Reports of Email's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Pursuant to my screed on Comcast's folly last week, in undertaking to gobble up Disney, I began to examine what was going on with Roy Disney and his effort to block the sale of his Uncle Walt's empire.

I read that Roy, though not a major shareholder in company stock, had been able to mobilize great blocks of votes against the merger by leveraging some inside channels and one interactive channel that has been weathering a drubbing of late - email marketing.

I have written much in this space in favor of the efforts of the US Federal Trade Commission and its CAN SPAM efforts, which resulted in some slinky-spined legislation some months back. (Expect to see something with more teeth in the next Congress) It just seems intuitively apparent to me that stronger, well-enforced privacy restrictions would actually help all interactive marketers by providing a more trustworthy and effective medium for both marketers and consumers/customers.

Ever since my privacy officer days at Real Media, and then 24/7 Real Media, the direct correlation between any media's exclusive ownership of user data and the value of that media asset just seemed to make sense. Whether delivering impressions and message to 5,000 sets of eyeballs or 500,000, they aren't worth much if the audience isn't yours alone.



Once you let others in - be they spammers, profilers, or any third party, the value of the media asset - which is always the eyeballs, and never the content that draws the eyeballs, is diminished.

So, what Roy Disney did was work through Penn Media. What Penn Media does is very straightforward: They manage email newsletters, or "e-zines" to about 62 million subscribers who read hundreds of different publications having to do with healthcare, retail, mortgage, tourism, public affairs, CPG, Broadband, PC Users, and other topics. The value proposition here is really simple. Penn Media's lists are clean and they stay clean.

So, when Roy Disney needed to leverage a non-traditional, outside-the box counter-investor relations channel, he worked with Penn Media's CEO, Jaffer Ali to craft some simple messages that became ads in email newsletters which Ali knew would include subscribers who owned Disney stock.

Two days later, Roy had more than 1,000 Disney stockholders on his side, trying to block the takeover of their company by Comcast.

With what other media - other than email - could he have pulled this off?

"What we did was simply get people to raise their hands," said Mr. Ali. "Email is most effective when used as a communication vehicle to foster and maintain relationships. Opt in is vital because this is the component that gives permission to have the relationship. Relationships cannot be maintained without permission in the physical world, and they certainly cannot be maintained without permission in the digital world."

So, if the trust of the subscriber is the basis for the success of any kind of marketing campaign, it would seem to follow that such trust has to be in even greater supply for something as potentially subversive as this.

"Email publications (also called e-zines or newsletters) offer something to the recipient," said Ali. "This 'giving' establishes another key component in media and marketing relationships. If an entity wants something eventually, they should provide something first to build the relationship. Marketers often miss this simple idea and only want to 'take'... as in buy my crap... Here's the deal. When executed properly, email marketing creates symmetry between the giver and taker."

Mr. Ali estimates that, had they started earlier, Penn Media could have enlisted 40,000 shareholders to Roy Disney's cause. Let's assume he's off by a factor of two, and only 20,000 shareholders would have contacted Michael Eisner's people by now. With the acquisition sitting still by the side of the road, albeit, with the engine running, I think it's safe to say that email marketing - the right kind of email marketing - may already have played a role with the 1,000+ shareholders Penn Media identified and helped to mobilize.

Note to marketers: There are still opportunities aplenty in email marketing. Pick your media partner carefully. And only do business with those who traffic pure lists.

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