Home / Email Snob Interview: John Caldwell

Email Snob Interview: John Caldwell

Three years ago, I launched a series of interviews with a group of email industry folks I called “The Email Snobs.” With the blog crash a few months ago, the Email Snob Interview series was “lost” but since has been recovered. I decided I would post these interviews again, if nothing else, to simply see how much has changed in email marketing in the past 2-3 years. (How about that for the speed and craziness of technology?)

The series of more than 20 interviews began with an interview with John Caldwell. I’m proud to present this interview once again:


I have the great privilege of launching the series with “one of the greats” (in my opinion), John Caldwell. Here we go:


ScottWritesEverything: John, I appreciate your willingness to be a part of the “Email Snob” (or in your case, Email Geek) interview series.

jacaldwellJohn Caldwell: Appreciate being asked. This is my first official email interview about email…

SWE: I can imagine. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get your start in email marketing? Tell me a bit about your background.

JAC: I really just sort of fell into it; it started in the mid nineties when I’d picked up a cool domain name, VeniceBeach.com.  It’s a much cooler site today than it was back then.  Anyway, I’d built sort of a community portal – when was the last time you heard that word?  And while I was messing around trying to figure out a revenue model, people were emailing me asking about different things about Venice Beach.  It didn’t take long before I started doing a regular newsletter.   The first newsletter was sent in June of 1996 and grew to a small handful of newsletters segmented by user preference by that fall.

By the end of 1999 I was the email marketing department of an online agency, Lassoo Interactive.  At Lassoo I developed and deployed some of the earliest email marketing campaigns for companies like WebEx, X-Drive, Lawson Software, and Microsoft Great Plains.  For about a year I partnered with a developer buddy outsourcing email deployment services with our own platform.  He got an offer on the platform and I got an offer to be the email marketing department of Experian’s FreeCreditReport.com.

At FCR I created and implemented the company’s strategic email marketing plans and designed and developed their email marketing and reporting guidelines. Automated programs grew about 100 times during my tenure, with channel revenue growing about 15 times.  Not bad for a one-man department, huh?

After leaving Experian to become an independent consultant in January of 2005 I was fortunate to have them as my second client.  Clients since have included eFax, LegalZoom, Teleflora, to name just a few, and I’m currently on a second engagement with eHarmony – love the way that sounds, an engagement with eHarmony.  I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but it’s very cool, very geeky, and I’m having a lot of fun working with some really great people!

SWE: Based on your experience, if you could say one thing to someone who wants to get into this industry, what would it be?

JAC: What kind of twisted masochist are you?  Naw, just kidding; or am I?  Seriously, though, immerse yourself in everything email and don’t believe everything you read.  Most of what’s written about email marketing is from people that have never done email marketing.  I’m not knocking the observers, and I know a few that could probably describe what I do better than I can.  There’s a difference between suggesting things for a client to try/test from the comfort of your first email job working for an ESP and sitting between the keyboard and the chair with deadlines and your boss standing on your shoulder.

Oh yeah, and don’t buy lists and don’t use “blast” as a verb.

SWE: I would also add never to use “blast” as a noun in terms of email either. Anyway, I’m curious. What’s your favorite thing about email marketing?

JAC: I really like the nuts and bolts of email operations across the board. I like to design and develop complex automated programs, roll them out, geek on the numbers, and then start tweaking and tuning. But my absolute favorite thing about email marketing is having the opportunity to share my experiences and what I’ve learned in my time in the space.

SWE: I appreciate your desire to share your experiences as well! Moving on… How has your work in the email marketing industry affected your personal use of email?

JAC: I’m terrible. I have very high expectations. If a sender can’t do the basics of email well, why would I believe that they can do anything else well? I know, it’s probably not a fair statement, but come on, this is 2010. Email is not new.

I also  probably subscribe to a lot more crap being in the industry than I think I would if I wasn’t…

SWE: How do you think the iPad will affect email marketing?

JAC: i-what? ‘Nuf said…

[Editor’s Note: Crazy to think that only three years ago, the iPad was new and this was a true discussion.]

