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Email Snob Interview: Jordan Cohen

In another blast from the past, here is my interview from March 19, 2010, with my email marketing brother from another mother, Jordan Cohen, now Vice President of Marketing at Movable Ink.

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ScottWritesEverything.com: Thanks for joining me, Jordan.

JordanCohenJordan Cohen: Thanks for inviting me to participate here. I have really enjoyed getting to know you and the other high quality #emailgeeks who have been contributing to the discussion on Twitter over the past year.

SWE: It’s definitely been a fun year. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get your start in email marketing?

JC: I’d say that, “the stars they all aligned.”

My first job out of college was as media coordinator for a large financial services company in New York, and after about two years of honest-to-god whipper-snapper dedication, I was downsized. It was 2003 and the nation was experiencing a tremor that was prelude to the economic earthquake we’ve seen over the past 2 years. I’m talking about the days of Enron, Worldcom, and Tyco–lots of people were affected.

But losing my job ended up being the best thing that ever happened. I ended up landing a job as Manager of Public Policy for the DMA, where, among other issues, I got to work on media relations and industry communications in support of the association’s anti-spam platform.

Back then, we were lobbying to enact the CAN-SPAM Act, and eventually it was passed through Congress and was signed into law by good old G-Dubya. We also worked to educate the membership about email authentication and eventually made implementing proposed standards like Sender IT and DKIM a member guideline.

Needless to say, my experience at the DMA was incredibly educational, and taught me a ton about email technology and policy issues. It also helped me begin building some great relationships in the email marketing industry. Eventually, a member company recruited me to head up their ISP relations and privacy program, and the rest is history.

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?

JC: Three things immediately come to mind:

1. Read everything you can get your hands on. And read every day. The world is moving a million miles a minute; the only way to keep up and be part of the conversation is to read. And don’t just read about email either, read about everything.

2. Think before you speak. Every word you say and write counts. Being thoughtful spurs conversations. Being flippant spurs fluff.

3. Join associations and go to the conferences. We can tweet, twit and twirp all day long. But at the end of the day, meeting people face to face always makes for the deepest and most meaningful conversations.

SWE: Let’s continue in a general “conversations” theme. Who is your biggest influence in the industry?

JC: My biggest influences in the industry have been my bosses. I have been truly blessed to be able to work with some of the most talented, brightest, and hard-working people on the planet. In particular, I have to acknowledge:

1. Lou Mastria. Lou hired me at the DMA and effectively laid the foundation for my career. Even as a naive, bright-eyed 23-year-old, Lou treated me as an equal partner and set an example for how to lead by example. I’m proud to say that we’ve been close friends for years.

2. Michael Della Penna. Michael brought me on as Director of ISP Relations at Bigfoot Interactive, and we ended up working together for 3-plus years, eventually as part of Epsilon after the successful sale of BI. Michael is a “worker.” He’s the guy who’s emailing you the latest draft of the deck at 11:30 at night. He’s the guy with the hunger to do whatever it will take to win. Michael always challenged me to be better, and I can’t thank him enough for that.

3. David Atlas. David was my boss at Goodmail. There are few career opportunities in life as educational as working at a Silicon Valley start-up. David is one of the smartest people I know: a deep, intellectual thinker and a natural storyteller. He opened up a new and exciting world for me.

4. Deirdre Baird and Michelle Eichner. I knew and worked with Deirdre and Michelle for years before joining the Pivotal Veracity team, and have always respected them for their professionalism and dedication to providing the industry with best-in-class technology and services. Deirdre and Michelle believe in their people and their products, and stick to their values no matter what.

SWE: That’s a great list. Let’s go even further on the “conversations.” What are three books that you think every email marketer should read?

JC: Do people really read books these days? Can I recommend newspapers and magazines instead?

I feel strongly that you can’t become a great email marketer (or any kind of marketer) by reading books. The key to successful marketing of any kind–especially in this day and age–is to understand what is going on in the world around you right now, today, and to articulate where and why you fit in it today.

Books are too static for me. If you agree with that (likely highly fallible) logic, three periodicals that I really recommend are the The New York Times (because it’s The Times), The Economist (because it covers everything that’s genuinely important around the world on a weekly basis), and New York Magazine (because it keeps me connected to pop culture but with a high-brow edge).

SWE: Then maybe blogs are more your cup of tea. Other than the blogs you write, what would be your top 5 blogs for email marketers to read?

