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Apr 01, 2004
How To

How to Create, Manage, & Use a Do Not Email List for Protection from CAN-SPAM Lawsuits - Part I

SUMMARY: SUMMARY: Do Not Email lists (also known as "suppression files") are the hottest topic in email. Although the Feds haven't made a definitive judgment as to whether there will be national DNE list, it appears that every marketer sending email to US addresses must start their own in-house DNE list to be compliant with CAN-SPAM.

We've been deluged with reader letters asking exactly how to go about this, if it affects them (answer: yes it does), and if there are any low-cost vendors to use.

Here's Part I of our quick help guide for you:
By Contributing Editor Janet Roberts

Think you're safe from CAN-SPAM lawsuits because you run a strict permission-based program and never use anybody else's lists? Think again.

The real key to meeting the new Federal email regulations on email is managing your suppression list properly.

That means compiling an internal do-not-email list of people who have asked to never receive promotional mail about your brand again; and, scrubbing these addresses from every list that sends promotional email on your behalf. (Even if you don't own the list, and even if the message sent is from one individual to one other individual.)

This specific requirement has not been built into most email database technology, because prior to January 1st, it wasn't needed. So, a raft of new vendors and solutions have sprung up overnight. It's a hugely confusing situation. Here's Part I of our quick guide to help you out:

Why You Need a Do-Not-Email (DNE) List

Recipients might notice if you forget your address or the unsubscribe link, but they'll hit that report-spam button or howl to their ISPs if you keep sending them email after they unsubscribe.

"But I would never do that!" you protest. "Once they unsubscribe, they'll never hear from me again!"

Maybe, if the only way you communicate with customers and other interested parties is through a regular email newsletter. If your business includes any of the following elements, you could end up aggravating a lot of people by sending them email they don't want:

-- Sales people, whether on your payroll or outside agents, who email to their own prospect lists
-- Viral marketing, where you encourage readers to forward your emails to friends on your behalf
-- Multiple newsletters, combined with solo mailings and the option to recipients to receive third-party mailings
-- Affiliates and resellers whom you pay in some form to promote your products or services
-- Co-registration, joint or cooperative marketing programs, or any other third-party marketing agreement, whether it's somebody promoting you or you promoting somebody else

All of these can cause accidental rather than intentional spamming. The ISPs who have already sued alleged spammers under the new law don't care, though.

The ISP suing, the Web site promoting TV's home-renovation guru Bob Vila, claims, among other allegations, that the company, or its email service, repeatedly emailed people who had opted out.

If you're not monitoring an internal Do-Not-Email list and requiring everyone who emails to anybody on your behalf to run everything but personal and transactional emails through it, you could be courting the same kind of customer or client backlash that could land you in court or cost you business and reputation.

Having said that, we also need to point out that running an internal do-not-email list, which direct marketers usually call a suppression file or suppression list, will take some time, some money and even some reorganizational pain to administer.

Court costs, lawyers' fees and fines if somebody busts you will cost more.

The Key Issues

Here's what we hear, over and over, from readers on this issue:

-- What's a suppression file, anyway?
-- Do I need one list for my whole company, or one list for each brand?
-- I don't want to give somebody my opt-out list! What if they steal it?
-- What if somebody opts out but then submits another subscription request?
-- How does this affect viral marketing?
-- Does anybody offer a low-cost service?

We'll answer some of those questions in this article and the rest in the next EmailSherpa.

If you're starting from zero on compiling and managing a do-not-email list, call your email broadcast vendor and ask if and how you can incorporate list management with your present software. (If your rep tells you not to worry about it, start looking for a new vendor.)

What a Suppression File Does

A suppression file is a direct-marketing term that refers to a list of addresses that have been removed, or suppressed, from a general mailing list, such as current customers, the recently deceased, prison addresses or people outside a geographical target area.

In email marketing, the suppression file -- which we call the do-not-email file, or DNE file for short -- is your database of anyone who has asked not to receive any mailings from you.

You already have sort of a DNE file in your newsletter database. Whenever you send out a newsletter, your software automatically skips over the unsubscribed ones. What you need to do now is incorporate that list throughout your business so that every bulk mailing checks that list first before sending.

We can't tell you exactly how to do that, because it will depend on how you set up your email programs and your whole computer database operations. This is a project that requires coordination from everybody on your IT and email vendor teams.

You can store it as a text file with one field per line or fields separated by commas, in a spreadsheet or in any other format that's compatible with your operating system.

Just make sure there's no overlap with any of your other mailings lists, so that you don't accidentally send out global mailings to that list.

Is One List Enough?

This is a big gray area right now. Most experts advise being as conservative as you can until more guidance comes down through court decisions or Federal Trade Commission regulations that will clarify and enforce CAN-SPAM.

Just about every person involved in managing opt-outs, from the client side as well as vendors, recommends a centralized opt-out list for each division of your company.

In-house or Outsource?

If you have a relatively simple email program -- maybe a central newsletter mailed to a house list, plus a separate list for company news or promotions, your database administrator or email vendor probably could manage the operations for you.

If you contact prospectives and customers through multiple channels, though, and especially if you use affiliates, rent lists or do lots of third-party marketing, we recommend going with an outside opt-out management firm.

CAN-SPAM has spawned a growing industry -- companies who want to manage your compliance for you, especially opt-out management. Many are offshoots of email-marketing or broadcast services, with people who know how the business works, what the security issues are, etc.

If you decide to outsource, see the list of questions to ask prospective vendors below. We also compiled a short list of vendors who are in the business now or beta testing.

One point: It will cost you some money. Opt-out management is still a new concept in the email-marketing industry, and there isn't a lot of price competition yet. However, there's room to negotiate.

Right now, until court cases establish precedent and the Federal Trade Commission issues regulations to clarify and enforce CAN-SPAM, the word is to be as conservative as possible, and run every outbound email through your do-not-email list.

How Do I Get My People to Use the DNE File?

This could be a sticky issue, because everybody knows how much sales people love sharing their prospect lists.

If you're using specialized contact and email-management software such as ACT or Goldmine, you'll have to make sure they can integrate with any opt-out management you do, whether in-house or by a third party.

Again, we can't tell you exactly how to do this, because it will depend on how your operation is set up. Your database administrator will have to answer it.

What you want, though, is to have every outbound email that isn't a personal or transactional message (subscription or delivery confirmation, customer-service query, etc.) go through your opt-out list and knock out any emails to addresses on that list.

This requirement also must apply to outside sales people, such as manufacturer's reps, agents and brokers. Affiliates and third-party marketers not employed by you are a different story.

Next week: In Part II of this quick help guide next week, we'll cover,
-> Securing your list from unauthorized users
-> What if you get a subscription request from somebody on your opt-out list?
-> How viral marketing or forward-to-a-friend programs are affected.
-> How to pick a vendor; general costs.

Note: You can see Part II of this special report at:

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