How Tradeshow Email Lists Can Get You Blacklisted

The other day, Mark Brownlow tweeted a link to an older MailChimp blog post, touching on the perils of trade show email lists. In that post, MailChimp's Ben Chestnut touches on the do's and don'ts of email best practices when it comes to trade shows.

Instead of assuming that everybody who gives you a business card at a tradeshow wants to be on your email list, here's what Ben suggests. "If you operate a booth at a tradeshow, and you collect business cards from people who visit the booth, send them a personal, one-to-one email ASAP! (use your Crackberry or laptop) with whatever sales pitch you want to give them, and provide a link to your email subscriber form, so you can stay in regular contact. Actually, don’t just give them a link to your email signup form. You know they won’t subscribe (what’s in it for them?). Give them a link to a landing page on your website with a valuable whitepaper, which also contains a link to 'receive our newsletter, which contains even more valuable research.'"

See what he did there? Asked, instead of assumed. Inviting people to sign up, instead of assuming that they want to be on your email list.

"If you operate a tradeshow booth, and the tradeshow host offers to give you an email list of all attendees, that is NOT a list that you can import into your mass marketing list." [...] "I can't tell you how many accounts I’ve had to shut down because of improper use of a tradeshow email list."

Ben is spot on; I'd highly recommend listening to this good guidance.


  1. I strongly agree. It happens very often and is very annoying.
    I remember being added by force to an antispam vendor's newsletter after leaving my business card in a Maawg conference. They should feel a beel concerned about this post :)

  2. Totally agree. It's not just good advice from an inbox deliverability standpoint, it's good marketing, as well.

    Flooding your email file with a lot of cold prospects will do nothing for revenue and has a huge downside: Too many complaints (clicks on the spam button) from non interested folks will cause ALL your messages to be blocked to ALL mailboxes. Imagine if Yahoo! or Gmail shut you down for a month - now THAT would be a problem.

    There are lots of ways to be creative about engaging prospects met at trade shows. Ben's idea about a whitepaper is good. Another is to invite visitors to sign up for a short term email series - maybe the same content as the whitepaper, maybe a couple of podcasts talking about how to increase revenue or productivity (or whatever your product or service does).

    Prospects who are serious about yoru firm will engage, and the rest will not. It might *seem* that a larger list will serve you best, but in reality, we only want those who are serious about learning more. Diluting your file with cold leads does not increase response and revenue.

    Thanks Al!

    Stephanie Miller
    VP, Return Path

  3. It depends. If you do what good old JF did at Cloudmark, go and hold a raffle for umm.. wine bottles, mac laptops, vacations in the bahamas ..

    Well, people who drop business cards in to that raffle fishbowl know to get email from Cloudmark with all kinds of fun new AS products.

    They'd be surprised as hell to receive sales pitches from a dozen other vendors as well.

    One conference (the asiapac variant of nanog .. apricot) I am on the management committee of has a box that asks you if you would like your contact details released to exhibitors / sponsors at the conference. You only get contacted if you tick it on the paper form / click on that checkbox etc.

  4. In the Netherlands is already forbidden by the Spamwet(Spam law)to send someone a newsletter without having their permission.
    But even when it wouldnt be forbidden here I agree you always have to give people a choice. The choice of subscribing or not.

    The negative thing about just sending the newsletter to a reciever without their permission is not only very annoying for people. But those people have also no value for your business, cause they didnt want to recieve it in the first place.

    In my opinion quality is better than quantity(of recievers)

  5. I think this one breaks both ways. As a sender, you don't want to send to any list with as questionable provenance as a tradeshow fishbowl. At the same time, as a recipient: if you give someone your email address, you shouldn't be shocked stupid when they actually use it.

    As an attendee, I don't know what the answer is. Business cards with no email address on them? Laserprinter business-card blanks with individual tagged addresses on each?

    Ten years ago, before all of this was as simple as it is now, I really blew up a company for spamming me from a tradeshow contact. That's one of many things I wish I'd handled better.


Comments policy: Al is always right. Kidding, mostly. Be polite, please and thank you.