Opt-in e-mail offers welcome, extended interactions

Unsolicited e-mail is the marketing equivalent of a case of poison ivy: annoying, garish, and practically impossible to shake.

Unsolicited e-mail is the marketing equivalent of a case of poison ivy: annoying, garish, and practically impossible to shake.

But when opted in, e-mail can be a valuable addition to a PR program, an effective call to action for consumers and journalists alike.

"PR can be a great way to begin the dialogue with consumers; it can help them to become interested and drive them to a client's Web site," says Phil Carpenter, GM in Allison & Partners' San Francisco office. "But opt-in e-mail enables you to go deeper."

If a consumer reads about a new snack and is interested in learning more, Carpenter says, he or she could go to the brand's Web site to explore. There, the brand could capture the reader's e-mail address and continue the interaction over time, passing along news and sales incentives.

"It's a really neat way to carry forward the conversation," he says.

"Opt-in e-mail is obviously a good communication tool because people have expressed interest, so [you're] talking to a warm audience," says Ellie Whims, managing partner at Frederick, MD-based Robin Jones. And if the message or product "is highly targeted, and the group is highly targeted, it can be very fruitful" as part of a larger marketing effort, she says.

But it's essential not to abuse the brand-recipient relationship, Whims warns.

"When somebody has told you they trust you enough to talk to them, it's important to not be too verbose, not send too many messages," she says. Otherwise, those once welcome opt-in e-mails could end up blocked.

Opt-in e-mails can also be used to communicate with the media, says Mac McLean, president of LA-based Click Communications. But their effectiveness depends on the product being promoted and the journalists one is trying to tap.

Opt-in e-mail "can be very helpful for very specific things, for niche press lists or niche products," McLean says. But unless it provides specific information - such as industry analysis or breaking news that can't be found anywhere else - those e-mails "turn into consensual spam."

Key points:

Opt-in e-mail lets a brand continue a consumer-initiated conversation

The cost of an e-mail campaign is a fraction of using traditional mail - and better for the environment

Opt-in e-mail can provide journalists breaking news and targeted information

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