Effective e-marketing - don’t get blacklisted with viagra (first published in Managing for Success, July 07)

The most sophisticated systems also provide comprehensive real-time tracking – allowing you to see exactly who is opening your email, which articles or web links they click through to and what they download. 

A firm that has been regularly sending out printed newsletters can benefit from considerable savings by using email newsletters for the proportion of clients where they have an email address.

Avoid blacklisting

However, law firms sending bulk emails from their own server are running a number of risks including having their server address blacklisted and putting themselves in a position of being unable to email at all for a period of time.

Having the email system down for even just an hour or so can be terribly frustrating when you are in the middle of an urgent transaction, and it can be quite debilitating when out of action for lengthy periods.

Many email clients, such as Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes and most internet service providers (ISPs) such as Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL etc limit the number of emails that you can send at one time in their terms and conditions.  Most ISPs guard against bulk emailing, as it may be spam. 

With the growth of the “Viagra special offer” email, ISPs and clients are developing increasingly sophisticated spam filtering technology.  Domain keys and sender ID records are a whole set of different anti-spam standards that are being proposed and implemented across the internet.  It is virtually impossible for the amateur emailer to keep up to date with this level of technological development and is best left to the experts.

An employment lawyer complained to me recently that he often had a problem with blacklisting due to regular use of the term  “sex discrimination”.  When sending emails in bulk from your own server, if you do not have relationships with all the ISPs, there is a good chance that your server could be viewed as a spammer and potentially face being blacklisted.

Legitimate email service providers deliver your emails with proper protocols and typically have strong relationships with the major ISPs to ensure that your email is delivered.  One such company, Enablermail has an active anti-block¬ing team working with receiving ISPs on clients’ behalf and if a problem does arise, they are able to switch to another server in a matter of minutes.

Bandwidth

Another consideration is bandwidth.  Outbound bulk emails can use up a lot of internet bandwidth, which affects the performance of other internet-based applications and can slow down the system for everyone.  With poor quality data, handling a large volume of bounces can also have an impact upon email servers, slowing down incoming emails.

Keeping it legal – managing opt-ins and opt-outs

Law firms can be notoriously poor at managing marketing databases, and without an efficient system for recording and enforcing email opt-outs they can run the additional risk of emailing someone who has opted out of receiving emails from their firm.

Consequently, in order to ensure that your client email newsletter has the highest chance of being received and read it is necessary to follow best practice, including adhering to the law regarding electronic communications.  A specialist email service provider will have built in controls to manage opt-outs and prevent you sending emails without an “unsubscribe” facility.

A good email marketing service maintains strong permission policies for opt-ins and opt outs – managing this element of the database automatically to prevent you accidentally emailing anyone who has opted out.

Simply pasting a list of email addresses into the “blind copy” field is no way to manage a database of contacts that you value.

“Guidance for marketers on the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003”  can be downloaded from the Information Commissioners’ website www.ico.gov.uk.

Handling responses – be prepared

The majority of responses and enquiries from an electronic marketing campaign are generated very quickly, compared to a traditional direct mail campaign, and therefore require careful management in terms of planning, scheduling and follow up. 

Fee earners need to be ready and available to respond to any enquiries that are generated.

A measurable return on investment

Market leading email service providers also provide a number of additional benefits.

If you are using your email client to send bulk emails, you may not know if your email is being delivered or read.  Sophisticated emailing systems, such as Enablermail, provide impressive real- time tracking that allows you to see exactly who has opened the email and which articles they have clicked through to read, which web links they have followed and which attachments they have downloaded.  This information is invaluable when targeting potential new clients to asses their level of interest.

When emails are not delivered, you will also receive better information indicating whether it is a hard bounce (where that email address no longer exists) or a soft bounce (perhaps where the email inbox is temporarily full).  You can then take a view about whether to send these contacts a hard copy version, and proceed to clean the data.

The requirement for people to opt-in to your email list ensures that most of the email addresses on your database will belong to qualified recipients who have expressed a genuine interest in keeping in touch with you, your firm or your practice area.  In fact, the more you use the list the cleaner it will be, with each use generating bounce backs and information about people who have moved or are no longer interested.  If your emailers are genuinely interesting and “useful” readers will forward them to other people who may share an interest in the topic.

Developing an email database

When talking to firms about e-marketing, a common problem is that few firms actively collect email addresses, if indeed they have an actively managed marketing database for clients, contacts and prospects. 

The simplest way to get started is to ask everyone in the firm to download any email addresses from their Outlook contacts (or equivalent system).  Secondly review new client forms to ensure that they capture email addresses and clients have the opportunity to opt-in to receive updates by email. 

In addition you might wish to include a postcard in all mailings, or with invoices, inviting clients and contacts to provide their email addresses.  The postcard can also be used at events and displayed in the reception area.  Of course, your web site should make it easy for visitors to sign up to receive news by email.

It is possible to buy lists of corporate contacts from third parties; however there are strict rules about how such data should be used, and you should ask to see the “opt-in” that was used to collect the data, to ensure that it covers the use that you propose.

Compared to traditional direct mailemail marketing clearly represents a huge opportunity to provide regular cost-effective communications with clients and contacts. 

Whilst there may appear to be no cost in sending those bulk emails from your own email server, you should seriously consider the risks attached to taking this approach. 

A free checklist for the selection of an email marketing system is available and can be requested by emailing sue.bramall@bernersmarketing.com

Back to Blog

Get in touch ...

We are always happy to have an informal chat. As a member of the Law Consultancy Network, if we cannot help you we may be able to introduce you to a specialist who can.

Contact
Tell us your communication preferences