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Using E-Mail Filters

One of the biggest work issues I face is how to quickly deal with the mountain of e-mail I get every day. Numerous remedies have been proposed for dealing with spam -- or unsolicited commercial e-mail -- including server software that blocks the bulk of it, and legislation that threatens the worst offenders. But e-mail overload can occur without spam, through normal operating activities, especially for PR professionals whose jobs involve sending and receiving large numbers of messages.

This article will show you how to use filters to automatically process much of the e-mail you receive. If you've never used filters, you should make an effort to set some up one afternoon and see what happens. I bet they'll save you hours of work every week.

Most e-mail software now comes with filtering capabilities. I use EudoraPro made by Qualcomm <EUDORA-INFO@QUALCOMM.COM>. Every year, I compare it to the other programs on the market, and it still works best for me. Whether you're using Netscape Communicator, Microsoft Access, Ariel, Lotus Notes, or another e-mail program, you probably have some filtering capabilities.

It pays to buy good e-mail software and to master its many features. EudoraPro has great filters that let you screen out unwanted e-mail, file incoming e-mail, and process routine inquiries automatically. Let's look at some examples.

The Bulk E-Mail Filter

This is the biggest time-saver of all the filters I use. First, create an e-mail folder called "Bulk Mail." Next, set a filter as follows:

    If <ANY recipient>
    Does Not Contain <MYNAME>
    Transfer To <BULK Mail>

This tells Eudora that if the recipient in any incoming e-mail does not contain your name, transfer that mail to the folder called "Bulk Mail." Simply substitute the first part of your e-mail address (the part before the @ sign) for "myname" in the above example, and your bulk mail will be filtered off to a separate e-mail box.

What does this filter do? The only e-mail I see in my in-box was personally addressed to me. That cuts about 95% of the spam I receive. But it also diverts any mailing lists or newsletters I subscribe to, which are usually not personally addressed.

Using the Bulk Mail filter, I get a manageable amount of e-mail in my in-box -- often the most important messages. Later in the day, I open the Bulk Mail folder, select everything, unselect the mail I want to keep, and dump the rest in the trash. This filter saves me hours of time every week, not only by quickly identifying spam so I can trash it unopened, but also by keeping me from getting distracted by newsletters until I'm ready to read them.

Mailing List and Newsletter Filters

The Bulk Mail filter is a catchall. If you subscribe to mailing lists or online newsletters, you'll want to set-up filters to channel these into separate folders. For example, I subscribe to the Online Advertising Discussion List (http://www.o-a.com). I created a Eudora folder called "Online Ads" and a filter that works like this:

    If <FROM:>
    Contains <ONLINE-ADS@O-A.COM>
    Transfer To <ONLINE Ads>

All my issues will be in my Online Ads folder waiting for me to read them. I use a similar filter for other high-traffic lists I subscribe to. You have to run these individual filters *before* your Bulk Mail filter. Eudora allows you to use drag-and-drop methods to arrange the order in which your filters run.

Autoresponder Filters

Good e-mail software allows you to set up a Poor Man's Infobot. An Infobot sends out a canned reply to common inquiries. Also called Autoresponders, Mailbots, Mail Reflectors, and many other names, you will call them Blessed Time Savers if you learn how to use them right.

In the old days, you needed a separate e-mail address for each Infobot, such as <INFO@MYCOMPANY.COM>. But now you can do this all with your personal e-mail account using filters. For example, if you have a standard brochure with information about a product or service, you can tell people "For more information, just send e-mail to me@mydomain.com with the subject line 'Send Brochure' and I will reply with a text file." Then you set-up a filter as follows:

    If <SUBJECT:>
    Contains <SEND Brochure>
    If <SUBJECT:>
    Does Not Contain <RE:>
    Reply With <BROCHURE>
    Transfer To <PROSPECTS>

This is one powerful filter! Anyone asking for your brochure will be sent the file "Brochure" UNLESS the subject line contains the word "Re:". This exception prevents people who are replying to your brochure from being sent the brochure again. Sometimes these filters take a little fine-tuning, but the time saved is worth the effort.

The second thing this filter does, after replying with the Brochure, is file the inquiry away into an e-mail folder called "Prospects." Now all your prospects are gathered into one convenient folder, which you can use when making follow-ups.

Autoresponders can be set up to send many common documents, such as: contest rules, store locations, street directions, tour schedules, inventory lists, product support files, electronic coupons, order forms, giveaway files used in promotions, and any other document you can think of (including graphics, video, audio, software, etc.).

I might have as many as 12 promotions going simultaneously, resulting in upwards of 300 e-mails a day. At one minute per e-mail, it would take five solid hours to plow through those requests. After setting up filters, those 300 requests can be processed in five minutes, leaving about 20 messages to be dealt with by hand. Simply awesome!

Setting-up autoresponder filters can be tricky. You don't want to accidentally send the wrong document to 300 people. So be sure to test your filters by sending e-mail to yourself (or having a co-worker send it), then observe how it's processed before unleashing your filter on the public. Used wisely, these filters will save you countless hours of repetitive work. You'll be glad you tried them.

STEVE O'KEEFE is author of the books Publicity on the Internet (John Wiley & Sons, 1997), and The Complete Guide to Internet Publicity(John Wiley & Sons, 2002). You can reach him by e-mail at info@PatronSaintPR.com.

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