Feb 282007

Why I Love My Board

Why I Love My Board

Fred may be the only one of my directors who has done something this dorky, this publicly, but quite frankly, I could see any of us in the same position.  Guys, next meeting, we’re having nerd olympics.

Filed under: Business, Email

Feb 262007

Spam: It's Not Just for Okinawa Any More

Spam:  It’s Not Just for Okinawa Any More

My mother-in-law asked me the other day why she has so much spam in her inbox — hasn’t the problem been largely solved?  While I know many people who read my blog are in the industry and know the answer to this, many aren’t/don’t (this was feedback from my reader survey a couple weeks ago), so I thought I’d take a minute and give an admittedly overly-simplistic explanation of two big trends going on in spam these days that are keeping filters working overtime dealing with the sheer volume of spam flooding their networks.

Trend #1:  Image Spam.  These are mostly those "hot stock" scams you see emailed around, but there are other spam types that have taken to producing image spam as well.  Image spam is where the spammer just makes the entire message into a graphic, making it hard to "read" for content filters, and therefore more likely to pass through the filters.  It’s one of the reasons some ISPs have started to disable images other than from trusted senders.

Trend #2:  Botnets or Zombies.  Spam, when coupled with viruses, makes for a marriage made in hell, according to my colleague Neil Schwartzman.  Some of the bad dudes in the Internet’s Axis of Evil have figured out that if they can infect your computer with a virus, they can use your computer to send out spam for them — usually without you knowing it.  This makes the spam harder to detect, since it comes out in smaller batches, and it comes from a variety of sources instead of a billion pieces of mail coming through one pipe that can be easily shut off.

As I said, overly simplified, but at least a couple things for non-industry readers to use as fodder at their next cocktail party.

So, you ask, what the heck is the headline of the post about?  I went to dinner the other night at an Okinawa-style Japanese restaurant with a couple of friends.  Okinawa is the southern-most province in Japan, and one that had an enormous American influence during and after World War II.  As a result, one of the local favorites, prominently displayed on the menu, is Spam.  Really.  In a nice restaurant.  Fortunately, my chopstick skills were better at blocking the stuff than my ISP is some days!

Filed under: Email

Feb 212007

Book Short: Next, Write a Sequel

Book Short:  Next, Write a Sequel

Written by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter and billed as “the long awaited sequel to First, Break All the Rules” (one of the best management books I’ve ever read), I thought 12: The Elements of Great Managing, was good, but not great.  12…, along with the original book First… and Now, Discover Your Strengths, the latter two both by Marcus Buckingham, are all based on an extensive database of research done on corporate America by the Gallup organization over many years.  All three are valuable reads in one way or another, although I found this to be the weakest of the three.  (Note that Now… is different from the other two in that it’s not about management, it’s about self-management — very different, though based on the same research.)

Anyway, the elements of great managing, so say the authors, is all about creating employee engagement.  I totally buy into that.  And since no book short on 12… would be complete if it didn’t list out the 12…

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had the opportunities at work to learn and grow?

The book fleshes out each of the 12, gives examples (some of which are better/clearer than others), and then addresses compensation in a very interesting chapter at the end.  Key takeaways on comp:

- Higher pay doesn’t guarantee greater engagement
- Good and bad employees are equally likely to think they deserve a raise
- Money without meaning isn’t enough
- Most employees, most of the time, feel undercompensated
- Individual pay can/should be private, but comp criteria should be very public
- People who feel well-compensated generally work harder

The book also cites a very provocative article suggesting that organizations would handle comp better if they made everyone’s comp public (in contrast to the final bullet above, yes).  I’m going to write more about compensation in future postings, so I’ll leave this section on those notes.

Finally, the book’s two closing thoughts are perhaps its most prescient:  one critical element of BEING a great manager is HAVING a great manager; and the managers who put the most into their people, get the most out of their people.

