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Email Snob Interview: Simms Jenkins

For the next round of the Email Snob Interview Series, I continue in the CEO theme, this time talking email with Simms Jenkins, CEO of Brightwave Marketing and creator of EmailStatCenter.com.

SimmsJenkinsScottWritesEverything.com: Simms, thanks for joining me!

Simms Jenkins: Thanks for the honor of being part of this impressive series. It really is unique and very cool.

SWE: I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. I definitely have enjoyed doing it. Okay, let’s get started. I’d love to know how you got your start in email marketing.

SJ: I moved to Atlanta right of college to work for the Olympic Committee. That is what drew me here. I stayed in sports marketing until the Internet bug grabbed me. I worked for several start-ups, primarily in business development but had acquisition responsibilities, which is where I first cut my teeth in email marketing. After that, I ran the CRM group at Cox Interactive Media, which was the online arm of the media giant, Cox Enterprises. I built out a pretty sophisticated email program (for its time at least) including a team and infrastructure for our network of content sites.

That role is what really hooked me on the power of email as well as the missed opportunities within the channel. That experience led me to create BrightWave Marketing, a digital agency that specializes in email marketing. I’d like to think that after 7 years, we are recognized as one of the top email marketing-focused agencies in the country. We are a true full-service partner for our clients and count Chick-fil-A, Cox Business, RaceTrac Petroleum, Affiliated Computer Services, and iFLOOR among our clients. We have collected quite a few awards over the past few years which I am especially proud of.

I have also have some fun on complimentary projects like EmailStatCenter.com and my book “The Truth About Email Marketing” which was published by Pearson’s Financial Times.

SWE: Given your deep involvement in the industry, what would be your recommendations for someone who’s looking to get involved in the “conversations” of the industry?

SJ: The best thing is that there are not many excuses for not being able to find the right entry point into the industry, whether it’s passive or active entry. You can essentially eavesdrop on what many of the top minds in the industry are thinking through their articles, blogs, Twitter streams, and, of course, emails.

The more active side is not easy for many people, but it is the way to really propel yourself into the community. I think this is the best way to learn and establish your brand–whether it’s a company or your own personal brand. You can dive in by speaking, writing, listening, engaging, and participating. There are so many excellent forums to accomplish these regardless of your role and company.

I think you are a great testament to this. A few years back, you and I (and countless others) would have never connected or had the opportunity to talk shop. And now, here we are.

Additionally, I know firsthand the vendor side companies serving the email market are hungry for people with passion, curiosity, and desire to succeed. I think people can be trained on what makes a great email campaign. You can’t train those intangible elements and that is what separates the good and great not only in the email space but really in any industry–but particularly a constantly changing one like the digital space.

We just hired a young person with a great background but not deep in email expertise (yet). We selected her because she has the passion for email and serving our clients. She has already wowed us with her ability to learn, ask questions, and bring a fresh and unique approach to our clients’ goals and usages of email. That is what I think anyone in the industry is looking for.

SWE: That’s fantastic. And I think it’s safe to say that you agree with my contention that passion can’t be taught. Let’s talk influence. Who is your biggest influence in the email marketing industry?

SJ: That’s a tough one because there are so many talented and influential people in this space. Bill Nussey was one of the first people that I realized I needed to learn from, and I believe that he is at the top of the list for most strategic executives in our industry. I follow closely some other active industry leaders like Stephanie MillerMark Brownlow, and Chad White–who are among the nicest and smartest people I have met.

I can’t leave out Stan Rapp, who I have had the pleasure of getting to know and is considered the father of one-to-one marketing. In fact, I interviewed him here.

SWE: Some great people there. How about books? What are three books you feel every email marketer should read? (and they don’t have to be books about email)

SJ: Well, I have to include my book: “The Truth About Email Marketing.” It was a labor of love and I can’t resist a selfish plug.

“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell and “Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big” are two other great reads that have been interesting and influential to me.

SWE: How about blogs? What are your top blogs for email marketers to read? Again, doesn’t have to be email-specific.

SJ: I honestly don’t get to read blogs as much as I used to. I think Twitter is partially to blame, as well as other time management and growth-related issues. But I will share my top 2 email and top 2 digital blogs:

– Mark Brownlow’s No Man is an Iland. A gentleman and a scholar, Dr. Brownlow always has contrarian views and aggregates other must-read email content.

– Deliverability.com. A collection of inbox news and opinions from many industry heavy hitters.

– JeffHilimire.com. An insightful blog from a true digital entrepreneur who loves to challenge conventional thinking and spot the next trends and how they impact the online landscape.

– Convince and Convert. Anything Jay Baer writes is worth reading and I find his topics to always be at the intersection of multiple digital avenues with a unique viewpoint.

SWE: Let’s talk about challenges. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing email marketers today? How can these challenges be best fought?

