For the last few months, I’ve been doing freelance and consulting work at my amazing, stupendous digital marketing agency, Gas Mark 8. It’s been an interesting time, and I’ve learned so much about managing a business. It’s been more than just web and programming, WordPress, design, video and more. I’m talking accounting, bookkeeping, expenses, and so on. It’s been a crash course, that honestly, was easier to do when it was just a side hustle.

Welcome to the inbox of my discontent

One of my institutions I’m working with at the moment is my old employer, where I was head of marketing. While I miss that role and the people terribly, there’s one thing I don’t miss. That’s the endless parade of cold calls, sales inquiry emails and, shockingly, the random drop-in at my office from a potential vendor. Not cool.

I’ve needed to get my old email address back as most people on campus had it saved in their email clients and I was missing emails. Since getting it back, I’m shocked at what comes into that mailbox.

There’s mail from lists I never signed up for. Mail from companies that don’t offer services relevant to higher education web and marketing. WordPress comment notifications.

What’s surprised me the most is the flood of cold-call emails from sales people. In the last week, I’ve seen all the classics, including:

  • I didn’t hear back from you a week ago and here’s another email?
  • You didn’t respond, so here’s an email trying to be funny or cute with a gif or emoji
  • You don’t know me, but can you talk for 10 minutes today?
  • License a magazine logo that gave your school a good ranking

I know most of these are automated, but if your mail system and/or sales CRM sees that I didn’t open an email from you for the last two years, wouldn’t you remove me from your list? Why would you continue to hammer my inbox for something I was never going to even see?

It’s not like sales people and the automated systems aren’t checking for new data. Every week, LinkedIn tells me I showed up dozens of searches a week. I initially thought (and wrote on Twitter) that was a ton of people looking to offer me jobs (spoilers: it wasn’t, sadly. Instead, I learned  sales people are using the site to scrape for info. Daniel Kraciun hit me up with some good info:

Given that info, you would think people would update their stale list and see that I last worked for that particular employer two years and as many jobs ago.

I guess at the end of day, these bad practices stun me. It’s never been easier to get current information about people, and yet people aren’t doing a good job of it.

What does this mean for Higher Ed?

Let me tie this into higher education marketing. Are we doing the similar things in our space?

I ask because I am going through the college search process with my son. He is getting dozens of emails a week from schools all over the country (and he should, he’s amazing.)

Screenshot from an emailWhat I’ve found interesting is that even after he demonstrates interest by attending an open house, or visiting campus, he’s still getting “search” emails from one of the several vendors we all outsource our search emails to.

Talk about mixed messages. He’s constantly asking me if he should respond to another “search” email asking him to confirm his interest. This is happening even after he’s emailed the admissions office, took a tour, and talked with a faculty member. Someone’s list is now stale. It’s clear the campus CRM and the vendor platforms aren’t communicating well, if at all.

That might not seem like a big deal, but it could be very detrimental.

It just takes a small bit of confusion and people, like us, will end up ignoring the emails or removing ourselves from that school’s list, and that’s that. With so many choices in terms of higher ed, it feels like it doesn’t take much to cross a school off the list. If I have to do a ton of work just to see if you want me (or my son) to attend, we’re gonna pass. Time is, after all, money.

Don’t let this happen to your institution!

Clear-unread-Gmail-emails-1_thumbEvery morning, I open my inbox to a mountain of information. Some I care about, but most I don’t.

Hotels want me to book something. AppSumo wants me to buy something. Basecamp needs to tell me the milestones we reached the previous day. Amazon wants to tell me what new albums are out this week. Redbox wants to tell me what movies are now available. Papa John’s has a great pizza deal for me.

See the pattern? They are all about capitalizing on the moment. That’s what email marketing is about. It’s about getting my attention at that particular moment and presenting me with something that I need to take advantage of that moment – whether is reading more, watching a video or buying a product.

If your email marketing to me doesn’t have something I can take care of that moment, I’m going to ignore it and probably unsubscribe from your list. Don’t waste my time.

We seem to struggle with this idea in higher ed. I got this gem of email marketing recently. I’ll change the names to protect the innocent.

Dear Michael,

Like Ted Talk? Want to connect to your former professors from the Doctor College? Love Gallifrey University? Can’t make it to campus?

The Doctor Who College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts proudly introduces a new speaker’s series done through technology exclusively for Liberal Arts graduates. The Doctor Who Alumni Webinar Series will be launching soon and we’re interested in having you join us!

More details to follow in the coming weeks but we’re excited to launch this new initiative.

Hope to connect with you soon!


Dean, Dr. The Master

What is the point of this email? What is my call to action? In this case, nothing. I’m supposed to wait. This email leaves more questions than it answers. When will this series take place? Will it cost anything? What sort of topics will be covered? Can I sign up to get more information?

Why was this email sent? What was the pressing need to send me this information, with no actionable items in it?

This type of message is very higher ed. We often feel we need to say something just to stay it, rather than making sure our message is interesting and most importantly, has a clear call-to-action for the read of the email message.


Let’s use Apple as an example. They don’t promote anything or tease anything until they have a product ready to ship. Go back and watch past keynotes. They give a hard date, often the day of the announcement. If a product isn’t shipping that day, such as a Mac Pro, they’ve thoroughly explained the product, showed the specs and the price and given a date when the product will available.

What they don’t say is “We’re going to offer you a great computer to buy. Stay tuned!” They wait until they have something important to say.

A webinar series for alumni is a great idea. It’s a great way to connect with alums and drive some engagement. If I was promoting this series, I’d launch the series with gusto, sending out a coordinated print, web, social media and email marketing campaign showing off the speakers, topics and ways for alums to get involved.

This time, I think an opportunity was missed.


I’ve been trying to get my email under control, and much of that has been focused on cleaning up all the various email lists I’ve been added or subscribed to over the years.

One thing I’ve noticed in my adventures in unsubscribing is just how much the process varies from vendor to vendor.

When I click on an unsubscribe link in an email, I will accept one of the following paths:

1. I am immediately unsubscribed and see a message on the screen telling me so.
2. I am shown what types of emails I am subscribed to from a current marketer. I can then select which lists I do not wish to receive any longer.

The following things are unacceptible, and if I see them when I click on an unsubscribe page, I close the window and just mark it as spam in GMail.

1. If your unsubscribe page does not carry any information over from the link in my email and you force me to manually enter my email address. You get marked as spam.

2. If you give me a message after I click that says “You will be removed from our list in 8-10 days,” you get marked as spam. How can I be instantly added to your email list when I subscribe but it takes 8 days to remove me? Spam.

3. I’m reserving a special hell for Constant Contact and their “SafeUnsubscribe.” If there’s ever been a more oxymoronic name for a product – I’ve never seen one. It’s up there with “Pleasant Root Canal.”


So if you use Constant Contact’s “SafeUnsubscribe,” you are shown a redacted version of your email and a text box where you are expected, nay, commanded, to re-type what they already know. Strike one.

In addition to that, there’s a second set of buttons to say “Yes, I want to unsubscribe” or “No, stay on,” where I could adjust the emails based on “interests” that the email marketer thought to create.

Finally, don’t email me right away to tell me that I’ve unsubscribed from your list. Tell me on screen. Don’t waste more of my time deleting yet another unwanted email.