Are you allowed to cold call via email?

First published on in July 2012.

I’ve just been asked by a prospective client if he can email a few hundred people he’s gathered email addresses for, using directories and publicy available information.

Unfortunately, according to the ICO, the answer is “no“, you can't cold-call people.

In a nut shell:

“The most important thing to remember is that you can only carry out unsolicited electronic marketing if the person you’re targeting has given you their permission.”

ICO - 4th July 2012

I’ve heard of it a lot in the past – people spend months in the run up to their business launching harvesting email addresses from online directories and websites. But unfortunately, you’re not supposed to do it.

There are a few caveats from the ICO, which they refer to as the “soft opt-in”:

1) You can email someone if you got their details due to previously selling them, or discussing with them, a product or service…

2) … and this product / service you wish to email about now is related to the one you previously spoke to them about…

3) … and the person was given an option to opt out of marketing when their information was gathered and they’re given a clear way to opt out in the future.

The other rule from the ICO is that if you are going to email someone, you must be clear as to who your email is from, and give them a valid email address they could reply to if they wished to.


The slightly “hazy” final rule from the ICO is that these guidelines don’t apply to “emails sent to organisations” although you must still be clear about who the email is from and give them a valid email address to reply to. So you can probably email info@ even if you can't email sue@.

You can download a PDF guide to email marketing from the ICO here.

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