CAN-SPAM Compliance Spawns New Cottage Industry
According to regulations put forth under the new CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, emails sent from businesses to consumers must--among other things--include a legitimate physical address, and must enable recipients to unsubscribe from future company mailings. And perhaps the most daunting requirement of all: advertisers must process unsubscribe or opt-out requests within ten business days.
The trouble is, many companies hire more than one service provider to manage their email content, campaign delivery, and ever changing lists. The new law places the onus on the sender or "any person acting on behalf of the sender" to juggle all that unsubscription and suppression activity.
"Advertisers need a centralized solution to have unsubscribe lists all in one place," asserts Christian Rodriguez, director of business development at ClickPrecision.com. The month-old firm, spawned as a direct result of the CAN-SPAM legislation, provides tools that allow marketers to update their email lists without the intervention of the companies sending and managing their email campaigns. Essentially, HTML code representing list changes is generated by the system and then passed along to the company that manages a particular campaign. Thus, the email service provider never comes in contact with the actual addresses being suppressed. ClickPrecision.com plans to announce partnerships with email marketing firms soon, according to Rodriguez, who is also a co-founder of MailCreations.com, an online advertising and email list management firm that is not directly affiliated with his new venture.
"If you're dealing with 20 or 30 email service providers, you don't know they're all on the up and up," cautions Mike O'Brien, CEO of the newly formed CAN-SPAM Compliance Company (CCC). As CEO and founder of FinancialAid.com, a company that matches students with colleges, loans, and scholarships, O'Brien found that keeping track of suppression files among 30 different email vendors was "unmanageable." He was also concerned that emailing lists back and forth to and from those vendors was a privacy meltdown waiting to happen.
CCC was born of the desire not only to manage list changes and secure privacy, but also to keep a close eye on email service providers. O'Brien contends that, while suppressing names from one client's list, some address-hungry email service providers have been known to turn around and bulk up another client's list with those same suppressed addresses.
It's quite an allegation, but it's similar to one alluded to by Rodriguez. He suggests that unscrupulous email service providers may resell clients' subscriber lists without their permission, although most contracts prohibit this sort of action. "By creating a separate company, we take away all the doubt so it doesn't have to be a concern," adds Rodriguez.
Emerging Interest's clients have also felt powerless at times. Bill McCloskey, CEO of the marketing technology consultancy, tells of one client that hires list brokers to drum up sales leads via emails sent out by the broker's affiliate partners. The thing is, says McCloskey, "It's impossible for those marketers to monitor whether emails are CAN-SPAM compliant, since they're not told which lists their messages are being sent out on."
Emerging Interest recently launched a Competitive Email Tracking System, designed primarily to monitor email campaigns. During a recent demonstration of the product for MediaDailyNews, McCloskey showed how the system can also be used to track CAN-SPAM compliance. By tracking mailings sent by an email marketer's affiliates, the system can also check for opt-out functionality, physical postal addresses, and other CAN-SPAM necessities.
EmailLabs, an email marketing software and technology firm that touts CAN-SPAM compliance capabilities, helps its clients evade some of those hazards the old-fashioned way: the company simply doesn't allow clients to use purchased lists through its software. When working with a potential client, "We try to uncover how the prospect has acquired the list through various screening processes, but ultimately it's based on the client's word," explains Lorne McDonald, vice president-marketing, EmailLabs.
What a concept.
Kate Kaye is a regular contributor to MediaDailyNews. She has also worked for Emerging Interest, which is headed by Bill McCloskey, who writes MediaPost's weekly Email Insider report.