One of the most important things you can do to market your organization or yourself is to have a simple email strategy, and there are two things that will make your email strategy effective: (1) you need to have a process in place by which you add high quality/relevant names  to your list, and (2) you need to have a disciplined process of writing content to send out to your list.  It isn’t much more complicated than that.  When good things happen (you get a new client, you’re quoted in a newspaper, your company merges, you make a significant donation to a great charity, the little league team you coach wins a tournament, perhaps your startup releases a groundbreaking new feature — all of these things are good opportunities to send a quick, short email to your distribution list.

And you constantly should be building your list by adding names whenever: (1) you meet potential clients; (2) you meet executives or former executives in your industry; (3) you meet potential partners; (4)  investors show interest in staying in touch; (5) or whenever friends or acquaintances express genuine interest in hearing updates from you.  And you should of course make it really easy for people to add themselves to a distribution list on your website.

But bad things will happen to you if you lose your discipline and just start adding any email address you find to your list and  spam out poorly composed content that no one cares about.  Keep in mind: the more people you email who do NOT respond to you, or who don’t EVER correspond with you by email, or (the worst case) who have abandoned their email account, the more likely you are to be blacklisted by the major email providers.  When you get blacklisted by Yahoo or AOL or Gmail, this means that instead of sending an email that lands in someone’s inbox, your email will get caught in their “spam” filter and land in a junkmail folder.  Your emails should be intimate, should invite responses of some kind, and should only be sent to people who want to hear from you.

This blog post is particularly relevant to my former colleagues, the press secretaries on Capitol Hill.  Press secretaries are in a very fun position – they have an easier time than most people in getting the attention of reporters who cover politics, which means they sometimes feel like they don’t need to spend time on basic things like keeping their distribution lists clean of dead email addresses.  I was lucky to have started as a deputy press secretary in an office that had the basics down cold, and when I left to be the press secretary in another office, one of the important skills I took with me was a respect for fundamentals. And in this case, if you don’t diligently keep your lists “clean,” you will slowly erode the “deliverability” of ALL your emails, and if that happens, it doesn’t matter how influential you are, because no one will see your message.

Will Marlow co-founded AlumniFidelity to help his university and charity clients engage in “friend-to-friend” fundraising campaigns. He’s working with clients such as UVA, the College of William & Mary, Georgetown’s Capitol Breast Care Center, the University of Oklahoma, Bowling Green State University, Randolph Macon College, and he loves nothing better than a thorny marketing challenge.  Email him at