Andrew Barrett reveals the ESPs Dirty Secret

In this article we will be profiling and interviewing Andrew Barrett who is currently employed at the ESP Real Magnet, known to many as “The knight errant” he can be found on Twitter at @hey4ndr3w

We were very pleased at the opportunity afforded to us by Andrew as he has a significant amount of experience in the email business and offers true insight into some of the thinking at a major ESP. Discussing the fact that many in the Email Service Providers marketplace have begun staking out high-value niche markets and that some other ESPs are finding it hard to compete he reveals one of the industries ‘dirty little secrets’. Before we find out more about what makes the industry tick,  and allow him to bare all, first we wanted to ask Andrew how it is like so many other leading figures in the anti-spam wars finds himself working at an ESP.

Knight Errant of the Spam Wars

Andrew explains “You’re referring to my work as Legislative Coordinator for SpamFree, as well as my brief tenure with MAPS, and my time as Executive Director of the SpamCon Foundation. Each of these roles or entities had a very strong educational component to them, which has always held great appeal for me. But among all of the various constituencies we worked with, the one that needed the education the most was the senders – the least likely group to (willingly) seek us out for help.

Working at an ESP is, remarkably enough, a fantastic place to effect change among people who want to send a lot of e-mail. It’s the exact opposite of a relationship that begins with a block listing. The relationship does not start from adversarial positions. Senders are seeking guidance – paying you for it – and tend to be far more receptive, and tend to ask more good questions. They’re actually listening.

The Anti-Spam Army

But one of the biggest reasons I’m here at all is the esprit de corps I feel for some of the folks I’ve worked with in the very earliest days. They’re all still around, and deserve all the credit for the fact that virtually every ESP worth its salt upholds as best common sender practices the same radical gospel we were preaching in 1996: Mickey Chandler and Al Iverson of Exact Target, Laura Atkins of Word to the Wise, J. D. Falk at Return Path, Kelly Molloy at SpamCop, Peter Popovich, David Romerstein and Jamie Tomasello of Cloudmark – all ex-MAPSters. And, of course, Neil Schwartzman of Return Path, who only narrowly escaped becoming a MAPSter (and therefore a fellow ex-MAPSter) in the first place.

What is the ESPs dirty secret?

The dirty secret of the ESP industry is that it’s essentially commoditized. The ESP provides the technical platform and correct provisioning, but it’s the client that does the rest – they are far more responsible for their own success than they typically understand. ESPs who want to differentiate themselves in the marketplace must capture and protect a niche, bolt a better front end application onto their platform, and provide better quality customer service and consulting (including deliverability) than the next ESP.”

Engagement and Automation

Every business today wants to engage with prospects and customers, and the promise of promoting engagement appears to be Real Magnet’s main value proposition. How does Andrew see this playing out for Real Magnet we wondered.

“The engagement piece is a little bit easier for Real Magnet as an ESP, because our niche market has always been professional associations (we operate outside of Washington DC, which is a remarkably target-rich environment). These organizations bring lists of existing, paid memberships and subscriptions to us, so there tends to be very strong permission and engagement from the subscriber base from day zero. That’s lucky for me, because I have deep and long-held convictions about spam, and my head would explode if I had to help deliver any.”

“It’s advantage and disadvantage is that it’s a force multiplier. Savvy senders who understand how to use e-mail correctly, in a non-abusive manner, and in a way that is engaging and useful to recipients will also understand how to use marketing automation to multiply ROI. The other kind of sender will just use it to send more spam.”

On the subject of the increasing trend towards Marketing Automation

… and Social Networks

“e-mail is the original social network. People who use Facebook, LinkedIn, and the rest still rely on a trusted e-mail inbox to be the hub for all of this activity. Social media relies heavily on e-mail and the e-mail address for account authentication and activity notification. As long as these dependencies exist, I don’t see social media as a threat to the e-mail channel itself.

The real threat it poses is to the free inbox providers that us e-mail as an eyeball agreggator. Late last year we saw them start to respond to that threat by releasing new versions of their offerings that integrate social media (Yahoo! Minty, AOL Phoenix). It will be instructive to see how the numbers look a year from now.”


Well that wraps our first discussion with Andrew, but I am sure you will agree that his insight into the ESP space offers real value and you will be pleased to know his thoughts and commentaries will be regularly featured here in our Thought Leader Blogs under “Andrew Barrett Says” his own blog is available at