Bob & David James Exec: “Hidden Rot Plagues Association E-lists”

List expert David James says new survey indicates associations oblivious to “e-list rot.”

Bethesda, MD, August 27, 2017 --( A new survey by the Association Research Board (ARB) reveals that "associations are blind to the hidden rot infecting their e-marketing lists,” according to David James, Vice President of Bethesda, MD-based association marketing agency Bob & David James.

James, an accomplished list manager and broker, has guided associations’ non-dues revenue-generation programs for decades.

“All e-mail lists are vulnerable to rot,” James says. “Business-to-consumer lists decay 30% a year, and business-to-business lists are even more foul—decaying 70% a year. But the survey shows many association executives don’t get that.”

According to the survey, many are unaware their e-lists decay. Asked whether they know of any increase in undeliverable addresses in the past 12 months, only 18% said yes; 58% said no; and 26% were unsure. Yet, according to e-mail transmission provider Return Path, overall inbox rates declined during the period (from 87% to 85%).

In addition, while one in two association executives (57%) estimates the decay-rate of their e-lists to run from 10% to 20% a year, one in three (37%) is unsure of the decay-rate.

A majority (54%) of association executives are also unsure whether their e-lists are cleaned by an outside cleaning service, the survey shows. Forty-six percent believe their lists are cleaned, at least annually, by an outside service.

And yet, associations remain frequent e-mailers. One in four association executives (27%) blast emails to their lists from one to five times weekly; one in four (28%), at least weekly; and one in four (25%), at least monthly.

Of greatest concern, nearly one-third of association executives (29%) segment their e-list to promote only their annual conference to a portion of contacts. “Unless cleaned, when finally put to use by meeting marketers this segment could be 70% decayed,” James says.

One reason association executives are unaware of their e-lists’ quality: they never rent them, so e-mailers don’t complain. Only 5% of association executives say they ever rent their e-lists to third parties.

“Routine list cleaning isn’t only a best practice, it’s a survival tactic for associations,” James says. “Think about it: if you allow the hidden rot in your e-list to go untreated, the whole thing can become useless in just 18 months. Be sure you date-tag old addresses, and keep a close eye on open rates for them. Any decline in opens should tell you you’re overdue for a cleaning.”

The survey findings are based on a Quarter 3 2017 poll completed by nearly 100 association executives. Among them, 77% lead professional associations; 23%, trade associations.

Bob & David James
Bethesda, MD-based Bob & David James helps associations and publishers generate revenue. More information is available at

Association Research Board
Bethesda, MD-based Association Research Board conducts B2B and B2C surveys, interviews, and focus groups. More information is available at
Bob & David James
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