Confessions of an Email List Renter

It’s true. Companies still rent and buy email lists. And yes, I’ve done some of the buying recently.

Now, there are numerous caveats that need to be stated as to how it came to this. Email list rental as a lead generation tactic certainly isn’t right for every circumstance. In fact, I’ve found there are far better options for most companies from an online lead generation perspective. But there are circumstances I’ve seen when the planets aligned and email list rental generated sales or high-quality leads.

That alignment typically requires that all of the following happens:

1. A stringent opt-in policy exists: This is the place to start. If the opt-in process and approach isn’t crystal clear, walk away. Do your homework to ensure the individuals on your rented list know they’re on the list, know how they got on the list, want to be on the list and understand what type of information they’ll receive by being on the list. It’s a lot to try and evaluate. Without clear opt-in procedures, obviously it’s best to walk away.

2. The target audience is niche: Is this an audience with a very niche interest and/or need? For example, physicians who work with stroke victims, serious woodworkers, hotel managers, etc. Specifically, is it an audience that’s deeply interested in a certain type of information? One that’s hungry for more information about their job or passion? One that seeks out everything available for that job or passion?

3. Expensive media: Quite frequently, pricier lists are more expensive for a reason. They offer a niche that’s unavailable elsewhere, a quality that’s unmatched or perhaps some combination of the two. Professional publications that cater to a list’s audience offline are a good example. A journal or industry trade publication with a narrow audience focus that’s collected email addresses for select promotional opportunities offers promise, but these are typically much pricier on a cost-per-thousand basis.

4. The economics work: There’s no point in any lead generation tactic that doesn’t pay off. Keeping not just the media costs in mind but also the creative, strategy and project management time, do the conversion numbers justify the expense associated with the effort?

5. Hot list available: This is the 30-day or 60-day set of new opt-ins to the list. You typically pay more for this audience, but they tend to be, as with any new subscriber, the most responsive to email offers. It’s almost always worth paying for in my experience.

6. Call to action is clear: All the best intentions of audience targeting are lost if the direction given the recipient, and the benefit associated with it, isn’t clear in the messaging.

Add all of these elements up and there are significant barriers to most email list rental opportunities since this combination of factors frequently manifests itself as an expensive, low-volume approach where the economics are tough to come by. But if the situation is right, email list rentals or purchases can be a supplemental lead acquisition approach to add to your mix.

Clint Kaiser is director of strategic services at Merkle, a database marketing agency. Reach Clint at

Publish date: April 22, 2011 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT