Massive fines for GDPR breaches? ICO will use powers proportionately and judiciously

In a recent blog post, the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham has dispelled some myths about the forthcoming GDP legislation.

Scaremongering in the media has led some businesses to feel fearful of the maximum £17 million or 4% of turnover penalties allowed under the new law.  It has also been falsely reported that these increased fines will help fund the work of the ICO.

Denham comments “If this kind of misinformation goes unchecked, we risk losing sight of what this new law is about – greater transparency, enhanced rights for citizens and increased accountability.”

She adds “It’s scaremongering to suggest that we’ll be making early examples of organisations for minor infringements or that maximum fines will become the norm. The ICO’s commitment to guiding, advising and educating organisations about how to comply with the law will not change under the GDPR. We have always preferred the carrot to the stick.”

For the ICO, issuing fines has always been and will continue to be, a last resort. In 2016/2017 they concluded 17,300 cases and only 16 of them resulted in fines for the organisations concerned.

Read Elizabeth Denham’s blog post >>

How new EU new privacy legislation affects email marketers

There is new legislation arriving in 2018 which affects anyone who carries out email marketing. 

EU legislationThe General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the EU’s new privacy law and it’s due to be enacted on 25th May 2018.  Its aim is to bring uniformity to a plethora of different legislation across all member states, and to replace the Data Protection Act and the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) which are no longer fit for purpose.

GDPR will affect every company that uses personal data from EU citizens. If you collect email addresses and send marketing emails to subscribers in the EU, you’ll have to comply with GDPR — no matter where you’re based.

Penalties are due to increase significantly up to a maximum of €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover.

The key points are:

1. New subscribers will need to affirm that they want to opt in.

This affirmation must be via a dedicated subscription form, or via an unticked check box in situations where you’re collecting data for other reasons, such as order processing or membership applications. Pre-ticked boxes or “Tick here to opt out” will not be permitted.

2. You will need to tell subscribers how their data will be used.

For example, if they give you their email address to download a free article you must tell them if you plan to use that email address for marketing purposes and give them the option to opt into this.

3. You will need to keep a record of consent.

For example, if you use a provider such as Campaign Monitor they will store details of how and when a recipient subscribed along with their IP address. It is not clear at the moment whether such information will be sufficient. I’ll monitor how this will need to work in the coming months.

4. The following commonly adopted scenarios will no longer apply.

(i) An existing business relationship will no longer imply consent. For example, where you have an existing database of customers and suppliers and you use that for email marketing.
(ii) The current soft opt-in where you can email people if there is an existing business relationship.

[UPDATE 06.09.17] There is however a “legitimate interests for processing” test which means in some cases it might be possible to continue emailing a subscriber without the above in place. The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) is due to issue guidance on this towards the end of 2017. Read more from the DMA >>

5. You will need to get your existing data up to GDPR standards.

If you can’t provide sufficient proof of consent for existing subscribers, you won’t be allowed to contact them anymore. You will need to run a re-permissioning campaign.  This includes subscribers you have added using soft opt-in.

What next?

I’ll be working with all existing Expertise on Tap clients to ensure they are compliant when the new legislation comes into force. If you are not a client and need help running a re-permissioning campaign do let me know.

There are other aspects to GDPR in addition to email marketing. There’s more information here from the ICO.

The above content should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice.

Watch this video I produced for Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce. Matthew Clayton from Willans LLP talks about GDPR and how it will affect businesses.

Why the plain text version of your e-newsletter is important

When you create your e-newsletter or e-shot, if you’re using an email service provider such as Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor, a plain text version is automatically created for you.

It’s vital to include a plain text version otherwise ISPs will assume your email is from an untrustworthy source and could block it as spam. Another reason is some recipients prefer to read in plain text rather than HTML.  In fact, some corporate email systems still use plain text as their default.

It’s also important that you then edit your plain text version, not just to aid readability but also to increase the chances of conversion.

Campaign Monitor have produced some excellent tips on plain text emails.

Read “How to turn your plain-text emails into conversion machines” >

Are you confusing your website visitors?

As a provider of email marketing services, I recommend to my customers that they should have a clear and simple approach to enabling website visitors to opt in.

tick-greenFor tick boxes on a website, a best practice approach is:
  1. No boxes to be pre-ticked.
  2. For the user to opt in to what they want to receive, rather than tick a box to opt out.
  3. To have a uniform approach. Ie. Do not have a mixture of “tick this box to opt in to X” and “tick this box to opt out of Y”.
A bad example is the one below on the Royal Mail website.

The first selection of boxes requires the user to tick the boxes if they do not wish to receive marketing from Royal Mail.

The second selection of boxes asks the user to tick the boxes if they do wish to receive marketing from third parties.

The problem with this is the second set of boxes requires an opposite action to the first set.

