While managing the registration for an upcoming
conference, the most powerful marketing tool is flowing directly
into the registration database attendees’ e-mail addresses.
Every one of your exhibitors, suppliers and sponsors (not to
mention others with less savory intent) would love to get their
hands on that rich information. Yet, considering all of the current
e-mail privacy issues, your obligation is to protect the personal
data of your attendees.
How do you balance this privacy with the needs of those companies
or organizations that, aside from providing the bulk of your
revenue and helping you afford the special touches that make your
meetings memorable, are willing to pay good money for the e-mail
addresses of your attendees? It’s not easy.
Putting up the wall
First you need to remove any access to attendee e-mail
information from your registration site and general website or, at
the very least, be sure to move those lists behind a secure
firewall with a log-in and verification required for access.
When you move the addresses or directories behind the firewall,
ask for more than just an e-mail address as a log-in; require a
user name and a password.
I’ve spoken with many organizations in the past year about how
to make access to their online registration and members-only
sections as easy as possible but too easy means too open, and you
have an obligation to protect this information. So your members
will have to remember a log-in ID and a password, but if you
explain that this also helps protect their information from falling
into the wrong hands, they will understand.
To further protect your organization and information, add an
opt-in check-box asking permission to use attendee e-mail addresses
on all applications or registration forms you send out. Have users
check the box to indicate they approve of your providing their
information to partners or affiliated suppliers, but make sure you
have some verbiage clearly stating that by leaving the box checked
they are providing you with permission to use their information.
This way your organization will be covered legally in the event
someone isn’t happy about the distribution of their personal
This might seem like much ado about nothing, but it is
quite simple for a spammer to hijack a list of e-mail addresses,
spoof (meaning “falsely assume the identity of”) your organization
and spam the list. Not only will your attendees or members be upset
that you let their addresses be hijacked, but all communications
from your URL or your e-mail server might be blocked by the spam
filters that most organizations now are deploying to protect their
servers from unwanted clutter and viruses. Indeed, if your URL or
server is blocked, your organization loses access to its own
This practice spreads virally: Once your URL is listed by an
organization in a spam-blocking tool, it gets communicated to other
spam-blockers. Soon, more of your e-mails are being returned or
blocked than are getting through.
Take the hard line
Just as we have had to adjust our purchasing habits to
protect our personal credit, we also need to adjust how we handle
access to the contact information for our attendees and members.
Some organizations have taken this to the point of including
clauses in employment agreements that provide for immediate
dismissal if, through an individual’s efforts or actions, contact
information about attendees or members is disclosed.