When this regulation first came out back in 2009, those that began to use email as a form of mass communication may have thought that they’d never have to use direct mail again.  After all, they could gather email address from all those “forwarded” emails that everyone sent to each other at the time.  However, the Federal Trade Commission put policies into place to protect the consumer, encouraging “Opt-In” additions to mailing lists.  Visit https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business if you’d like to take a look at those guidelines.  Twelve years later, the guidelines are followed by many organizations.  It’s also what started what’s become known as “content marketing,” fostering the need for an attractive and engaging Web site and blog, and re-emphasized the importance of SEO (that is, Search Engine Optimization) so that consumers seeking information on the Web through search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing could find relevant entries based on the words they entered into the search bar.

But, it also means that direct mail is not dead. Sometimes, it must be used, even though technology has made it much easier (and cheaper) to communicate with current and potential constituents.

More and more schools are using the tools technology provides to improve not only their curriculum, but also the way they communicate. Schools are creating new Web sites for their schools that are responsive in design, as well as creating apps for the school’s parent community so that the Web site can focus on marketing initiatives to engage parents of prospective students as well as showcase successes to alumni, businesses, community members, and donors (The ABCDs of Advancement engagement).  While there are companies and designers that will create Web sites for the school, there are also tools like WordPress which can help to create an outstanding online presence for a school.  15 years ago, many of these tools didn’t exist, and new applications are being created and launched every day.

Schools are also moving forward with improving their communication with constituent groups, and eNewsletters or iZines are being distributed to segmented lists by such services as Constant Contact, MailChimp, and others.

But with new tools come new rules. Using a hammer requires a particular amount of awareness and skill, but using a compressed air powered nailer requires a heightened awareness of the potential benefits and the potential dangers it poses.

The same holds true for email marketing. You can’t just take email addresses and send copies of your eNewsletter or iZine to them. Well, you “can,” but doing so amounts to “spamming,” so you shouldn’t.  Most conscientious Internet users view spam as mail from individuals or companies trying to sell or scam recipients today. It’s the electronic equivalent of junk mail, and there are electronic filtering devices that weed out much of the spam from our inboxes today.

And that’s where your school’s marketing efforts can run into problems.

If a recipient’s computer doesn’t recognize your school’s email address, then it may flag the document as spam. There are some spam filters that are set to file any transmission that comes from a free email service (like hotmail, gmail or yahoo) as spam.  And, if someone includes a bunch of email addresses in the “To” field, email clients may flag mail from that address as spam.  I know folks that have had that happen with news about important family situations.

But say your email gets through the spam filter to some intended recipients, they open it, and decide they never want to hear from you again. They can put you on a “Do Not Contact” list – which means nothing your school send them will ever get through to them via email at that email address. The Anti-Spam Act of 2003 (http://www.spamlaws.com/federal/108hr2515.shtml) allows recipients to block any transmission from you. More and more email marketing vendors are improving their service to their customers by informing them when a recipient has placed them on their “Do Not Contact” list. If that happens, the service will not send an email to that individual.

Even more importantly, your school won’t be able to send an email to the address that you have on file for that individual. Interestingly, if, somewhere down the road, one of those “Do Not Contact” folks begins to develop a relationship with your school through another channel, and requests to be placed on your email list, the individual cannot be contacted at the blocked email address through the same software where communication from your school was blocked. Therefore, it’s very important to still capture all pertinent information about a constituent – name, address, phone number and email.

Some eNewsletter/iZine services today provide a sign-up box that just requires a name and an email. If you do this, you might find your mailing list rife with emails from countries halfway around the world that really have no interest in your school, but may be attempting to fill your mailing list allocation.  A good practice is to have a group set up where new subscribers “land,” and then review this information before transferring them to your regular mailing lists.  You’ll also need to be able to remove their email address from your list if the parent or other recipient requests you do so.

Use a service that provides the opportunity for individuals to provide you with their contact information, along with alternative ways to get in touch with them. Then you’ll know you’ll have several ways of building a relationship between that person and your school.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2011-2021 (Original Publication Date: 20110417)