The Entrepreneurial Career : Mailing List Dos and Don’ts

There’s an old expression that an organization is only as good as its mailing list. This comes from a time when the only way to directly market an event was to put postcards in the mail and hope the addresses were still good. Even though most ensembles today use e-mail instead, it still rings true. Yet e-mail today is already a little dated: some music fans keep up with concerts only by checking in with Twitter or Facebook. But your e-mail list is still the best way to get information directly to your subscribers—and to hear back from them.

If you would like to send your fan base regular e-mails, either for your own solo performances or your ensemble, the best way to do this is by using an e-mail marketing service provider. Sending e-mails from your personal account is not as effective for a number of reasons: the e-mails may be sent directly to the spam box of some recipients, you have limited design options, and recipients have no discrete way to unsubscribe. An e-mail marketing service—which offers flexible design options to make your message stand out—is optimized to make sure that e-mails get into inboxes.

If you are in the market for a provider, begin by noticing which companies your peers use and which designs appeal to you. VerticalResponse, iContact, Constant Contact, and MailChimp are some of the top providers and they offer free or low-cost accounts. I am a fan of MailChimp, which boasts detailed analytics, beautiful designs, and a generous free account.
Whatever provider you choose, here are some general guidelines to follow that will make your e-mail—and your marketing campaign—a success.

Dos

Have a mailing list sign-up at each of your concerts. Don’t just put a book on a table with a pen and hope for the best. Have a friendly person sit at the table and say the following: “Are you on the [insert your ensemble name here] mailing list?” while offering a pen. Asking patrons if they are simply on “the” mailing list won’t do it. They might be on the venue’s mailing list or on one of the performer’s mailing lists. You want to be sure they sign up for your company’s list.

Make it incredibly easy for anyone to sign up to receive your e-mails. I like a discrete form on each page of a website. This means you can’t collect too much information—anything more than name and e-mail might turn people off—but at least it’s a start. If you anticipate performing in multiple cities and would like to segment your list that way, include a field where subscribers can enter their city or state.
Keep it clear. You are writing for both the “new school” crowd—which may receive dozens of concert announcements every day and, therefore, may not read past your subject heading—and the “old school” audience (Hi, Mom!), which will take the time to read the entire e-mail. In either case, make it very clear what the recipient should do after receiving your e-mail—buy tickets, donate, or just feel good about what you are up to.

Keep it short. Take a page out of the journalism handbook and say things as briefly as possible. If you can say it in fewer words, do it. If you can even reduce the number of syllables in a phrase, do that too. If a picture tells the story, make sure you have one front and center.

Send test e-mails before you send it off. Look at it in a couple of different browsers and on your phone. Make sure the links work. See how long it takes to load. Consider if you have chosen the best representative photos. Look for typos. Eliminate repeated words or ideas. Have at least one other person look at the test—ideally one person who will scan it to see if the message gets across and another who will read it carefully to make sure the message isn’t muddled.

Make sure your e-mail is mobile friendly. Providers will often have templates you can use that will work well on different devices, but it is up to you to double check. Watch the analytics report to see how people read the e-mail, and then design for the majority. For example, on my own mailing list, more than 50 percent of subscribers read the e-mails on their iPhones.

Thank people for subscribing with a brief, individual e-mail. Also check to see if they replied directly to you after you send a concert announcement. You will be pleasantly surprised at the messages of support and encouragement—or you could hear valuable feedback about your work.

Read about best practices, learn how to use analytics tools (such as what time of day is best for your mailing list), and learn about good design. This sounds like a lot, but it is mostly intuitive. Look at other e-mail examples and think about what is the most important takeaway. If it is easy to understand what you should do next from that e-mail, and the design furthers a good impression about the organization, then model your own marketing after it.

Always consider the end user. In the rush of concert planning, getting the e-mail announcement out the door can become a last-minute afterthought. You do yourself damage if you send out an e-mail with errors, too much text, or hard-to-follow instructions.

Don’ts

Don’t dump every e-mail from everyone you’ve ever known into your mailing list. Not only is it impolite, but recipients might flag your e-mail as spam. If enough people do that, your e-mail provider could shut down your account. You are striving for a high-quality list of people who want to be involved in what you are doing. It’s not a numbers game. A small mailing list of people who care is infinitely more valuable than a large list of people who barely know who you are.

Don’t take it personally when people unsubscribe. Self-selected culling is the best way for you to maintain a list of people who are most likely to buy a ticket or donate. You don’t need to e-mail anyone who isn’t interested in one of those two things. What’s more, if you are using a service that is free as long as your list is lower than a certain amount, you should welcome anyone who unsubscribes and helps you keep it free, while also keeping your list devoted only to people who want to be there.

Don’t include press or agents on your list. You will have more success with them if you e-mail them individually.

Keep file sizes small so that they will load quickly—and don’t rely on images alone. Remember that many recipients have to choose to display images after they open the e-mail. As such, it is a good idea to have a balance of text and images at the start of the e-mail so that you can be sure that your message is clear. I have often received e-mails that appear to be entirely blank, when they really are jpegs of a season announcement. A less-than-savvy e-mail user might not know to display images and will completely miss your message. In the example from my own company (see image on the left), I describe the season in a brief paragraph and include a custom-designed image with all the details. If I were to send this e-mail again, I might shorten the opening paragraph, skip the pitch for donations (it wasn’t effective), and emphasize the company’s move from Boston to New York. And not use a black background; it makes it harder to read.

The good thing about e-mail marketing is that you will have numerous chances to practice getting your message out. Through trial and error, carefully responding to analytics reports, and constantly improving your design, you will find the best way to tell the world about what you do.

Amanda Keil

Amanda Keil writes for Classical Singer, OPERA America, and BachTrack.com, and she also runs her Baroque company, Musica Nuova. Find more entrepreneurial ideas on her blog: thousandfoldecho.com.