Mad As Hell Redux

My article last week certainly hit a nerve. If I ever wondered if anyone actually reads the column I write each week--well, now those doubts are dispelled.

I heard from some of trade organizations, in particular the DMA and the E-mail Service Providers Coalition. I had lunch with Ramesh Lakshmi-Ratan yesterday, the DMA's senior vice president in charge of membership and market development. A lot of what he told me he outlined in a rebuttal column he wrote for MediaPost this week. More on that in a second.

It was clear that there is a major change in leadership and management at the DMA, reflected by the fact that everyone at the lunch was new to the organization. They also told me that much of what they do is behind the scenes by design, and so all the lobbying efforts they undertake on behalf of the industry may not be apparent. They also described their area of focus. As Ramesh pointed out to me, unlike other trade organizations that represent a defined industry, such as the Motion Picture Association, the DMA represents a "practice," not an industry--and the industries that utilize that practice are far-reaching.



As a result, the DMA works differently than an organization whose members and management can work their butts off on behalf of one specific industry. Instead they work from the intersection of three points of view: what is good for the marketers, what is good for the marketer's customers and clients, and what is good for the future of the practice itself. All three points of view are taken into consideration in their lobbying efforts. Therefore, something like the "Do Not Call" list, which benefits the marketer's clients and the future of the practice, would find support in the new DMA.

I have not yet spoken to The E-mail Service Providers Coalition, but they were active this week in the news, coming out swinging to fight the Utah anti-e-mail laws by planning to seek permission to file a "friend of the court" brief in a suit brought by another trade association. I'll be speaking to them next week, and I hope to have more to report on their efforts.

In response to Ramesh's article, I see that he is doing his job in expressing all the good things the DMA is up to. After meeting with him and his associates, I truly believe their hearts are in the right place. However, all trade associations believe they are doing good by their members. But how do the members feel?

According to the responses I received from people in the trenches working in e-mail every day, in general trade associations are not doing so well. Here are some typical responses:

"Great article today. I often think the same way; glad to see you put it out there."

"Saw your rant on your industry association's failure to act. You are bang on--in Canada, we have been fortunate enough to have had a strong and forward-thinking trade group that represents all marketing disciplines, including information-based marketing like e-mail. When I read your article, I forwarded it on to the President, John Gustavson - they prove every day, that the first duty of any trade association is the protection of the market for said industry from undue and harmful legislation. You are right to be angry--you are being underserved in the most pernicious way. Good luck with getting other industry leaders to rally round."

"Amen to this. The extortion scheme has to stop."

"Good Message. Check out what Frank Fahenkopf does for the casino industry in Washington. He's a well-polished pit bull that gets the job done."

Or this:

"Mr. McCloskey, I recently retired from a giant communications company whose name you would know. I do a little work for them on a once-a month-promotional newsletter. We also had a five-times-a-week free newsletter that did carry some advertising. In September we were notified by an organization that you aptly term a "vigilante" that it had received a complaint that the newsletter was spam and it was putting our ENTIRE COMPANY on its spammers list. We sorted through the list, which had been drawn from one of our circulation lists, and culled out 15,000 names of people who had not been contacted for permission to e-mail them in the last year. The organization graciously said "well, you're trying." and took us off their bad-boy list.

The next newsletter that went out again drew a complaint and we were back on the S list. After various attempts we finally sent out the newsletter with a requirement that if readers wished to continue to receive the newsletter they must re-subscribe. Thus, everyone on the diminished list of 5,600 names had indicated they wanted it. On the next mailing, you guessed it, one person again reported it as spam and we were again placed on the spammers list. At which point the division president threw up his hands and killed the newsletter. We not only lost a little revenue, but our audience lost a very nice source of information that I know for a fact a lot of them found useful. This was all over ONE PERSON whom the anti-spam Klan refused to identify. It could have been an ex-employee. It could have been a competitor. These groups are nothing but terrorists--and as you pointed out, no one regulates them, so they can operate in any high-handed and capricious manner they wish."

Back to my week. I also received numerous offers of support and money if I wanted to start my own trade association. But I don't believe we need more trade associations. We just need to focus and prod the ones we've got.

And so at the end of my lunch, I promised Ramesh that I would join the DMA. He may live to regret it.

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