Getting the most out of your e-mail

Among the most essential tools for PR pros today is e-mail. Unfortunately, too many of them are unaware of basic steps that can increase the delivery rate, improve campaign success, and beat the junk-mail folder.

Among the most essential tools for PR pros today is e-mail. Unfortunately, too many of them are unaware of basic steps that can increase the delivery rate, improve campaign success, and beat the junk-mail folder.

Most importantly, e-mails need to be compliant with the CAN SPAM Act of 2003, the first national standard for commercial e-mail in the US.

As a general rule, less than 100 e-mails sent in under 24 hours is not considered spam, freeing the sender from the rules of the CAN SPAM act. Bulk e-mails, however, regardless of the number, are technically commercial and do need to comply with CAN SPAM.

The best advice is to ensure that every e-mail sent is compliant with the act. Follow this mantra, "Best practices equal the best campaigns." What are these "best practices?" Here are a few to consider.

The next time an e-mail campaign is sent out, give the recipient an opt-out option. All recipients must have a valid way to tell you that they do not wish to receive any future e-mails. Typically, messages include a block of text at the bottom with a link to a site where the reader can choose to be removed from the list.

All e-mail messages should include the company's name and physical street address. This reassures the reader that the agency is a legitimate sender.

The firm's mail server should also be authenticated. Authentication is similar to "registering" the firm's domain name with the major ISPs so they can begin to give it a positive reputation. This process can be done through domain name services such as Yahoo Domain Keys or Microsoft Sender ID.

The subject line should be direct and not misleading. The message should also have a balance of images and graphics. Most e-mail providers, such as Microsoft Outlook, automatically block images. Images should enhance the text, not replace it. As a basic rule, recipients should be able to understand the e-mail even if they cannot view the image.

Ultimately, the best way to ensure e-mails are received and read is to have a solid list. Avoiding the blacklist of e-mail spammers has to do with how and where you compiled your list. If the recipient opted in-to receiving your e-mail, you're in good shape. This is especially challenging in PR. Campaigns may target different editor beats or titles relying only on a subscription-based database of names.

If your agency sends out more than 50,000 e-mails per month, an e-mail service provider (ESP) can guide you through the development of a list and campaign. They use their own, separate servers to distribute messages to ensure your agency can keep other business moving forward while still sending thousands of messages weekly.

ESPs can be cost-effective since they ensure that the messages are CAN SPAM compliant. They also often have advanced features such as list segregation and the ability to see who opened the e-mail, how many times they looked at it, and where best responses come from.

E-mail is certainly one of the most important tools for communications in PR. Having a solid list and making sure that CAN SPAM guidelines are followed will ensure that your e-mails achieve maximum results.

Elie Ashery is president of Gold Lasso, a provider of Web-based e-mail marketing soft-
ware and services.

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