SJ: Complacency, lack of respect, improper awareness in the C-suite, self-doubt, budgets, the never-ending email cycle fatigue syndrome (ask me for a cure today), industry blinders, innovation (or lack thereof), confusion on the mechanics of what works and what doesn’t, spam, lack of clarity on purpose and benefits… are you still reading? I can go on.

What have our fair share of problems as an industry. I think we should look outside our industry a lot more than most do and see how search remained relevant throughout the years. Why did RSS essentially die? In a more tactical way, the challenges can be fought with real data from the highest ROI-grossing channel in existence. Demonstrate that and it is hard to get knocked down, yet too many email marketers don’t take the extra steps needed to prove their worth.

SWE: Speaking of looking outside of the industry, how do you think mobile technologies will affect email marketing in the next 3-5 years?

SJ: Mobile is a big looming opportunity and challenge as it becomes more than a channel and really another always on screen. Email needs to leverage and adapt to mobile the same way it has become the point guard on the social media offensive juggernaut. Get mobile the ball and emails should be fine once again.

Of course, the immediate challenges for email marketers deal with rendering, integration, acquisition, and conversion. These should be where we are all focusing on in relation to mobile right now.

SWE: You mentioned social media. Let’s talk Facebook. We’ve all heard about Facebook’s “Project Titan.” How do you think Project Titan will affect the industry?

SJ: Probably the same way Gmail has. I can’t comment any more or, as per their latest Privacy Policy, Facebook will revoke all privileges as well as own my house and my car.

SWE: Haha, probably a good idea to quit while you’re ahead. Okay, fun questions now. How has your work in email marketing affected your personal use of email?

SJ: I think all of these have been fun. I love talking about email and myself!

Needless to say, I have become more critical and pay attention to a lot of the subtleties in various emails. Someone shared with me a cool unsubscribe alternative the other day. How many people care about stuff like that? I am also less forgiving to badly behaving brands that use email to pummel me with irrelevant emails.

My wife may tell you a different answer that has to do with having my iPhone at all times. Professional biases aside, I still believe it is the best way to communicate in most situations and certainly to receive permission-based offers and content.

SWE: What’s your favorite thing about email marketing? What gets you revved up (in a good way) about email?

SJ: The ROI is the short and easy answer. But the real one is what the power of an email can trigger. An example is how an email from a travel magazine lit a fire with my wife and I, and within a few days we ended up planning an incredible trip to Italy’s Amalfi Coast. That just wouldn’t have happened years ago, at least in that fashion–not to mention timeline and efficiency.

I also love when someone describes how they can’t wait to get the email from their favorite brand because they know it will have something exclusive and valuable. That is the secret sauce and why email will remain the dominant permission-based digital marketing channel.

SWE: Love it. Okay, the flip side. What’s your least favorite thing about email marketing?

SJ: Having to explain the difference between spam and permission-based email marketing. It is kind of amusing when people say, “Well, I certainly don’t ever read any of those kinds of email” and I ask who their favorite retailer is, and they subsequently admit that they get their emails and often purchase because of them. “Well, that’s different,” they’ll say.

I also dislike the notion that because email can be inexpensive, that it’s easy. The email industry is very fragmented, and because of the option of paying $10 a month is out there, many companies have been dragged down-market. Do these companies also do their taxes online for $50? Of course not. The rules are different as your needs, size, and sophistication vary. You get what you pay for in life–this is one lesson that certainly extends across to email.

SWE: I’m with you on that, for sure. Okay, here’s your soapbox. You can give a keynote speech to the industry as a whole. What would be your message for the email marketing industry?

SJ: Keep up the tireless cheerleading and continue being advocates for this unique and powerful channel. However, be wary of not looking outside the email bubble as there is much to be learned and gained by figuring out what works and how to integrate email into other parts of your business.

… Oh, and don’t call it blast.

SWE: Haha, love the blast dig at the end there. Okay, last question. If you were stuck in an elevator with the CEO of a company that doesn’t utilize email, what’s your “elevator speech” for email marketing?

SJ: Do you have customers and prospects? Do you want to create conversions and conversations with them in an efficient, targeted, personalized, and measurable manner? Email marketing can communicate what you want them to do and why.

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About Simms Jenkins

Simms Jenkins is CEO of BrightWave Marketing, an award-winning agency specializing in email marketing and digital targeted messaging programs. BrightWave Marketing partners with clients in the development, management, and strategic optimization of digital message programs that drive revenue, cut costs, and build relationships. Jenkins has led BrightWave Marketing in establishing a top tier client list, including Affiliated Computer Systems, Chick-fil-A, Cox Business, O’Charley’s, RaceTrac Petroleum, and Ted’s Montana Grill, as well as leading advertising and marketing firms.

Jenkins is currently the Email Marketing Best Practices Columnist for ClickZ, the largest resource of interactive marketing news, information, commentary, advice, opinion, research, and reference in the world, online or off. His industry articles have been called one of the top 21 information sources for email marketers.

Additionally, Jenkins is the creator of EmailStatCenter.com, the leading authority on email marketing metrics.

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