Marketing’s Weekly Dose of the Truth

Ken Magill

About Us

Boss Wants you to Spam? Put Me on the Phone


By Ken Magill

One of the more disappointing professional moments—albeit not remotely surprising—I experienced recently was when I asked the audience of a panel discussion I was moderating how many had had management try and force them to send email to non-permission based names.

I forget exactly how I worded the question. I may have asked: “How many of you have had management force you to buy email lists?” or “How many of you have had management try and force you to add questionable names to your file?”

Either way, the majority in the room raised their hands.

Even worse, when one audience member shared her story with the room and described the oh-so predictable results—no responses, lots of complaints, possible reputation damage—she ended her tale by saying management blamed the fiasco on the creative.

The culprit was a well-known American brand that sends a lot of email.

I know this because after the panel discussion, the woman and I exchanged cards.

“You’re from [really well-known brand with idiots for managers]?! I said. “Here, take my card. If they try and do that to you again, get them on the phone with me. I’ll straighten them out. I mean it.”

And I did mean it. Here’s why: There’s an old saying that goes: “No prophet is accepted in his own hometown.”

Actually, it’s a very old saying attributed to Christ (Luke 4:24). Don’t worry. This isn’t turning into a religious screed.

The point is people tend to accept as authorities people from outside their organizations more readily than those from within. It’s why management consultants exist.

This column was originally intended to be another in a long string of columns explaining the hazards of sending email to people without permission.

Then a saying came to mind my wife uses whenever she detects I’m about to pull what she calls a “patented Ken Magill CLM” or career-limiting maneuver.

“What is it you want to accomplish and what do you think this will accomplish?” she says to me on a fairly regular basis. That saying has prevented me from making a lot of dumbass moves. Did I mention I married up?

With that sentiment in mind, I thought: “I want marketers to stop buying names. Another column in The Magill Report explaining why they shouldn’t, won’t do a thing. Magill Report readers don’t need to be told buying email lists is a bad idea.”

So here’s what I decided to do instead: I’m making every single Magill Report reader an offer.

If someone in management is trying to get you to send email to non-permission based addresses and they’re willing to get on the phone with me, I will explain to them why it’s a bad idea.

I will explain I’ve been covering this subject since 1996, that I was a direct marketer, that I respect direct marketers and understand why they want you to mail the names, but it is still self-destructive to do so.

I will not moralize. I will explain that I am not a so-called anti-spammer and that, in fact, spam doesn’t bother me in the least. I will explain that I am simply advising against brand-damaging and revenue-threatening behavior. I will outline the consequences of their proposed actions.

I will remain polite no matter how the conversation goes. Hey, maybe I’ll get a new subscriber out of the deal.

Also, the conversation will be off the record.

I’m serious. And I’m not charging anything. If you need the call, email me at and we’ll set it up.


Show: Newest | Oldest

Post a Comment
Your Name:
Please type the letters in the image above

Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Ray Higgins
Date: 2011-05-31 17:25:58
Subject: Non-permission email lists

Like you I was a direct marketer in the 1980s and 1990s. When I started counseling on email marketing in 2002 I couldn't get people to wrap their head around the fact that they couldn't buy "subscribers," no matter who said they could. I've had a few people come to me for a list and when I told them a number of legitimate ways to do list building, they left in search of a list to buy. They never, never had any success with “purchased lists.” I tell them they will spend money to buy a list to just piss people off. It's ridiculous.