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Spam Resource Spotlight: Alison Gootee


It's Friday! Why don't we have a little bit of fun today? Here's the first in a (maybe) regular series of me talking to interesting people about stuff. Fun stuff, boring stuff. Work stuff, silly stuff. Different stuff. Let's call it: Spam Resource Spotlight. I hope you'll enjoy it!

With ten years experience in the email marketing, deliverability and compliance space, my friend Alison Gootee (who is not a photographer based in Brooklyn and New Orleans) is somebody that you should consider an expert. Currently she’s a ‘spam stopper, best practices advocate, and general know-it-all’ for a large email and marketing automation provider

Hey, Alison! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today! Can you tell me how you came to get started in this wacky world of deliverability?

Hey Al! Thank you so much for inviting me! I have been a long-time admirer of yours, and it’s an honor to be featured.

Similar to many fellow deliverability dweebs, it feels like I just fell into email. I previously worked in freight forwarding, order fulfillment, and did some waitressing, so I guess I just love to deliver stuff whether it’s pancakes, packages, or promo codes! For a brief period I was working from home as an Eddie Bauer call center agent (1 star, do not recommend) and had my own dog walking business (2.5 stars; dogs are great but I lived in Atlanta at the time and the weather and traffic were brutal), and neither was quite panning out the way I’d expected, so I sought out a more traditional employment arrangement. Luckily, MailChimp is headquartered in Atlanta and was holding a hiring event at a local coffee shop. I applied online, figuring that’d get me some points when I showed up. Sure enough, the recruiting team had my name and said I’d be contacted for an interview. After a few interviews and weeks of training, I joined the MailChimp tech support team, and quickly wormed my way into the Compliance department. I loved MailChimp but hated Atlanta (did I mention the heat??) and couldn’t take my job with me to Washington, so I moved on to Emma, a Campaign Monitor company. Eventually, I found Braze and we’re very happy together!

Compliance smackdowns can be fun, but I think it’s also good when you can reform or educate a client, nursing them back to best practices. That way everybody wins – less spam in the world, they get to keep sending mail and making money, and the email platform keeps making money. Got an example of a successful best practices turn around for an email sender, past or present?

It’s such a struggle for me internally! Having gotten my start at MailChimp, I was able to boot bad guys from the platform easily if they were free accounts or obviously unrepentant. Working with larger customers these days, the underlying issue is often a lack of education rather than malice. Learning to treat senders with less suspicion and more empathy has been an uphill climb! Many large brands assume they know everything about email already, and getting them to listen to the reasoning behind their outcomes can be a delicate conversation. 

I was working with a brand who was having issues with spam traps, resulting in a spate of Spamhaus listings. I always bring up confirmed opt-in, and senders always have excuses as to why it’s not an option for them. Until this customer! After dealing with several folks and finally being escalated to her, I said “if you implement COI, then you can’t collect spam traps because they won’t confirm. Everyone on the list will have taken an affirmative step that proves their address is valid, and belongs to an interested subscriber.” Usually I have to argue this point several more times, but not this day! The customer went, “Okay, why aren’t we doing that then?”, and told her team to just do it. She quickly became my favorite, and they haven’t had another listing.

I love reading your memes on Linkedin. Your meme game is on fleek, as the kids used to say. Tell me about your inspiration for creating great memes that reinforce best practices and/or tweak the ignorant people engaging in bad marketing?

Art imitates life (if you can call a meme “art”, I guess).  Most often, I’m inspired by a customer question or something from Email Geeks. People who don’t breathe deliverability daily like we do often misunderstand concepts, or the reason behind many common best practices. If I can educate a sender or get a laugh out of a colleague, I’ve done my job! I do feel like I repeat myself a lot, but as long as senders keep making these mistakes, I’ll keep meme-ing them.

Which do you hate more? Raisins or cold leads?

OH GOD! Tied for last place. Finding a cold sales email in my inbox is exactly like finding a raisin in a cookie: unwelcome, disgusting, disappointing, enraging, and makes me want chocolate even more. Hot take: cold leads are not leads at all. The cold negates their lead status. Those are strangers who do not want to hear from you.  

Joking aside, is there one deliverability best practices thing you wish you could tell everybody, with a hope that they’ll actually listen and pay attention? For myself, it would be “implement DKIM,” if I had to choose just one. That one thing has fixed more deliverability issues for more clients than anything else. How about you?

Coming from a compliance background and dealing with deliverability problems, my number one best practice is: ask people if they want your email! Don’t assume, and don’t make them say “yes.” A forced opt-in is not optional. Mail that is forced upon people does not perform well, no matter how  authenticated it is (no shade to the DKIM suggestion, which is obviously a great one!), and your results drive your future deliverability.

That’s enough serious stuff. Let’s just waste column space. What do you like to do for fun? Besides MEMEing it up.

Okay this is embarrassing on multiple levels but I got myself a Quest 2 for Christmas and am currently eyeballs-deep in a VR gaming addiction. I am somehow both several years too late to be a legit nerd, but still early enough that people think it’s weird. My faves are Beat Saber, Synth Riders, and Audio Trip, but I had to return Fruit Ninja 2 of all things because it made me want to barf. If I’m not sabering beats, I’m probably walking the dogs while I listen to Audible, slurping an iced latte, or turning into Alisoup in the hot tub.

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done, personally or professionally, that you’d ever want to admit to me on this blog?

When I was a new waitress, I was very bad at it. One of my first tables ordered clam chowder, and I confidently went to the kitchen and ladled up a bowl of what I assumed was the soup of the day, put it on a doily-lined plate, added the parsley garnish and grabbed a packet of oyster crackers and soup spoon before dropping it off to table 70. I returned a few minutes later to ask how everything was, and the (thankfully very kind) customer said, “well..I really like it, but I don’t think it’s clam chowder.” Al, I had served this man an entire bowl of sausage gravy. He was thrilled–he loved the stuff and his wife didn’t generally let him eat it. She wasn’t amused, but he left me my first $5 tip.

Alison, thanks so much for taking the time to let me interview you and allow me to remind everyone reading Spam Resource that they should follow you on Linkedin to keep up with your posts and memes. 

It was truly a pleasure, thank you so much!

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