We still need to talk about email

A while back, I wrote this article about how many theatre companies are using email. Unfortunately, there are still companies that are using email poorly, and as such are hurting their reputations.

I recently received an email from a company that I purchased theatre tickets from. This company did not put any notification about email subscription in their purchasing process. After purchasing tickets, I noticed that I had begun receiving regular emails from them. I asked to be removed from their mailing list. They complied at the time.

Almost two years later, however, I received an email from them, and it is a plea for financial assistance. I understand the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with your email campaigns, especially for your fundraising. But your need does not change the best practices of email marketing. Your need does not make the fact that I never subscribed to your mailing list any less annoying.

Here’s the thing: your campaign loses value if you contact people who didn’t ask to hear from you. Because the reaction from these people (like me), is not just to delete your email, but annoyance. This does not make us likely to give you money, or go to your show. In fact, I’m more likely NOT to do those things.

One of the most important lessons of marketing by email is don’t annoy your customer base. If you, as someone who is thinking of sending email, has ever thought something along the lines of “Of course they want to hear from us, they are our customer”, you must stop and not hit send on that email. Being your customer is not reason enough for you to send an email to someone. They must have given you permission to do so. And if they haven’t, do not send them your newsletter. And absolutely, do not send them an email asking for money.

You can do better. And you need to do better. If you’re going to use email as a marketing or fundraising tool. Do it smartly. Or lose customers.

One Comment

  1. Some of the problem is that too many groups still haven’t made the leap to the internet. They are here, but they haven’t changed their ways.

    Circa 1978, unless a group got some space in old media (and each group would likely get a tiny bit of space, so they’d want to use it for the most important thing(s)), the only way they had to reach people was posters or direct contact. So they’d collect names after every event, add them to the mailing list, which was paper and cost so much that they couldn’t do many mailings. Or, they could talk a smaller group into giving money, and they’d get newsletter, again very expensive (money and labor wise), and not timely Or, phone trees, again labor intensive. But, they could only reach people who had already “found their way in”, a relative handful, while the rest of the world was out there.

    In 1996, the Montreal Freenet started up “internet access for all”. They put a lot of groups online, but I looked at those webpages, and they were horrible. Not information about what was happening or upcoming events, the pages were static. The Freenet volunteers made the pages for the groups, but the groups couldn’t tell the volunteers what they needed since they weren’t on the internet, and the volunteers couldn’t make the pages useful for the groups because they didn’t know the groups. Some pages even said “coming soon, a newsletter” as if things were like they had been before.

    These groups were stuck with webpages that they had no control over, and no vision of the internet, so they defaulted to what they knew, mailing lists, except instead of paper mailings, they used email. Since they had little clue, they didn’t realize they should be using software for the emailings, and they didn’t think about what they were doing when they harvested email addresses.

    And even beyond the spamming, the groups didn’t realize they had the whole world to reach but were focusing on people they’d already had contact with.

    The Freenet announced an open house, and I posted and said “people can print this notice out and use a marker to put a title on it, and pin it up on nearby bulletin boards”. Decentralized postering, save people having to come to the a central location and either getting too many posters, or not enough, and then since it’s a handful of people postering, they hit the High Spots, rather than neighborhood haunts. If everyone could print out some posters (and cheap printers at home allow that) then the libraries and laundrymats and schools and whatever could get the posters, and the skew would be different from a centralized method.

    But, it also gets the posters out into view. If you’re having a fundraiser, you want to draw in new people, otherwise you might as well just raise ticket prices. You can have a raffle and someone enters because there are ice cream coupons, not because they are helping the group. The public subsidizes the project because there is something they can get out of it. If you’re putting on a Fringe show, you can work the crowd at the beer tent, or try to lure in another audience, one that doesn’t identify themselves as “Fringe goer”.

    Yet in the internet age, it’s really easy to not know about upcoming used book sales or when the Montreal Fringe is having a fundraiser or when the Playwright’s Workshop is having their annual raffle. The groups aren’t getting their posters up, and they aren’t getting their word out.

    I spent a lot of time for some years starting in 1997 trying to build up a cluster in the local newsgroup. Ben & Jerry’s had free ice cream, I’d post about it. I’d post about things that interested me, but which didn’t get much coverage, science fairs, dance, the Fringe Festival. I’d hoped that if I put variety in the newsgroup (like a newspaper has something for everyone), it would increase readership, to see the notices that people were posting. I also hoped that if I did this, others would post about things that interested them, but which also didn’t get much press.

    That failed. The internet went to the model of a phone tree (or reverted), people no longer talking to people they didn’t know, but to people they already did. No change, they might as well have stayed on the phone. You can get on your soapbox and talk about being homeless or about some upcoming event, but unless you happen to have lots of “friends” you are just talking to yourself. Distribution is only done if people bother to forward the message elsewhere.

    The way I measure publicity is how do I find out about something? That dates from 1978. If I know because I’ve gotten a newsletter or someone I know told me, then it’s not good publicity. If I find out because I saw a poster, or saw a notice or article in old media, it’s good publicity. If I find it in some cluster on the internet, where a lot of people will see it, not just insiders, then it’s good publicity.

    In 2000 one family value group took objection to federal funding to the Montreal Fringe, based on some of the titles. I found it in a cluster because I was doing deep searches for a decade, looking for things about the Montreal Fringe. I emailed the Fringe (because there was no way to reach performers and others because the Fringe was set up like the internet hadn’t happened) and the Fringe shrugged. I emailed a columnist in one of the alt weeklies, she’d performed at the Fringe, and she did a column on it. I wasn’t worried about this group, but thought their view was a way to promote the Fringe, to promote the specific shows. Months later, the Fringe started sending out email, something I never signed up for, and of course it never acknowledged my role in it. But if they were really worried, they’d not be telling the few hundred email addresses they had, they’d be telling the world about it (like that columnist did).

    It’s not just that groups send out unwanted email, but they aren’t using the internet to change people’s minds, about coming to a show, or funding issues or whatever, they are spending too much time talking to people already on their side.


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