Feb 202007

Whiplash at Google, Part II

Whiplash at Google, Part II

My former colleague Brian Westnedge points me to this article that gives more detail on my earlier notes about Google’s very large NYC-based engineering team.  The article also provides a good general assessment of NYC as a location for tech companies.  Thanks, Brian!

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Feb 192007

SUGGing and FRUGGing: Practices as Ugly as They Sound

SUGGing and FRUGGing: Practices as Ugly as They Sound

(Below is the beginning of my December column for DM News.)

We love surveys. Though many people in direct marketing don’t know it, we have a large business unit, Authentic Response, that provides a global online sample aimed at helping market researchers connect with qualified panelists via our MyView portal. And, like most companies, we use surveys to get a read on what our customers want from us and how we can improve their experience with us.
Market research is an industry that prides itself on accuracy and purity of data, which is why I want to use this column to let direct marketers know how painful it is when companies poison the market research well by engaging in SUGGing and FRUGGing.  For the uninitiated, SUGGing is the acronym for…(Read the rest at DMNews here.)

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Feb 152007

Stuck in the Middle

Stuck in the Middle

I was trying to explain the current state of Return Path’ Postmaster Network online advertising business (email lists, lead gen, RSS) to someone from outside the industry the other day, when it occurred to me that many online marketing vehicles are still split between running on the offline paradigm and running on the online paradigm.  I don’t have a lot of detailed stats on all of this at my fingertips, but bear with my observations.

To me, the offline paradigm has always been characterized by big agency buys, driven by thematic/brand oriented creative campaigns that cost a fortune to develop.  This is even true to a large extent for direct marketing, although the mechanics are different.  It’s relied on lots of third party intermediaries to connect the audience (or more specifically, estimates of the audience) to the marketer.  It has paid all of these people on a percentage of the media spend, which is so massive that a 10% override on it can keep you in business and be dissociated from effort expended or value created.  Many of the original forms of online media — banners, lists — still operate partially in this world.  This part of the online ad market is growing, but more slowly than others.

Contrast this with the online paradigm that has been characterized by automated buying, rapid testing cycles, small up-front dollar outlays, and an “always on” marketing that’s not necessarily tied to a big campaign.  It’s been much more marketplace, aggregator, and bid-driven and frequently has marketers connecting straight to their audience, or at least to the media vehicle that their audience is on.  Fees are success-based or labor-based.  This is the part of the market that’s exploding in popularity.

So why are some parts of online marketing stuck in the middle today?  It seems to me that the things that are related to the offline paradigm in some way are still living in that paradigm, while things that are truly new in the last 5+ years are freed from those shackles.  So some things, like email list rental and banner buys, go through an agency or a broker (or sometimes both), because, well, that’s how clients have always rented mailing lists or bought column inches in magazines.  But anyone with a credit card can start bidding for keywords on Google or Yahoo, or post offers to an affiliate network, trying out their own creative and optimizing it within minutes or hours.

The thing I find so interesting about this is that all of these different online marketing tactics, whether old school or new school, are trying to do the same things — generate more sales/leads/customers, and build brand.  But the legacy machinery of old world marketing and advertising still lingers in the background while the new machinery of search and automated marketing/bidding engines are gaining steam.

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out over time, but I’d be surprised if there’s a lot of the purchasing of high value online real estate that continues to be in the control of old-style agencies and brokers for too much longer.  It’s just getting too easy for marketers to control their own destiny.  What I think is even more fascinating is the possibility that these new technologies and techniques might move upstream to influence how “old media” is bought as well over time, as seen in both Yahoo’s and Google’s recent deals with offline media brokers (and even, one could argue, the YouTube acquisition).  There’s no logical reason why marketers shouldn’t be able to bid on 30-second TV commercials across the major networks and cable stations and not be held to big up-front commitments and markups.  Oh, right, and come back to the network afterwards and ask for a make good if the ad doesn’t drive enough sales on the back-end.

