Don’t Risk Serving Spam to Your Clients


Don’t Risk Serving Spam to Your Clients

Used correctly, email marketing can be a powerful tool in building a close knit tribe of followers, and reaching new prospects.

Australia’s spam laws are enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (AMCA) and anyone wanting a summary of the guidelines can find them on their website. What surprises me though, is the number of businesses prepared to risk their reputation by interpreting the rules liberally.

In a few business forums recently, I’ve seen disappointing responses to questions about spam. The focus seemed to be on ‘how to get away with it,’ but is that really the business standard we should be aiming for? Is it about ‘how low we can go’ without being caught? Or should we be looking to a higher standard?

Assuming most of us want respectable businesses that prompt a smile when mentioned by name, I’ve put together some important points for best practice email marketing.


  • Before you add someone to your marketing list, make sure they have actively consented. If your method of obtaining consent includes pre-ticked boxes, un-tick them. The active step of ‘ticking’ makes it clear they’ve made a choice rather than an oversight.
  • If consent is given to one type of communication (eg. updates or information about a specific product), don’t assume they are also happy to receive all of your marketing. Word your ‘opt in’ statement to describe everything they are agreeing to, or split it into categories and let them choose.
  • If you’re involved in affiliate programs make sure the referrals you obtain from third parties, have consented to receiving whatever you intend to send. Also make sure any email contacts you provide to third parties have (in no uncertain terms) consented to you doing so.
  • An email list from a former business can’t just be used for a new business venture. Even if the function of the business is exactly the same and only the name has changed, take the opportunity to update your list by informing recipients of the change and asking them to ‘opt in’ if they are still interested.
  • Consent has to be given before marketing is sent. That means you can’t send an email with an ‘opt in’ pitch.


  • Just because emails contain an ‘unsubscribe’ method, and recipients haven’t unsubscribed, it doesn’t amount to consent. The courts have determined that people don’t unsubscribe for many reasons. So the old, “but I’ve been sending them emails for months and they’ve never unsubscribed” argument, won’t be accepted.
  • Along similar lines, is to suggest that a business relationship has formed because emails have been sent for months. In the absence of meaningful replies from the recipient, a one sided form of communication cannot amount to a ‘relationship.’
  • Consent can be inferred if businesses have ‘conspicuously published’ their email addresses in a manner that invites contact. This isn’t however an open invitation, and you must be careful that whatever you’re sending directly relates to the role of the recipient. It is not enough that you are in the same industry, or you think they might be interested in your services. If you’re not sure how to approach this, visit the AMCA website for examples…or just don’t do it.
  • If you’re already conducting business with someone that involves email exchanges, this might amount to an ‘existing business relationship’ from which consent to receive ongoing communication could be inferred. However, this will depend on the facts, and it will be up to the sender of the marketing material to prove this has been consented to. Make sure you convert the initial communication about products and purchases, into a clear consent to receive ongoing information before adding them to any list. It could be as simple as adding an ‘opt in’ at the end of your email that informs them their product has been dispatched. But if they don’t actually ‘opt in’, don’t add them to a list.

Remember that it’s very easy to lodge a complaint with the AMCA and if the matter is investigated, the sender is the one who must prove they have complied. So, if you’re in any doubt about whether you’ve obtained full and informed consent, don’t risk it.

Spend your energy communicating with a smaller list of people who are genuinely interested in you and your business. Be known for clever marketing and not sneaky practices or careless mistakes.

There are brilliant ways to get the attention of your target market and make your business memorable for the right reasons. Work on presenting something smarter than the rest, and continue to build a business reputation you can be proud of.

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