Wrapping Up the Email Deliverability and Effectiveness Debate

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.

For more, see the e.politics sections on building and maintaining email lists and on influencing decision-makers.


Written by
Colin Delany
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  • Thanks for your plug and great analysis. I want to add a few points.

    First, while the CapAd study underestimates DiA and GetActive delivery rates for the reasons detailed on my blog (www.drdigipol.com), it accurately measures Capwiz performance. It 97% delivery rate is real and remains the gold standard in the industry.

    Second, though I consider the Constitutional responsibilty of Congress to facilitate, rather than obstruct constituent email of paramount importance, it is also the responsibility of the grassroots email vendors to deliver the email to Congress. And it is essential to the advocacy community-Congress relationship that messages sent by activists through advocacy organzation websites serve to create a relationship between Members and constituents.

    Thus there is both a responsibility for Congress to listen to citiens and for the vendors to ensure the messages get through.

    My conversations with the leadership at all 3 of the vendors shows they take their responsibilty seriously. Each will be demonstrating how effective they are in response to CapAd’s study. And each are seeking to improve and keep up with the obstructions raised by Congress.

    In the end, we all want to be able to speak our minds to Congress. I hope Congress is listening.