List Generation Via Fishbowl

Dear Email Diva,

I just read your post about sending email to tradeshow attendees, and was wondering how you feel about sending to tradeshow attendee lists  provided to exhibitors, in light of CAN-SPAM. Do attendee lists like those fall under "implied" permission, or should they be considered opt-ins? Seems like a gray area to me. Obviously the safe bet is to use only names you've collected directly at your booth, but then you may miss out on the opportunity to email attendees who didn't "drop a card."


Dear Karen,

There are always two questions when it comes to sending unsolicited email: what can you do and what should you do?
You can send email without permission, as long as you follow the provisions of CAN-SPAM.  Check out the FTC Web site guidelines  for complete information but basically the email must have: 1) header information that is not false or misleading, 2) a subject line that is not deceptive, 3) an opt-out method , 4) a clear indication that it is an advertisement and 5) a physical postal address.  If you needed permission to send any type of email, there would be no email lists available for rent.

Then there is the question of what you should do.  You should try to make the best possible impression on a prospect -- and a series of unsolicited emails is most definitely not the way to do it.

The Email Diva has read several discussions on the proper use of "fishbowl business card email addresses."  Most feel that a personal email follow-up is expected, and an invitation to opt-in for the company's email program is perfectly acceptable.  This would apply to trade show attendee lists as well, and will get you wider reach, as you point out.

On the other hand, I would argue most strenuously that you should not start sending your mass emails to these prospects, particularly if they are sent frequently (once a week or more).  This will get you spam complaints and make a poor impression on most prospects.

Management, which loves the low cost of email, will push to build the biggest list possible. This is the curse of email: even with a .01% response, the campaign may still be profitable.  But consider the impression you're making for your brand on the other 99.99% of recipients. 

The Email Diva has participated in the building of two large email programs from inception.  Employing a policy to send email only to those who had actively requested it, these programs had excellent deliverability, low spam complaints and strong response rates.  On the other hand, the Email Diva has been called to improve programs with poor results and the root cause is typically unscrupulous list building practices.

Craft a series of three invitations to opt-in for your email program.  Let the prospect know where you got their name, e.g., "As an attendee of the Acme Trade Show, I thought you might be interested in our newsletter on Rocket Rollerskate Safety."  Then tell why your email program is so wonderful.  If it's not wonderful, you have work to do.

Good Luck!

The Email Diva

Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld



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