We spend a lot of time talking about email strategy, or balancing the needs of today’s email program with its needs next quarter, next year and in five years. We all understand the need for email strategy because we all want to make sure our email program is as strong in the future as it is today – or stronger. But the question invariably comes up, “So whose job is email strategy anyway?” The answer is an aggravating “it depends.” Depending on a company’s email program, organizational structure, size and even culture, the responsibility of email strategy could fall on an executive or manager in Marketing, Corporate Communications, Digital Strategy or IT. In truth, if it’s the right person, his or her title or department is irrelevant.

Choosing the right person then becomes a strategic task in itself. Here are some tips to help you find your own Chief Email Strategy Officer:

1. Why A Chief Email Strategy Officer is important:Leadership: Like any business, email needs leadership. The best (and only) way to ensure that your email program stays on its strategic course is for someone to take on that leadership role. –  Future investments: A strategic email program is an asset, like an investment account. It’s a lot easier to draw out of than it is to contribute into. A strategic lead makes sure that withdrawals made today are balanced by deposits for the future. It’s too easy to put off maintenance to your email program until next quarter or when things quiet down. When is the last time you remember it quieting down? –  Integration: Email works best when it’s integrated into communications programs, social channels and even products. And in order for it to grow subscription forms need to be integrated into websites, conference registrations and other points of contact with your organizations customers and members. Someone needs to cross departments, functions and channels to drive this integration. –  Protection: Someone needs to protect the long-term interests of email. In addition to spearheading the initiatives that increase email’s strength in the future, someone must ensure that email is used judiciously today, abiding by CAN-SPAM laws and treating subscribers with respect.

2. What to look for in a Chief Email Strategy Officer: –  Leadership: Since your email program needs leadership (above) your Chief Email Strategy Officer must provide it. To do the job well, the person will need to secure, commandeer, grease or otherwise acquire resources for integrations and other programs. But just as challenging as accelerating the use of email and championing its integration is the responsibility to rein in rogue activities that can damage the long-term health of an email program. The role has to be comfortable saying, “I’m sorry, but you can’t do that anymore,” and have the authority to back it up. – Authority: In some organizations, authority is a function of title. It others, it is based on personal reputation or recognized skill. Whatever the case in your organization, make sure your Chief Email Strategy Officer has the authority to be effective. Strategy without authority is mere suggestion, and suggestions are easy to ignore. – Functional Expertise: Your strategic lead needs to know email, as well as how your organization uses it. He/she does not need to have hands-on email responsibility currently, though direct experience with the channel in the past is usually necessary for the required level of functional expertise. –  Appetite: Email expertise is a moving target, so for someone to manage strategy he or she has to stay current with email technology and trends. Anyone of course can vow to do this, by reading MediaPost or ClickZ or other trades on a regular basis. But my experience is that the best candidates are the people who already are staying current. Not only does this give them an archive of experience to draw on, it also usually signals that they have an appetite for email knowledge. – Data Facility: Email is an analytics-based channel. Monitoring industry trends provides some background, but knowing an individual organization’s strengths and weaknesses only comes through analytics and reporting. Reading and digesting email analytics is not difficult, of course. But there is some art in the science of analytics, in knowing which reports tell what story, and how much of a story is not told at all through the analytics. Some people really groove on the analytics, which can be a powerful contributor to the role’s success. – A long view: Ultimately, this person is responsible for seeing the big picture of the email business, so having a strong strategic sense is an absolute prerequisite. The future health of your email business is a direct consequence of how it is managed today, and this person must be acutely aware of this dynamic and causality.

3. How do you find your Chief Email Strategy Officer? I apologize that this also “depends.” But it starts with internal education. The first step is to make sure everyone who uses, manages or otherwise relies on email understands the need for a strategic email program. Once this happens, the invariable response is, “Great. We totally need that because I’m pretty sure we’ll place even more demands on email in 5 years than we are today. Who’s going to do it?” Getting to that question puts your organization more than halfway to the answer.