Email On A Budget

Dear Email Diva,

I am a communications manager who does it all for my art museum: creative, art direction, media, traffic, PR, promotions and all the rest. I oversee the Web site and about five years ago, developed an email program as a part of my master's thesis. It's time to grow again. I have numerous departments that serve niche audiences. We have a brand that needs to be reinforced and lists and permissions to maintain. We need a subscribe/unsubscribe function, privacy policy and length and frequency parameters. I need to construct a policy and am looking for some guidelines. I don't have funds to go to a conference or hire a consultant. I intend to buy software, such as Constant Contact or Stream Send. Do you have suggestions? I know this is an industry, and I am a bit player, but I think folks like me need help even more.

Suzanne Hall
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Dear Suzanne,

The Email Diva will give you the short answers to some of your questions but, in the name of your sanity, urges you to attend an all-day training class. While not inexpensive, it will give you time for your 101 other duties and provide a comprehensive and focused route to program improvement. The DMA, Marketing Sherpa, and the Laredo Group offer comprehensive courses (the last taught by yours truly). It is likely that the Email Experience Council will be adding a course in the future as well.

You have a problem common to most email "departments" these days. Everyone is clamoring to have their very important message sent to all subscribers in a dedicated email. If you allow all these requests, subscribers will be bombarded with email, damaging your brand and increasing unsubscribes and spam complaints. If you apply the brakes, you are seen as uncooperative and are frequently overruled.

Your first step is to find an Email Service Provider (ESP) that allows you easily to build a preference center and include dynamic content in your emails. (Of the bargain firms, the Email Diva is a fan of Mail Chimp and Bronto.) The ESP is not software, it is an application that you access online. It works best if you work within the ESP ecosystem, i.e., use their forms (on your site) for subscribing and unsubscribing.

Build a preference center that allows readers to select areas of interest (with every department and need represented) and desired frequency. Encourage legacy subscribers to fill out a profile with an incentive as well as an explanation of how this allows you to better serve them.

Build a newsletter template that can expand or contract to accommodate all departments' inputs. Each "column" should be a few sentences with a link to the full story online. (On April 17, Responsys is holding a Webinar, "Increase Your Marketing Productivity with Modular Email Templates," that should be useful.)

Establish an editorial calendar and a timeline for submissions. Create a shared work site, such as Basecamp, and have departments submit their blurb, images and full articles to this site. Get support from on high to deny late submissions and don't waver.

You will, of course, have special needs that don't fall within the parameters of your monthly newsletter, but they should be the exception rather than the rule. For these, create the single-focus message and select all subscribers who a) requested this type of content and b) have not exceeded their monthly frequency.

By following the users' preferences and allowing only the primary message in the newsletter, you should be within reasonable length guidelines. Track clicks on various departments (represent clicks on column A/total clicks on a screen capture of the email), to see how readers engage with various types of content. This will give you valuable reader insight over time and help resolve placement disputes in the future.

For your privacy policy, you can either search & steal from similar organizations or create one with the help of a policy generator such as this one. Your unofficial policy within the organization should be, "We will never send email to anyone who has not ACTIVELY requested it." "Actively" means that they took an action to request your email. If you have legacy addresses of people who have not done so, send a series of "do you want to hear from us" messages with an opt-in request and possibly an incentive.

So, back to step one. Interview ESPs and have them show you how, with their tool, you can:

1. Create a preference center
2. Create forward-to-a-friend and unsubscribe pages
3. Select subscriber segments, e.g., those interested in New Exhibit announcements with a frequency preference of more than once per month
4. Develop a newsletter template
5. Populate the template with dynamic content, based on preferences

With your many responsibilities, you need a strong partner, so make sure this ESP also has good account and technical support teams to help you. You can get great service at a good price, but email is not a commodity. Don't go with the lowest cost provider and sacrifice the expertise and service a good ESP can provide. It will save you time, money and headaches in the long run, and help you deliver a better brand experience to your subscribers.

Good Luck!

The Email Diva



Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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