Well, Capitol Advantage sure as hell stirred up the nest when their study of advocacy email deliverability rates hit the Post on Monday. In the days since, other vendors have been scrambling and practitioners have been debating, but it’s also become obvious that the research seems to have significant flaws that skew the results in Cap Ad’s favor versus its competitors.
GetActive has vigorously disputed its low ranking in calls and emails to clients, for instance, and Democracy in Action has raised questions about the study’s methodology that are quite persuasive. This is more than just a playground spat among vendors, since a company’s public image can determine the direction of contracts worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. For more details about the study, its critics and the issues involved, see Alan Rosenblatt’s comprehensive overview on his Dr. Digipol site.
The report’s release also sparked a vigorous discussion among online advocacy professionals, with conversations burning up the email groups. Some people passionately defended emails as a persuasive tool, while others saw them as being largely ignored on the Hill. I continue to argue that emails can be a useful tool if they’re used correctly: campaigns should encourage senders to write their own personal messages and should also consider faxing the messages or printing them out and delivering them on paper (it’s harder to ignore a printout). Above all, email advocacy must be a part of a comprehensive legislative strategy, combined with phone calls, media outreach, lobbyist or volunteer visits and all the other tools we have at hand to connect with Congress. And, I also think that email campaigns can be much more effective if directed at corporate, regulatory or state/local targets.
Firehosing mass un-edited emails emails at Hill, though, is likely to be of negligible effectiveness, much as we may complain about Congressmembers ignoring the voice of the public. As database guru and history buff Phil Lepanto (who, by the way, saved my life on a project this week) said to me on Tuesday, “If you send your message in a machine that’s geared for filtering, you’re killing yourself.” Your entire campaign is one “select all/delete” sequence away from destruction.