Protecting e-mail lists internally important

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E-mail continues to grow rapidly as a source for retaining and gaining circulation, but there's a very big problem: e-mail abuse. It seems every department in a publishing company has a product that it's trying to market via e-mail; that results in a glut of e-mails from the same company, which eventually leads consumers to opt out. Audience marketers are trying to figure out how to avoid killing the golden goose. How can a circulator protect the company list from internal abuse?

"Beg, cajole, plead, threaten, anything that works," said Deb Walsh, director of audience development at IDG's Cambridge Bio Collaborative.

What works for some companies is establishing total control over e-mails from one source. At Hanley Wood, new elements were added to the overall database when e-mail problems were identified. "Our biggest issues were e-mail surveys, especially things for advertisers that want to do brand-recognition surveys," said Nick Cavnar, VP-circulation and data development at Hanley Wood.

At one point, some of Hanley Wood's customers were receiving five e-mail surveys a week. "Obviously, I wasn't paying close enough attention, and we needed to find a solution," Cavnar said.

In response, the company established a schedule within its database. Records are dated as they get surveys. No one record can get a survey closer to two weeks from another survey. "Anyone who wants to use surveys, I explain to them that we'll have to fit it into the schedule," Cavnar said.

At Ehlert Publishing Group, a whole e-mail division has been created, said Circulation Director Jill Anderson. The group stores all e-mail addresses and customer information in one giant file.

"The group set up a compendium, and then they put parameters on each one based on the owner of each list," Anderson said. Each list has limits. A list owned by circulation might have a once-a-week restriction, and audience marketing might only need it twice a month. "It's a first-come, first-served battle for the rest of the slots," Anderson said.

Cavnar said that it's good to have one group controlling the e-mail. "Otherwise, you're getting pushed in four different directions with four different kinds of opt-outs, and designs and vendors, and you don't have a real way of tracking it all," he said. "If it's all in one place, you can spot the problem quickly and deal with it immediately. Otherwise, you have people opting out. The more [that] people continue to opt out, the pool that is left getting besieged gets smaller."

Renewals aren't counted as part of the Ehlert restrictions, so those e-mails still have no limitations. But everything else must be scheduled. "It's a little hard to tell them in July what you'll need in 2008," Anderson said, "but at the very least you put in some things every month and every week, and then, when it comes time, you can decide whether you need it or not."

At Hanley Wood, when a survey is scheduled to go to a specific recipient a date is placed in his or her file and no other survey can be sent during the time buffer surrounding that.

"What's nice is that you can schedule a time a few months down the road to send a survey; pick your grouping, plunk in the dates, and then you're all set," Cavnar said. "No one else can use those recipients."

Titles that have a lot of ancillary products are the ones most susceptible to e-mail abuse, Anderson said. At Ehlert, the titles that use it the most are the RV, camping and motorcycle titles because that's what most of the clubs and ancillary products are related to. "Our other titles are generally just used as a testing device, so they don't get as much activity," she said.

Cavnar added that another thing to watch for is high opt- out rates. He pointed out that, in general, the further something is from someone's core business the higher the opt-out. Hanley Wood's customers have also shown skittishness when it comes to e-mails offering any financial deal from the company's advertisers.

Walsh said it will take corporate policy to get companies that are abusing their e-mail lists to stop. "It's also going to take some sort of initiative for the marketing people to take ownership of that as well," she said. "It's something that steals away from their major goal, which is response, response, response. They have to know that if they keep doing this, their precious responses will disappear."

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