E-mail Marketers, ISPs Vow More Communication

Representatives of email marketing companies sat down earlier this week with their counterparts at Internet service providers and spam-filtering companies to hammer out a better set of procedures to make sure the war on spam is not claiming unintended victims.

The E-mail Deliverability Summit, sponsored by spam-fighting software company Habeas and direct marketing agency Rapp Digital Innovyx, brought together six representatives of email-sending companies and six from email recipients. The groups agreed to explore ways to open better communication and cooperation between themselves, including establishing a resource for contacting each other and uniform bounce policies.

“It struck me that everyone cared about the same things,” said Anne Mitchell, chief executive of Habeas and co-chair of the meeting. “People were so much closer than they thought” in their goals.

However, sensitivities still remain. Mitchell said she could not reveal the ISPs that were represented at the meeting, since they feared any association with email marketers that might impinge on their anti-spam credentials. Mitchell did say that three “national ISPs” were represented.

One of the biggest issues brought up by the email marketers, including SilverPop, Yesmail and CheetahMail, was the need for uniform bounce policies. Ian Oxman, a vice president of email consulting at Rapp Digital Innovyx, said too many ISPs set arbitrary rules for how a bulk sender should handle bounces. For example, one ISP might consider it irresponsible for an email sender to try to deliver a message three times to an account that has bounced an email message, while another ISP would have a separate standard.

“This is just one point where everyone can get on the same page,” he said.

To do so, Oxman said representatives from an email marketer and an ISP were charged with hashing out suggested guidelines. He declined to name the companies.

One area that was cleared up is how ISPs want to receive bulk email. Some email marketers choose to send their mailings in batches, believing the ISPs view large mailings suspiciously. Oxman said the ISPs would prefer the mailings to be sent in one batch.

The group also decided to explore concrete ways to improve communication. Too often, Oxman explained, an email marketer with problems at an ISP would have a personal contact there, instead of an official contact charged with handling those issues. The group decided to work on a central repository, possibly a password-protected Web site, which would contain the contact information for both email marketers and ISPs.

The group plans a follow-up meeting in August, to assess progress on these fronts and explore other areas of potential cooperation.

“There’s always that fear that the guys on the other side of the table are the bad guys,” Oxman said. “What the ISPs said is that they know we’re not the bad guys.”

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