Maybe agencies and brokers will change…maybe some courageous traditional media vehicles will change…or maybe a little of both, but old school online customer acquisition marketing won’t be stuck in the middle forever.  The scale and ROI will guarantee it.

Feb 092007

Blog on for Swerdloff

Blog on for Swerdloff

My colleague Craig Swerdloff, who runs our Postmaster Network lead generation business and is one of the smartest people in the online advertising business, has started blogging.  Of particular note is this post, in which he talks about the concept of explicit vs. implicit consent in advertising.

His thinking is a lot like some of the things I’ve written about in the past, like the New Media Deal and the We Media Deal.  The bottom line is that advertising has to be valuable and relevant for end users — and properly/carefully delivered.  Welcome to the blogosphere, Craig!

Feb 082007

Right, That's MY Job

Right, That’s MY Job

I made a dumb comment at our recent Board meeting that got me thinking.  We came into the meeting with, in addition to lots of the regular updating and reporting, one specific strategic topic we wanted guidance on from the Board about something that’s been nagging the management team for a while without an obvious solution.

We had a great conversation about the topic with the Board and got very clear guidance as to their perspective on what we should do.  I agreed with most of it, albeit with a couple modifications, but more than anything else, I was happy for the note of clarity on an issue with which we’d been struggling as a management team. 

So my comment in the meeting was "that’s pretty clear direction, we’ll go do that" (or something along those lines).  Whereupon one of my Board members politely reminded me that actually it’s not the Board’s job to make things happen, only to give advice and counsel, and that I shouldn’t take their words as gospel and assume they’ll work.  Right.  Good point.

The Board is my boss (I am on the Board, but so are five other people), and while there are some items where the Board does have the final say, the overwhelming majority of my actions and the actions within the company are really up to us.  We can seek guidance when we feel we need it, but that guidance doesn’t come with a guarantee that it will work operationally — nor does it give me the ability to absolve myself if things don’t work out in the end.

This is a point worth thinking about no matter what role you play in your organization.  Most people, most of the time, have a lot of latitude in how they go about their job.  Sometimes, the boss tells you what to do.  But most of the time, you’re on your own, and while you can and should get advice from above when necessary, the most successful people in business are the ones that take the guidance and factor it into their own decision-making and initiative as opposed to blindly following.

Feb 052007

Whiplash at Google

Whiplash at Google

A friend of mine who works at Google invited me over to have lunch last week. It was fun to see their NY office — it had a similar fun vibe to their main campus in Mountain View. But it was a study in contrast in terms of how they treat guests.

First, I had to sign a one-sided NDA in order to enter the premises. Totally offputting as the first point of contact and a requirement to even have lunch. I know other companies do that was well but was surprised given the whole “do no evil” thing to see it at GOOG.

But then of course, there was the free super gourmet cafeteria:  hazelnut-encrusted wild halibut, braised fennel and leeks, lavash, and seared scallop and seaweed with a ponzu vinaigrette.  I’m not even sure what ponzu vinaigrette is, but I can attest that it is yummy.

Mostly, it was just interesting to see what the Google machine has built in Manhattan — 1,200 people (including 300+ engineers, which is truly astounding) and growing!

Filed under: Email

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Feb 012007

Book Short: Finishing First

Book Short:  Finishing First

The Power of Nice:  How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness, by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, is one of those “airport books” that takes about an hour to read.  I had an ear-to-ear grin reading the book, in part because, well, it’s just a happy book, filled with anecdotes about how a smile here or a gesture of kindness there made a difference in someone’s life — both personally and professionally.

But part of my interest in the book was also driven by a long-standing debate we have at Return Path over whether we’re “too nice” as a company and whether we should have “sharper elbows.”  I was struck by a few comments the authors made, things you would expect like “nice doesn’t mean naïve” as well as things you wouldn’t like “help your enemies.”  To me, that says it all about success in business:  you can be a fierce competitor externally and demand accountability internally and still be a warm and kind person, and that’s the best (and most rewarding) place to be.

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