E-mailers disagree on approach

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As e-mail's popularity as an advertising medium rises, marketers are developing standards for commercial e-mail that often run counter to the traditional direct-marketing practice of opt-out marketing.

The key to success of e-mail marketing, estimated by Forrester Research to be a $4.8 billion business in 2004, is permission-based communications, executives say.

The Association for Interactive Media's Council for Responsible E-mail recently approved resolutions recommending that companies obtaining e-mail addresses state how the personal data will be used and send information only to people with whom they have had a prior business relationship.

Derek Scruggs, permission advocate at e-mail service provider Message Media, said he is pleased there are finally resolutions to guide self-regulation of the e-mail marketing community.

"You can argue that they should be tighter on the opt-in side of things, but the biggest thing they endorse is you have to have some kind of a relationship with the people you send e-mail to," said Mr. Scruggs, whose company works with clients such as E-Trade Securities, Intuit and Yahoo!.

While the Direct Marketing Association and AIM, a DMA unit, support opt-out marketing, Jerry Cerasale, senior VP-government affairs for the DMA, said opt-in might be a better business model currently for e-mail marketers.

Most e-mail marketers concur that opt-in means a person has actively agreed to receive promotional information or to have his or her e-mail address shared with other marketers. Opting in to receive an e-mail does not give data gatherers permission to merge individuals' e-mail data with other online or offline data.

While many consider a prechecked permission box on a Web site's registration to be opt-out marketing, Reggie Brady, VP-strategy and partnership at Flo-Network, said opt-out marketing isn't necessarily spam.

"I think the bad rap that opt-out gets is when the permission asked for isn't clear or prominent," said Ms. Brady, whose company promotes opt-in e-mail marketing for its clients. "The consumer should not have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to learn what a marketer wants to do."

E-mail marketers such as FloNetwork, Click Action, Big Foot Interactive, Post Communications and others work with clients to make sure customer e-mail lists were gathered through a permission-based method.

Rosalind Resnick, president-CEO of NetCreations, is one of the few participants in AIM's Council for Responsible E-mail who voted for the self-regulation guidelines, but said they should be stricter.

"One of our frustrations is that the DMA has dug in its heels and supported a policy of opt-out for postal and e-mail marketing," Ms. Resnick said. "The industry is afraid to stand up for fear of a domino effect [that could spread to] telemarketing and postal mail."

Tony Priore, VP-marketing at YesMail.com, said opt-in has to be the recommended method of marketing for third-party e-mailers.

"The DMA and AIM are moving in the right direction [with the new resolutions], but we'd like for them to move more aggressively," he said. "It doesn't have to be a unilateral opt-in policy for all media."

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