Drawing the Line

Posted by Matt Blumberg on

Matt Blumberg
By Matt Blumberg
CEO & Chairman

We are having a bit of a debate at the moment internally around our Sender Score deliverability business about how to handle clients who are in businesses that are, shall we say, not exactly as pure as the driven snow.  As a company that provides software and services to businesses without a vertical focus, we are often approached by all sorts of companies wanting our services where we don’t love what they do.  Examples include:

  • Gambling
  • Tobacco
  • Neutriceuticals
  • Guns
  • Adult content or products

Our challenges are along three dimensions, each of which is a little different.  But common threads run through all three dimensions. 

Dimension 1:  Our deliverability technology platform.   Our basic technology is used by mailers of all shapes and sizes to preview their campaigns, monitor their deliverability, and analyze their reputation metrics.  It doesn’t deploy campaigns.  Do we care who the users are?

Dimension 2:  Our full service deliverability practice that comes with consulting and high-touch account management.  This service offering has an additional layer of complexity in that our employees work closely with accounts and their web sites.  We already allow employees to opt-out of accounts where they find the work objectionable.  But is that enough?

Dimension 3:  Our whitelist, Sender Score Certified. This one is even trickier.  On the one hand, our program has fairly clear, published standards.  We do a thorough qualitative check of the client’s web site and email program to make sure, among other things, that the program is opt-in.  We monitor the client’s quantitative reputation metrics in real-time to make sure its complaint rate is low, signifying that its customers like (or at least don’t mind) receiving its email.  On the other hand, this program is supposed to signify the best of the best for email marketing and newsletters, which is why it’s used by so many ISPs and filters as their standard for defining "good email."  And yet on a third hand (perhaps there’s some sort of herbal remedy that can help me with that problem), for many ISPs, our program is their only whitelist, so clients who are above board, even if in a grey industry, may have no other option.

To be clear, the debate here isn’t around email practices. We don’t even consider working with companies that don’t meet our standards for permission, relevance and more. But given that, is it our place to legislate morality by refusing to work with certain types of companies, even though their email practices meet our standards and their businesses are legal? Or, should we just focus on what’s legal and what’s not legal?  How much accountability do clients bear for content that shows up in their emails from advertisers?  For example, and I’m making this up, what do we do if a men’s health magazine that’s a client has links in its email newsletters that are placed by an affiliate network that click through to a pornography site?  What if the pornography in question is legal in one country but not another?  How much time and energy should we spend monitoring these issues?  Does it matter which product they’re using?

I’d love feedback from the outside world (or the inside world) on how we should think about and handle these issues.


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About Matt Blumberg

Matt Blumberg founded Return Path in 1999 because he believed the world needed email to work better. Matt is passionate about enhancing the online relationship between email subscribers and marketers so that both sides of the equation benefit. It is with great pride that he has watched this initial creation grow to a company of more than 400 employees with the market leading brand, innovative products, and the email industry’s most renowned experts. Before Return Path, Matt ran marketing, product management, and the internet group for MovieFone, Inc. (later acquired by AOL). Prior to that he served as an associate with private equity firm General Atlantic Partners and was a consultant with Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a B.A. from Princeton University. You can learn much more about Matt by reading his email marketing and entrepreneurship blog Only Once – one of the first CEO blogs on the Internet. Last year he wrote a book, Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business.

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