JC: Yeah, here are 5:

1. ScottWritesEverything.com – a.k.a. “Musings from the 2nd most popular Cohen in email marketing.”
2. Email Marketing Reports – British + Expat living in Austria + Knows a ton about email marketing + has funny, YouTube-a-genic kids = a great bloody read.
3. Retail Email Blog – Chad White is a superstar and has been in the trenches for ages. He knows more about retail email than anyone else in the world. Hey, someone has to, right?
4. BeRelevant! – Tamara Gielen is a superstar, too, and also has been in the trenches for ages… but trenches on the other side of the Atlantic.
5. The Email Wars – Dylan Boyd always keeps it fresh and addresses the big picture issues of the day. And there are tanks on his homepage. Three of them. Hardcore.

SWE: That’s a great list (…trying not to toot my own horn too much…). Let’s talk challenges. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing email marketers today?

JC: The biggest challenge facing emails marketers is one of the biggest challenges facing ALL of mankind: the irresistible urge to reap the most reward for the smallest amount of effort. It’s a problem that’s endemic across all industries, not just email. People who “get by” are sloppy, and in email marketing, unfortunately, that translates into a bunch of spam for the rest of us.

On the other hand, email marketers who take pride in their work and operate with integrity always seem to find a way to excel.

SWE: Changing gears a bit. We’ve all heard about Facebook’s Project Titan. Given what you know of it, how do you think Project Titan will affect the industry as a whole?

JC: Google proved with Gmail that a smart company can rapidly become a force in the consumer email space, so as the world’s most popular online social network with hundreds of millions of users, I’ll definitely be watching Facebook and “Project Titan” closely. The most interesting things to look for will be how Facebook integrates email into the larger social networking experience, and corresponding new opportunities that might be afforded to email marketers.

SWE: That will be interesting to see. How about mobile? You’re so heavily involved in the mobile email debate. What impact do you think mobile will have on marketing as a whole in the next 3-5 years?

JC: I’m heavily involved in the mobile email debate because I see it as the most exciting and important trend to impact this industry since I’ve been a part of it, and probably since the inception of email and email marketing altogether.

The numbers are staggering: More than 1 billion people will access email on their handhelds by the end of 2014. Cell phones (smart or otherwise) currently outnumber PCs by a factor of 4 to 1 around the world, and I believe that in the next decade–if not sooner–more people will be accessing brands’ email in the palm of their hands than at their desks or in their laps.

This represents nothing less than a total reinvention of the channel. Making sure your templates look good on the small screen is just the tip of the iceberg. The bigger challenge will be evolving email marketing programs to create an optimal user experience that is always on, and on the go.

SWE: Definitely a major consideration now and in the future. Okay, a fun question. What’s your favorite thing about email marketing?

JC: Email is the epicenter of people’s digital lives, and there is no reason to believe that this position will be usurped for the foreseeable future. Working in email marketing means that you are helping to shape the future of how human beings communicate, and it’s a privilege for us to work on the vanguard of technologies that are changing the way that people around the world connect and interact with each other.

SWE: Two words: Love. It. But just as there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to the discussion. What’s your LEAST favorite thing about email marketing?

JC: The lack of rich media in email depresses me. We were able to put a man on the moon in 1969, but we can’t even allow basic images to display by default–let alone video or 1-click shopping capabilities–in email in 2010 because the industry hasn’t been able to coalesce around common security standards. It’s kind of shocking, and I also think it severely limits the ability for email marketing to get adequate attention, respect, and dollars from the C-suite.

SWE: Last question: If you were stuck in an elevator with the CEO of a company that doesn’t utilize email, what is your “elevator speech” for email marketing?

JC: If I were stuck in an elevator with the CEO of a company that doesn’t utilize email, I wouldn’t bother giving him an elevator speech. I try not to waste time on idiots.

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About Jordan Cohen

Jordan Cohen is vice president of marketing for Movable Ink. He is an accomplished communications, marketing and public affairs professional with extensive media, analyst, Internet and marketing industry relationships.

An expert on email marketing, deliverability and online privacy, his portfolio includes volumes of articles and white papers, and speaking engagements at national events including DM Days NY, NCDM, the Online Trust Alliance Summit and the inaugural Email Evolution Conference, where he delivered a keynote speech.

Jordan also has been actively involved in influencing legislation and regulation. He has chaired two industry committees focused on public policy (OTA and EEC), and was one of a few dozen individuals quoted by the Federal Trade Commission in its 2005 report to Congress on the effectiveness of the CAN SPAM Act.

Jordan graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with a BA in Communication Studies.

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