L-Soft Interviews: Ken Magill, iMarketing News Editor
Q. What is your background, how did you get to be where you are today?
A. I received my degree in journalism from Buffalo State College in 1990. From there, I started a small local publication, and then went on to work in the creative services department of Cornerstone Direct, a four-title business-to-business cataloger. I also was co-owner of a co-op direct mail advertising company serving the cigar industry during its boom in the mid-90s. After those two gigs ended, I began freelance business reporting. One day I was in between assignments and flipping out, as freelancers between assignments tend to do, and my DM News arrived. I called the managing editor at the time, pitched him, and the rest, as they say is history.
Q. What main issues do you see e-mail marketers facing today?
A. Spam. That and the DMA's pigheaded inability to recognize that the sheer volume of unsolicited e-mail is the problem, not just the content and source of the messages. The medium is being polluted beyond use.
Q. Do you have any advice for those trying to be legitimate e-mail marketers?
A. Don't prospect using unsolicited, bulk e-mail. It's too potentially brand damaging. Likewise, if you use affiliates, don't allow them to spam on your behalf.
Q. What online marketing tool do you consider to be the most effective in today's economy?
A. E-mail for retention, search engine marketing for prospecting.
Q. What's your solution to end spam?
A. I believe Internet service providers should consider charging to process bulk e-mail, permission based or not. Even a nominal charge, say 1/10 of a cent per e-mail, for every e-mail over a certain number during a certain period of time, would price the bottom feeders out of the market. I'm told, however, that ISPs are not interested in dealing with the negative PR that might results from making money from commercial e-mail. I contend, however, that legitimate marketers are more than willing to pay, and that consumers would benefit from, and be happy with, the enhanced or free services that would result.
Q. Do you think it is a good idea for the government to get involved in regulating e-mail and if so how?
A. As a knee-jerk libertarian, I'm always suspicious of government involvement. However, I think, in the case of spam, the federal government is on the right track by working to outlaw the fraudulent stuff. We need to set baseline standards rather than best practices with legislation, and then work from there. Congress seems to be headed in that direction. So ironically, as critical of the DMA as I have been, I tend to agree with its legislative policies.
Q. What role do you believe that the DMA should take concerning spam and other e-mail marketing issues? Would their involvement be strong enough to solve the spam situation?
A. Funny you should ask. I believe the DMA needs to illustrate that this industry is capable of policing itself. Firstly, it needs to change its asinine position that spam is only fraudulent e-mail. The DMA's position on e-mail is holding the industry up for rightful ridicule. A direct mail industry adage is that people hate junk mail, but like hearing from merchants they like doing business with, meaning if consumers really sat down and thought about it, they'd realize what a service direct mail is and that they don't dislike it as much as they think they do. The DMA is trying to translate this philosophy to e-mail. And while it is true that consumers do not report their wants accurately, people really do despise spam. Currently, the DMA is viewed as an organization that is trying to help clear the Internet of fraudulent e-mailers so its members can spam the hell out of people. The DMA's position on spam is ignorant, and untenable.
If the DMA sticks to its guns on this one, prepare for another defeat similar to the recently deployed federal do-not-call list.
Q. What is your take on the DMA undermining and stopping AIM from voicing its opinion?
A. I think it's a classic case of a larger organization subsuming the mission of a smaller organization it has acquired, which is fair enough. But letting extremely busy people waste their time on AIM's still-dead-last-I-heard best-practices document was a crime. As is accepting dues from members while systematically killing all the activities one would pay dues for, such as having a voice in the marketplace and events to go to and schmooze.
Q. What other organizations do you believe are taking the correct steps to solving the spam problem?
A. I can't answer that specifically, but I see promise in all the venture capital being thrown at the problem. A lot of extremely talented people are working on this with big dollar signs in their eyes. This is a good thing.
Q. What is your opinion on how the European Union is dealing with spam and privacy compared to the United States?
A. While many people whom I respect would disagree with me on this, I do not think the EU is an example to be followed when it comes to marketing regulations. The EU group has too much of a tendency toward economic self-mutilation for my taste.
Q. Your columns appear to cause controversy at times. Was there one article you wrote in particular that really got readers reacting?
A. The most reactive readers of my columns used to be anti-spammers. Every time I attacked one of their heroes, say, Mail Abuse Prevention System, I'd get an avalanche of hate mail, some of it disturbingly threatening. They've been quiet lately, though. I think they got tired ... or bored. The recent columns attacking the DMA's handling of AIM have received a lot of positive reader response. Other than that, the one that comes to mind is one I did a long time ago called "Paradigm This" making fun of marketing buzzwords such as touchpoints, and of course, paradigm. Many marketers apparently take their buzzwords very seriously. I received a bunch of hate e-mail from marketers saying they were being ridiculed by people in other departments as a result of that one. Oops.
Q. How do you think established e-mail technology companies such as L-Soft can make a difference in the industry?
A. Continue impressing upon your clients the importance of avoiding spamming. It's as simple as that.
Ken Magill is the iMarketing News Editor.