An MarketingSherpa reader (who asked to remain anonymous) just sent us a good question, "Isn't renting email lists a bad thing? Aren't all renters spammers? How can you recommend that marketers rent lists?!"
Here are Ten Rules of Thumb:
It is generally considered OK to rent a list as long as:
1. The list itself does not transfer hands. You never see the list. You never get a CD ROM, print out or other electronic file of the list. Instead the owner should send out your message to their list on your behalf. (Sometimes the owner will do it in-house, or use a 3rd party list service to send it out.)
2. The names on the list have "opted-in" (i.e. voluntarily requested that their names be added to this list with the specific purpose of receiving messages, relayed by the list owner, from third parties often referred to as "partners").
3. You do not get "unlimited use" of the list. Rentals are for one time only, or you pay an extra amount to be negotiated for additional messages.
4. The list owner includes unsubscribe instructions in every send which are clear, easy to follow, and work without much lag time.
5. The list owner includes an explanation of how they got the name and who they are in each message sent (i.e. their name, the site you opted in at, and the fact you opted in).
In addition, we at MarketingSherpa recommend you also look for these qualities in a rented list:
6. It is "double opt-in," so people on this list responded to a confirming email to indicate they do wish to be on the list.
7. The list owner's name is in the From line; so recipients do not think you're emailing them (and possibly spamming them) out of the blue.
8. The list owner's name used is the brand name that recipients would recognize as the site or other place they opted in to get on that list. If the list owner has several brand names or sites, their general corporate name probably is not good enough because recipients may not recognize it as a name they gave to permission to email them.
9. The list owner asks to see your offer or creative ahead of time, or makes sure in other ways that your offer is appropriate for their list. A responsible list owner does not want mailers sending untargeted mailings to their list. It looks like spam and reduces their list's value.
10. The list owner is charging a reasonably high amount of money for the list. If it is an astoundingly low price, it is probably a spam file.
Got more feedback? You can reach me at
Anne Holland, Publisher