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In order to successfully plan a ‘cold’ (or unsolicited) direct marketing campaign using electronic mail (email), you have a legal responsibility to ensure that your prospect list does not contain what is referred to as ‘individual subscriber’ information under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR).


What does that actually mean?

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) who oversees and regulates the PECR and the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) in the UK, has guidance here  but basically if you have not initiated communication before and/or gained prior consent to email them it’s going to be a ‘cold’ (unsolicited) email and subject to legislation and regulations.



The PECR rules on consent, soft opt-in and the right to opt out do not apply to ‘corporate subscribers’; companies and other corporate bodies e.g. limited liability partnerships, Scottish partnerships, and government bodies. The only requirement is that the sender must identify itself and provide contact details. (Source 142. of ICO Direct Marketing Guidance)

Can you easily work out what is a ‘corporate subscriber’ just using the email address remembering that it excludes sole traders and some partnerships?  While you could make an informed guess that .gov.uk domain on its own could well be ‘corporate’, what about other domains (.com, .co.uk., .info, .biz etc.)?  What about the recipient component of the email address?

It’s possibly easiest to treat all emails as ‘individual subscriber’, unless of course, you have hours to while away visiting each website to check them individually.



Under section 11 of the DPA individuals have a right to object to receiving direct marketing. You may believe that by implication you could send the email and wait for objections, not necessarily so. You’ll need to comply with regulation 22 of PECR which requires specific consent to being contacted or that the individual is an existing customer who bought (or negotiated to buy) a similar product or service from you in the past, and you gave them a simple way to opt out both when you first collected their details and in every message you have sent.

Please read all the information the ICO provides it’s free. Err on the side of caution and read on.

The legislation can vastly reduce the number of prospects you can use and stay within the law. Those that you cannot use also have to be accounted for when working out the true cost and value of purchasing the list.


How To Identify ‘Individual Subscriber’ Emails

We recently bought a marketing list of all UK organisations/individuals using WordPress content management system (CMS) with a view to informing them of our services tailored for WordPress via our wPUPdate website.

Here’s Our Five Step Guide on how we cleaned our list and ended up with what we considered to be a ‘safe/generic’ list.

Step One

Split the email into recipient@domain










Step Two

Create a filter column to exclude domains like Hotmail, Googlemail, Gmail etc. as these are more than likely going to be personal/individual subscriber personal email addresses.


Step Three

Next we needed to check for firstname.lastname and other combinations containing a dot, so again we analysed the recipient column.


Step Four

Create a pivot table of recipients which you could then trawl through to isolate non-individual recipients (remembering that I could be a very long list!). Our bought in list of 131,730 potential prospects resulted in 33,537 unique email prefixes..


We researched online to see if there was any information at first names.  After two hours we had compiled a list of over 44,000 first names going back to 1904 we created a lookup to that list and excluded them.

Step Five

We then changed the pivot table to include the number of recipient emails and sorted that high to low and took a look at the results.


We then trawled through the list and highlighted as ‘generic’ and the recipients and safe to send.

So to recap

  1. Split the email into recipient/domain
  2. Check and filter out free domains like Hotmail, gmail, googlemail
  3. Filter out recipients containing a dot
  4. Filter out baby first names.
  5. Sort by instances high to low and choose your generic list of recipients

Was the list value?

Our answer is yes, as the cost in time of cleaning the list ensures compliance with the law and lessens any risk of financial penalty.


Sending from the cleaned list has assisted us in being able to receive a high success send rate, >90% and just 1 spam report.

We’ve learned that in buying in any future lists we can provide the supplier with our specific requirements on recipients by being able to provide our safe list (subject to non-disclosure so the supplier cannot keep or use our list themselves).

It has also shown that many businesses are potentially losing out of receiving potentially import information via email to their business by not having a generic email for direct marketing organisations to use.

Need Help On Cleaning A List Of Email Addresses?


This post is provided purely for information purposes only.

It uses summarised information from the DPA & PECR and should not be used as a definitive legal document in any event.

If processing personal data you should be aware of ALL the legislation.

Should you require more detailed information you should seek advice.

Advice is free from the Information Commissioners Office.

They can be contacted via their ICO Website

eNaycH Data Protection & Privacy Consultancy may be able to advise you further, should you require it but may charge for their services.

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