspicuously absent from the coalition is New York e-mail service provider Bigfoot Interactive.

The coalition approached Bigfoot multiple times, said Michael Della Penna, Bigfoot's chief marketing officer. However, Bigfoot has put its hat in the ring with the Direct Marketing Association's Association for Interactive Marketing and its e-mail delivery committee.

“We think the industry is best served by focusing, and not duplicating, efforts,” Della Penna said. “The DMA and AIM have the firepower behind them in existing lobbyists on Capitol Hill and the resources to make some progress. Not to say these guys won't be successful, but we have to be conscious of three different groups contacting ISPs and contacting government legislators, and perhaps turning them off to the issue rather than presenting a cohesive front that is representative of everyone's opinion.”

The other e-mail marketing committee to which Della Penna referred is the Interactive Advertising Bureau's e-mail committee, which was formed in October. Michael Mayor, president of New York e-mail list firm NetCreations, heads the IAB's e-mail committee.

One reason the IAB, which represents mainly brand advertisers' interests, formed its own e-mail committee is that the DMA is seen by many to have too much political baggage to be effective on e-mail issues.

For example, it took the DMA four years to come out against address harvesting, the practice where spammers scoop e-mail addresses off Web sites and mail to them in bulk. Also, the DMA's endorsement of the so-called one-bite-of-the-apple approach to sending unsolicited commercial e-mail, where it's OK to send one “targeted” e-mail unless the recipient opts out, is considered by many to be a de facto endorsement of spam.

However, “that's why AIM exists: so that some of that baggage doesn't become an issue,” Della Penna said. Also, the DMA said in October that it would support anti-spam legislation.

Meanwhile, one person familiar with the NAI initiative questioned whether it would have the money to accomplish its agenda. According to the source, who requested anonymity, the group was asking for money in the four-figure range to join.

“This is not a lot of money to get accomplished what needs to get accomplished,” the source said. “I think this is a handful of companies throwing a little money at it in an effort to hedge their bets and get some PR in the process.”

Hughes rejected that assessment.

“We have enough money to do what we want to do,” he said. “We are lean and mean, and we are expecting to do as much as we can as efficiently as we can.”

Hughes would not disclose funding but conceded the NAI can't match the DMA's firepower.

“We are not a large, heavily staffed trade organization,” he said. “I don't see us in conflict with the DMA, necessarily.”

Added Irene Pedraza, CEO of Cheetahmail: “You've got some pretty big companies involved in this group. I don't think that cash is going to be an issue.”

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