SWE: Taking that concept a bit further, what effect do you think mobile technologies will have on email marketing?

JAC: I think that alert-type messages were made for mobile, but other than that I see mobile devices as more of an Inbox triage.  I just can’t see too many people stopping whatever they’re doing to order this that or the other thing from their mobile device because they got an email right now.  The same goes with visiting a Web site or subscribing to whatever from a mobile device.  I could be wrong, but I’m just not seeing the reality living up to the hype.

SWE: Changing gears a bit… If there was one thing you could tell either clients or ESPs–whether it’s a frustration, some words of advice, or even praise–what would it be?

JAC: To ESPs: Don’t dumb-down a sophisticated product; smarten-up your users.  Just like not everyone can be an athletic superstar or cover girl model, not everybody can do email.  And if an organization wants to do sophisticated email marketing, don’t expect it to come from this week’s email marketing guru that was last week’s call center rep.  ESPs will never be able to simplify a sophisticated tool to that level, and to do the really cool stuff that makes lots of money, organizations are going to need to spend a buck or two on talent.  So, I guess there’s a little something for both ESPs and end-users.

To the end-users I ask, “What’s in your documentation?”  What? You don’t have any documentation?  What happens when your call center rep-cum-email guru wins the lottery and doesn’t come back to work?  How will the receptionist ever be able to figure out what’s been done and what needs to be done with your email programs?

SWE: Who is your biggest influence in the industry? Why?

JAC: I don’t think that there’s a single influence.  Right out of the box I’d say Stephanie Miller.  She’s absolutely amazing in everything she does in and for the email industry, and she’s just plain scary-smart.  Another big influence is Luke Glasner, also scary-smart, he has more passion for and dedication to the industry than just about anyone that I’ve ever met in the space.  Coming from the hands-on user side of the business, Luke understands the pressures and expectations of being on the front-line of email marketing.

There are others, including you, but to list them all would start to sound like an Oscar speech, and then I’ve got to worry about Kanye West and all that….

SWE: Continuing in that vein, if you could name one book that you feel every email marketer should read, what would it be? Why?

JAC: Sign Me Up, A Marketers Guide to Email Newsletters“.  Email newsletters done well make money.  And if you can’t do something as basic as a newsletter well, what makes you think that you can do complex lifecycle marketing at all?  Next would be “The Truth About Email Marketing” by Simms Jenkins.  I particularly like how Simms explains some of the concepts behind email marketing and how they can be put to practical use.  And if you really want to get your email geek on, “Email Marketing by the Numbers” by Chris Baggott.

SWE: What about a blog (that’s not your own)?

JAC: I’ve been reading Mark Brownlow’s Email Marketing Reports for years.  I don’t know how many years, but it’s been all of them.  If I could chose only one industry blog to read, it would be EMR.

SWE: Great stuff! All right, now for a fun question: What is the one thing you’ve always wanted to try with email but have not done to this point?

JAC: Are you a cop? I don’t know if I should answer this question without my lawyer present….

SWE: Fair enough. All right, 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?

JAC: It depends….  If it was the CEO of Charmin bath tissue I don’t know what I could do….  If it was Willy Wonka, maybe something along the lines of, “How would you like to increase the sales of everlasting gob stoppers and pull in about $40 for every $1 you spend doing so?”


About John Caldwell

Active in the email marketing and operations space since 1996, John Caldwell is an innovative marketing executive experienced in integrated email marketing, operations, and lifecycle messaging. As an independent consultant John has brought his utilization of email marketing best practices, including customer segmentation and profiling, and operational analysis, to a number of major clients including Teleflora, eHarmony, Experian Consumer Direct (FreeCreditReport.com), and more.

While at Experian, prior to becoming a consultant, John created and implemented the company’s strategic email marketing plans. He designed the company’s email marketing guidelines and developed comprehensive reporting matrices to measure the operational statistics of email programs and campaigns providing actionable intelligence to Business.

John has spoken at Industry events on deliverability and other topics, and is a Member of the Email Experience Council of the Direct Marketing Association.

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