Famous Last Words: Does Your Email Matter?

Recently, I had occasion to go into my long-abandoned, never-used (but never canceled) AOL account and discovered 9,321 emails waiting for me. I was appalled.

It is unimaginable to me that I never responded to more than 9,000 personalized messages, and yet hundreds of writers continue to this day dumping their work into the sewer that is my old AOL account.

Clearly, these people are using lists that are dirtier than a Pascagoula pelican washed ashore in BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

After 50 years in direct marketing, I still have great reverence for the magic of a letter—one-to-one communication—whether personal correspondence or a sales pitch. You send someone a letter because you want a reply. That can only happen when you keep your lists clean.

‘Just Cleaning My List’
What triggered this column was the above subject line of an email from direct marketing guru J.F. (Jim) Straw. His message:

Hey Gang,

It’s that time again … time to refresh and renew … so, I’m cleaning my list of all the nixies.
If you want to stay on the list, DO NOTHING.
If you DO NOT want to be on my list any more, just hit reply with “Remove” in the subject line.
Either way, I appreciate having had an opportunity to serve you and look forward to serving you many, many more years to come … good Lord willing.
Keep well …

Jim Straw is a class act. I like being on his list.

Phone Call From a Professional
Once an aeon, my phone will ring and a P.R. person will ask about a press release she had sent me. We quickly discover it had been sent to my old AOL inbox, and I tell her to re-send it to me at my Yahoo address.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • Stu Boysen

    Denny – right on! While an efficient and cost effective communication tool, you get what you pay for with free email. For a stamp you at least can find out that a person has moved and the new address (and for a period of 18 months). All you get with email is a bounce (if they have changed their email) or worse, what you experienced with your AOL account. To clean an email list, you’d probably end up sending a letter through the USPS anyway. There is no NCOEA.

  • Janet

    Good article Denny. I have been wanting to clean up my email address lists for quite some time but can find no NCOA-like services for email addresses. Does anyone know of any service like this?

  • Will Ezell

    Perhaps Janet’s question should be re-stated as "Trustworthy" NCOA-like services…

    This world of e-mail service providers is a pond full of scum larger than Denny’s above referenced Pascagoula pelican in the Deepwater Horizon spill.

  • Jim Camey

    Thanks, very timely piece! I’m just today sending to our Safeguard distributors their email ‘bounces’ from a recent Cheetah Mail drop. Your piece is great support for why… Clean up your email addresses – They’re not there!
    Jim Camey
    Customer Development
    Safeguard Business System

  • Marc Zazeela

    Great read, Denny. To my knowledge, no one has ever abandoned their mail box. There are lots of data to indicate that many people have multiple email boxes. So, which one do you use for your marketing message?

    On the other hand, each of us only has one mailbox at any given address.


  • Reg Doherty

    Although there are tons of wrong email addresses floating around without being culled out, I’m more fascinated by the plethora of useless, bandwidth-robbing videos on YouTube. Is there a YouTube Video Graveyard? Both the inevitable rise of outdated emails and videos suggest the need for an "electronic enema". Both lack foresight. Perhaps a cutoff date, say five years before the current date, to eliminate automatically all old email addresses and videos might be an idea. I wish you an excellent day, Denny!