Home / Email Snob Interview: Brad Spychalski

Email Snob Interview: Brad Spychalski

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I’ve spent the summer largely “unplugged.” In an effort to get things back on track, I have another fabulous email snob interview for you. This time, I talk email with Brad Spychalski, the Connections Manager at OLSON.

bradScottWritesEverything: Brad, thanks for joining me. Let’s start at the beginning. I know you’re a bit of a cross-channel marketing guy, but how did you get your start in email marketing?

Brad Spychalski: To be honest, email marketing found me. The whole idea that email could be used as a viable marketing tool was completely off my radar until the company I was working (North American Media Group) was purchased by NY-based venture capitalist and private equity firm the Pilot Group.

(In case you’re unfamiliar, the Pilot Group–led by Bob Pittman, of AOL, Six Flags, MTV, etc., fame–made waves in the email marketing business when they sold Daily Candy for around $100 million to Comcast. (How’s that for proof that email marketing can lead to major profits!) They’re also major investors in other daily e-newsletters such as Thrillist, Vital Juice, and Tasting Table.)

When Pilot Group acquired us, all NAMG properties–including The History Channel Magazine, which I was then managing editor for–jumped head first into the email marketing game. Already taksed with putting out a print magazine, running their social media efforts, developing an iPad edition, and maintaining the magazine’s web presence, adding email to the mix was a bit daunting at first. As time went on, and as our list began to grow in terms of size and user engagement, the real benefits of email marketing started to shine through.

SWE: You and I met through the email marketing “conversations” on Twitter. Do you have any recommendations for those who want to get involved in email marketing?

BS: A few biggies:

  1. Listen. If you were new to something, you wouldn’t just jump in without a plan. The same holds true for any business objective, including email marketing. Sit back and take it all in first. Listen to what the industry leaders are saying and doing and begin to tailor your own program based on their recommendations.
  2. Subscribe. There’s something refreshing about a managed inbox. But you’re an email marketer; it shouldn’t be clean. It should be overflowing with new messages. And although it may be a daunting task to get through them all, try your best not to “mark all as read” because each email is a case study in what works and what doesn’t. So subscribe to everything, B2C, B2B, retail, national, local… permission granted!
  3. Engage. There are so many insightful, innovative, and helpful people in the email marketing business (especially on Twitter — see below). Reach out to them. Ask them for advice. We’re help to help. You’re not alone.
SWE: You talk about those helpful people. Who are your biggest influences in the email marketing community?

BS: A ton of people have influenced me in the email marketing business, especially the folks at the Pilot Group, including Andy Russell, Steven Cutler, and Katherine Chen. Additionally, Tim Carroll, who was NAMG’s general manager of digital business.

Other biggies are the email experts I’ve met on Twitter. Here are a handful of people I’ve come to love, trust, and respect:

SWE: Let’s keep in that same vein and talk blogs. What are your top 5 blogs for email marketers to read?

BS: My 5 are:

  1. The Email Institute
  2. Inbox Group
  3. ClickZ
  4. TopRank Online Marketing
  5. MediaPost (Email Insider)
SWE: Great list. Let’s talk a little business now. What would you identify are some unique opportunities for email marketing that email marketers may be missing?

BS: One of the biggest is the influence of social media. Rather than fighting it, incorporate it, embrace it. Social is all about relationships, engagement, and community building. So is email. Harness that power and give your audience exactly what it craves.

SWE: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing email marketers today? How can these challenges be best fought?

BS: I see two big challenges:

  1. Overload/Permission. Let’s face it; our inboxes are personal, only accessible by those we trust. You’re not allowed in without permission. So as email marketers, I believe it’s our duty to only send to subscribers who’ve given use permission to do so. If you break that rule, you’ve already broken the trust of your audience… your community is flawed, and ultimately unhappy. Talk about a blueprint for failure.
  2. Spam. Okay, we know the difference between an actual email message and spam, but the lines are getting blurry. Don’t send me multiple emails per day. Is your message on brand? As consumers we should never wonder “why” a message was sent. Always have a purpose. Don’t anger your community. It’ll come back to bite you.
SWE: For email campaigns, what are the top three questions you believe marketers should be asking themselves before they hit send?

BS: Great question! Here is my top three:

  1. Would you open and read this message?
  2. Is the content timely, relevant, and on-brand?
  3. Have you double and triple-checked grammar, punctuation, flow, tense, and style? (My inner editor hones in on this step, big time.)

SWE: Fun questions now. How has your work in email marketing affected your personal use of email?

BS: The biggest effect email marketing has had on my personal use of email is my BS detector can’t be fooled. I’m a bit brutal with my email reading habits. If a subject line doesn’t hook me upon first read, to the digital trash bin it goes. If you haven’t earned my trust, don’t expect to be read. Blow me away, impress me, catch my attention… and then repeat, over and over. Once you’ve done that, we’re best buds.

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

BS: In my opinion, the best thing about email marketing is how it is constantly evolving. How many times have you heard that “email is dead?” While article upon article has been written about its demise, email keeps on kicking. In every business I’ve been in, email is the primary means of message exchange. Even those who say social will devour email are incorrect. How do we receive new friend requests, follows, DMs, etc.? That’s right, via email.

SWE: On the flip side, what’s your least favorite thing about email marketing?

BS: My least favorite thing is actually a positive: inbox clutter. I get so many emails sent my way; I just don’t have time to consume it all. Each email is a lesson in good and bad email marketing. So much can be learned just by reading and consuming content.

SWE: Last question. Let’s say you’re giving a keynote speech to the email industry and it’s your personal soapbox. What’s your message?

BS: “I never gave you consent to contact me… so why the hell are you spamming me?”

No one likes to get a phone call from your cable company on a Sunday afternoon offering you an upgrade or a new “deal,” so why are you infringing upon my personal inbox without my permission? Get consent, then send. The whole ask for forgiveness later line doesn’t work in email marketing.


About Brad Spychalski

Brad Spychalski is connection manager for OLSON, an advertising agency in Minneapolis, where he builds online communities. Prior to that he was managing editor of The History Channel Magazine, where in addition to putting out a print magazine, editing the iPad edition, and running the brand’s social media channels, he was in charge of the magazine’s daily e-newsletter, Living History. You can follow him on Twitter at @bradspy or on his blog, The Spy Way to New Media (http://www.thespyway.com).

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