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Entertaining email

A turf war is brewing among viewable email creators

When R&B crooner Tyrese released his album, “2000 Watts,” earlier this month, record label BMG/ RCA turned to Radical Mail to create an email campaign that delivered video clips, a sample track and the chance to pre-order the CD to the in-boxes of 150,000 rap aficionados.

“This is a very dynamic and engaging way to get attention,” says Joe Dimuro, senior veep of business development for RCA, who planned the campaign. “I am very much a believer in Radical Mail. We love their technology.”

That kind of endorsement has won Marina del Rey-based Radical Mail the title of industry leader when it comes to interactive email, or “rich media emails” — a growing trend among entertainment marketers.

But being first in the space isn’t guaranteeing Radical Mail’s star status. A bevy of startups, vying to cut costs and offer cheaper but very similar services, is betting that the exploding popularity of the dynamic messages will leave plenty of room in fan in-boxes for more than one company to succeed.

“We characterize Radical Mail more as the grandfather in the industry rather than the leader,” says Russ Gillam, CEO of competitor Dynamics Direct, whose company has done email campaigns for films such as New Line’s “Blow” and Fox’s “Dude Where’s My Car.” He says that while Radical Mail might be the oldest rich media email company, that doesn’t make it the best.

Radical Mail pioneered the technology that allows complex elements such as sound and video to be included within the body of an email in 1999, and has worked with a gamut of entertainment heavyweights from Sony to NBC and HBO to promote films, record releases, television shows and magazines. So far, entertainment clients have been drawn to Radical Mail for the flexibility of its technology and hands-off approach.

Radical Mail offers proprietary software that it licenses to advertising agencies and entertainment companies, which gives clients complete control over their email campaigns. Clients can use whichever creative services they want when making their email — they simply pay a per-email charge for Radical Mail to host the finished product and help track data. That model is attractive to ad agencies that don’t want to share clients with an outside firm, and for entertainment companies that want to keep development in-house.

But most of Radical Mail’s competitors — many of them only a year or two old — function as creative agencies that produce the emails as well as hosting them, and target a market that’s looking for more than just software.

“We have the ability to take you through the whole process,” says Blair Lyons, CEO of TMX Interactive, which has done campaigns for Showtime and BMG Music.

Such companies as TMX, InChorus, MindArrow and Dynamics Direct all offer services similar to an advertising agency, as well as the technology to create rich media. They have production houses, copywriters and tech staffs that handle the campaign from start to finish, and often at prices that are competitive with Radical Mail.

That full-service approach is appealing to companies that want to try out rich media emails, but don’t have the resources or desire to come up with their own creative content.

Regardless of whose on top, rich media emails are a growing industry that will probably hit mainstream popularity by the end of the year, creating a greater demand than any one company can handle.

“The space is huge,” says InChorus CEO William Yuan. “The growth of the media market is faster than we can deliver.”

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