From the April 2008 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

Advisor e-newsletters done right

On the one hand, advisors can use them to reach hundreds or thousands of clients and prospects on a regular basis, with the right message, and at minimal cost. On the other hand, using them incorrectly can lead to blacklists, compliance violations and hefty fines.

The answer to the above riddle is e-newsletters, and industry experts say they are easier to create than most people think and they pack bang for the buck. But that doesn't mean they should be thought of as a side project, something to be gotten to when there is time to spare, which could raise problems, as advisors are busy enough taking care of their clients and managing boomer finances. Most of them don't want the added hassle of managing an electronic marketing campaign. There are companies out there that handle it all for the financial professional. Everything from arranging the content to managing client lists to handling compliance to staying on the good side of the CAN-SPAM Act can be taken care of seamlessly, efficiently, and relatively inexpensively.

A sampling of such companies reveals monthly rates as low as $10 and as high as $35, the price of a few lattes or one lunch.

One doesn't have to understand the technology to know it's out there and that it can help deal with Spam filters and make sure a beautifully done HTML e-newsletter isn't lost in a garble of gibberish in a text e-mail window.

It's all Greek to me

Nobody wants to send an e-newsletter that is overburdened with gray text and doesn't include a banner across the top with the company name and logo. It needs to be eye catching as well as informative. With the wealth of tools out there, that should be no problem, right? Here's the conundrum. Experts caution against sending e-mail with attachments, so creating an e-newsletter in some fancy design program and sending it as a PDF attachment isn't a great idea. But, sending an HTML document in the body of the e-mail poses problems because some e-mail systems don't take kindly to HTML in the body of the message. Certain providers use the text setting as the default, and if users aren't savvy enough to change the setting, HTML messages might as well be hieroglyphics.

Content and service providers like Emerald Publications, Constant Contact Inc., Financial Visions Inc. and others have considered that problem and designed technology to combat it.

"We've taken a step to make sure that if HTML isn't turned on, [the e-newsletter] doesn't come in garbled," says Heidi Saucier, vice president of media and technology at San Diego-based Emerald (www.emeraldpublications.com).

If the program detects that the receiver has the text setting turned on, the message the person sees says something along the lines of, "[Insert Name] thought you would find this interesting." Then it might show the first couple of lines from a story in the newsletter and provide a link. The link opens a separate HTML page that contains the graphics and the newsletter copy. It may sound like a simple fix, but without it an advisor's message could be lost to a large percentage of his target audience.

Beyond that, the experts have taken into account that some folks check their e-mail on their phone and again when they get to a computer.

"Those people will see the text version on their phone," says Ron Cates, regional development director for Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com), though that may change soon as technology like that in the iPhone becomes ubiquitous, "and an HTML version if they then open the message on their home or office computer."

Don't worry. These guys know how it works. It's enough for an advisor to know the technology exists.

Spam, spam, spam

In a classic sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, a couple sits down to eat at a diner that specializes in Spam, of all things. The woman asks the waiter if they have anything without Spam in it. He tells her yes: "We have Spam, eggs, bacon and Spam." "That's got Spam in it," she cries. "Yes, but only a little," he replies.

Financial advisors want to avoid Spam altogether. Even a little can still get them in trouble, like a little chocolate going straight to women's hips. Fortunately, there are tools that can keep their e-mail in CAN-SPAM compliance.

One tip-off to service providers is a massive send from something like Outlook. That, Cates says, "is doomed to non-delivery." Saucier says sending to a couple thousand addresses served by one ISP can get a person blacklisted, especially if many of the messages end up in junk folders. Constant Contact and other e-mail marketing companies solve that issue with technology that sends the messages one at a time, without someone having to sit there hitting the send button over and over.

Something else the services do is get to know the ISPs.

"We work with the ISPs," Cates says. "We build relationships with them so they know who we are and that we are not spammers." That's a low-tech route to a high-tech solution, and it is something advisors don't have the resources or the time to do.

Advisors still can't send Spam disguised as legitimate marketing material just because their e-marketing provider is in good with Google or Yahoo. The messages need to be vetted for Spam potential. Fortunately, there's a solution for that, too.

"There are filters that can tell you ahead of time if you'll get blacklisted," Saucier says.

And since the e-marketing companies have a vested interest in staying on the ISPs' good side, they provide the filters to their clients. There is a learning curve associated with learning the tools, says Sylvia Todor, marketing director at Financial Visions (www.financialvisions.com), Lafayette, Calif., "but once you get past that it saves enormous time and effort."

Cates says that it's really as simple as advisors opening a template, placing their text and images, hitting a button to run a report and receiving a Spam score. If the report indicates a Spam score, it will tell the user why and help fix it.

While making sure recipients can view e-newsletters in the format they are created and staying out of Spam territory and off blacklists are two of the most important areas that technology is helping advisors, the list of ways e-newsletter tech is valuable is much longer. Other functions include managing client lists, handling opt-outs, making compliance a snap, providing content, integrating electronic campaigns with print and much more. Some or all of this activity can be done individually with a lot of research and the right people in place, but there are experts who can do it now and can do it right.

"E-mail marketing can be done for a very low cost," Todor says, "but if your message isn't reaching people, what value is it?"

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