DMA Delays E-mail Guidelines Again

EXCLUSIVE: The long-awaited e-mail-marketing guidelines are shelved, as some say the Direct Marketing Association is part of the problem, not the solution.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has again delayed the release of e-mail guidelines from its subsidiary, the Association for Interactive Marketing (AIM).

"We're still working on them," said Louis Mastria, a DMA spokesman. "We will put this out in due course."

Mastria said the DMA was still evaluating the document and did not have a target date for its release. He declined to comment on the exact reasons for the postponement.

AIM's Council on Responsible E-mail (CRE) has worked on the so-called best practices aimed at giving marketers a list of do's and don'ts for e-mail marketing. In late May, the DMA said the guidelines would be released in two weeks. Two weeks ago, a DMA spokesperson again said the guidelines were two weeks away. Now, they are on hold.

One AIM member, Rapp Digital Vice President Ian Oxman, characterizes the delay as another example of the DMA's obstructionist approach to finding a workable approach to the spam problem, as legislators in Washington look for signs that the direct marketing industry takes the problem seriously.

"The DMA is so Stone Age it's unbelievable," Oxman said. "They want to dummy [the guidelines] down and reduce the level of requirements for e-mail laws."

According to Oxman, the rationale given for the delay was that the document might confuse lawmakers as they consider the various spam bills before Congress. The DMA has pushed for a spam bill that only punishes fraudulent e-mail senders, instead of senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail. While the majority of e-mail marketers have moved to an opt-in, the DMA has resisted this as an industry-wide standard.

Mastria declined to comment on the reason for the delay, but dismissed Oxman's complaints as those of a "lone wolf" that was not representative of the vast majority of AIM members.

Ben Isaacson, co-chair of CRE, acknowledged that there was some tension between the DMA and e-mail marketers, but he attributed it to a misunderstanding of the DMA's role. As an 80-year-old organization representing over 4,700 companies, he said, the DMA had many constituencies to represent, not just e-mail marketers.

"I think e-mailers have always viewed the [spam] issue as black and white," Isaacson said. "The reality is when you have a trade organization that's 80 years old and that has position on a variety of issues, to try to peg them down on this issue is to say we're going to disregard that 80 years."

Some e-mail marketers have criticized the DMA for its uncompromising stance in the spam debate. In a spam policy document sent to members in late May, the group neglected to even define spam. According to a report earlier this month in DM News, the DMA objected to AIM's definition of spam as unsolicited commercial bulk e-mail, preferring instead to narrow the definition to fraudulent e-mail.

Anne Mitchell, the chief executive of anti-spam company Habeas, called the DMA's position in the spam debate "unconscionable" and counterproductive to the interests of legitimate e-mail marketers.

"The DMA is so completely out of step with what their members want and need that it would be comic if it wasn't tragic," she said.

Earlier this month, under pressure from the DMA, CRE pulled out of sponsoring an e-mail summit Mitchell organized between members of the e-mail sending and receiving communities, she said.

AIM and the DMA have had an awkward relationship since the DMA acquired AIM in 1998. Although it technically operates as an independent subsidiary, AIM defers to its parent in policy decisions. Ostensibly, AIM is to work on nuts-and-bolts issues, like the e-mail best practices, but the DMA has the final say.

"When we joined, AIM was a separately run, independently operated organization run in the interest of members," he said. "Now, it's totally run to serve the DMA."

Oxman said the DMA's actions so disillusioned him that his company decided against renewing its AIM membership, and sent a letter of resignation this week.

Isaacson said the bickering would not have a meaningful impact on the best practices document.

"At the end of the day, it will be released, and it will have an impact," he said.

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