Is email marketing working for you? (first published in Legal Week)

In this article first published by Legal Week in July 2007, Sue Bramall discusses the benefits of email marketing and how to make it work for you.

Joyce Legal is a niche law firm specialising in litigation and construction law. As author of the forthcoming guide to the new Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007 they wished to put on a series of seminars for the construction industry.

With a two week lead time to produce a printed flier and a three week lead time to arrange for inserts in a leading industry publication, the quickest and most cost-effective way of promoting the events was by email.  Target companies received a downloadable copy of the booking form and were returning bookings before a postal invitation would have hit their desks.

Speed is one of the main benefits of email marketing, when positioning your firm. As experts in a particular issue it provides you with the facility to circulate clients with a comment or response to a news item within hours rather than days.

Practices that already produce a newsletter for their clients, contacts and prospects will already recognise the benefits to be had in terms of building the profile of the firm and keeping in touch with past and prospective clients.  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.

Modern emailing solutions allow you to create, personalise and send branded e-newsletters, invitations and surveys as part of your marketing communications programme. 

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 – information that is invaluable to your business development team.

I have been surprised to come across a number of firms who regularly send large bulk emails from their own server.  They 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.  It is virtually impossible 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 firm’s 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 faces 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-blocking 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.

In order to ensure that your emailer 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.

Law firms can be 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.

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!

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 client email newsletters are genuinely interesting and “useful” readers will forward them to other people who may share an interest in the topic.

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.  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.

For any firm with an active marketing strategy, email marketing offers a number of significant advantages.  Like all of your marketing activities it is important to ensure that all communications adhere to any brand guidelines and that you have proper systems and processes in place to ensure quality control.  Remember that your reputation is at stake and you do not want your communications to be files with the latest viagra special offer!

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

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