Running Email Campaigns Across Third Parties – By Todd Boullion

by FeedFront Staff on March 31, 2010

According to the US Email Marketing Forecast, 2009 To 2014 by Forrester Research, “Marketers tell us that they enjoy an ROI (return on investment) that is two to three times higher with email than it is with any other form of direct marketing.”   

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that marketers are increasingly utilizing email and broadening their reach by running email campaigns via third parties.  These third-party channels can be highly effective in generating meaningful revenue and broadening an advertiser’s reach, as long as they are adhering to the latest CAN-SPAM rules and regulations.

The challenge advertisers often face when trying to remain compliant lies in securely managing and distributing the list of unsubscribers, often known as an opt-out list or suppression file, with their third-party vendors.   

As an advertiser you have a list of consumers who have opted-out from receiving your email communications.  You must now share that list, in a secure manner, with your third-party partners. 

Furthermore, they are sending offers to their lists on your behalf and are also capturing unsubscribe requests to add to your opt-out list.  Your list is growing and multiple third parties are sending you updates at different times that all need to be consolidated, updated and shared again for the next campaign. 

Timing is a critical factor as the CAN-SPAM act requires you to remove unsubscribes requests within 10 business days.  You also want control and visibility over your opt-out lists. 

There are two options to securely protect consumer data when managing and distributing email opt-out lists:

 1) List Scrubbing – instead of downloading a suppression list of email addresses to not mail to, email partners upload their mailing list(s) to a neutral third party to be “scrubbed” against the advertiser’s suppression list(s).  The suppression list never leaves the third party’s secure environment.  

After the data has been scrubbed, the email partner can either download a “scrubbed,” mailable list, or a list of matching records that are not to be mailed to.  Either way, consumer data has not been exposed to the third party.

2) MD5 Distribution – MD5 is a one-way hashing algorithm that renders email address useless for mailing by converting plain-text email addresses into 32 character hashes.  Advertisers can use MD5 to encrypt their suppression lists before sending to third parties.  Third parties then encrypt their mailing list and compare the MD5 hashes in their list against the MD5 hashes in the suppression list.  If a match is found, the mailer removes the corresponding email address in their list.

Here’s what’s at stake:

1) Legal compliance. Hefty fines if you do not comply with the CAN-SPAN and remove unsubscribes. 

2) Brand reputation at risk if your messages are sent to consumers who have opted-out.

3) Industry reputation. If you bend the rules even a little, few will be willing to work with you in the future. 

If you are leveraging third parties to deliver your email messages, you must take compliance seriously.  You can’t afford not to. 


Todd Boullion is the president of UnsubCentral, a leader in email compliance and suppression list management.

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