A busy or impatient user, having ticked the first set of boxes may well gloss over the instructions for the second set, and repeat the box ticking exercise, thus unwittingly opting in to receive marketing from third parties.



Kind words from a client

I’ve been producing a monthly email newsletter for Winchcombe-based British Bespoke Auctions for three years.

Auctioneer Nicholas Granger with Bella the parrot.

Auctioneer Nicholas Granger with Bella the parrot

Following the most recent newsletter, I was delighted to receive this unsolicited testimonial from business owner Nicholas Granger.

I just wanted to write a few words to thank you for your positive input into our business over the last three years. You are always there when we need you, and as owner operator you understand our needs. You have taken our business email marketing from nothing to something amazing.

How to avoid your email marketing looking like spam

Have you noticed how spammers and scammers use personal names rather than brand names in the “from” section of their emails? Usually they’re female names.

Here’s a recent example.

Spam example

The reason why they do this is hopefully obvious. It’s so that the email looks like it’s from a real person.

My tip to avoid looking like a spammer.

Use your business name as the “from” name. 
If you use your own name, and not everyone on your list knows who you are, this may affect your open rate.  I receive a lot of email marketing emails done like this. Another option is to use your business name followed by your own name.  Eg.  From: [Expertise on Tap – Julian Wellings]

Email marketing – how NOT to manage your unsubscribe process

I’ve blogged before about why your unsubscribe process should be as simple as possible – ideally a one click process.

The screen shot below from Avid is a good example of how not to do it. Instead of a one click unsubscribe, where you click a link in the newsletter and it’s sorted, with Avid you’re taken to a web page with a myriad of choices. In fact it’s not an unsubscribe page at all – it’s a subscribe page.

Only on looking closely do you find a tiny unsubscribe link at the foot of the page. When you click this, it won’t process until you enter your email address. Again, with a one click process you should not have to enter your email address.

To summarise:

  1. Keep your unsubscribe process simple.
  2. If you want subscribers to be able to manage their preferences or interests, if you use an email service provider such as Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor it’s possible to add a link to enable this. Make sure the preferences are kept to a minimum.
Avid unsubscribe process

Example of Avid unsubscribe process.

Is your carefully crafted email campaign displaying properly?

Your email campaign might look great when you send it out, but what about when it reaches the other end? 

For example, here’s what happened when Twitter sent out a campaign promoting their new Twitter Ads product.

This is how it’s supposed to look…


Below is how the email I received appeared in Outlook…
  • The blue header “Business” which should be spanning full width, no longer is.
  • And the body text is no longer spanning the full width of the “You’re almost there” header above.
  • The footer content is displaying vertically rather than in a neat horizontal fashion.
  • Overall, the email is not displaying as intended, giving it a rather odd, disjointed look.
Imagine if this was a printed brochure or a press advert. You wouldn’t be too pleased if it ended up like this, would you? An email campaign should be no different.

To explain the technical reasons as to why this happens would take a very long blog post, however to avoid this sort of scenario I have a 21-point quality control check for every client campaign I send out.

  1. If you’re doing your own email marketing, for example in Mailchimp, send tests to a minimum of Outlook, Gmail, AOL and (formerly Hotmail). For the latter three it’s free to set up email accounts with these webmail providers.
  2. Test on smartphones. Definitely on an iPhone and ideally Android as well . Also test on tablet devices such as iPad and iPad Mini if you have one.
  3. If all the above sounds a bit of a kerfuffle, why not outsource your email marketing to me, so you can get on with running your business?
  4. If you’re outsourcing your email marketing to another provider, ask them how they manage their quality control. For example do they have a 21-point quality control check like I do?


How BBC Radio 2 recognised the power of email to engage with listeners

BBC Radio 2 has recently launched Radio 2 Mail, a weekly e-newsletter with the strapline “Sharing what we love about Radio 2”

Radio 2 MailThese days the BBC has many ways of engaging with it’s audience ranging from phone ins, texts into programmes, and of course Twitter and Facebook. So, I found it refreshing that Radio 2 has recognised the power of email newsletters as an additional way of engaging with listeners.

And they’ve executed it really well.

The copy on their Radio 2 Mail web page is full of benefit statements and emotive keywords. For example:

Handpicked by our very own presenters.
Each week, a different presenter will round up their favourite moments on Radio 2.
They might even let you in on a few behind-the-scenes secrets!

The welcome email you receive after subscribing is warm and inviting, with a link to a video featuring four of the presenters. See below…

How could you use an email newsletter in your business to engage with your prospective clients and build brand awareness? I can help. Ask me how.

Example of Radio 2 Mail welcome email

Radio 2 Mail welcome email


Why this e-shot from Apple is perfect. In every way.

Apple have just sent me the email below promoting the new iPhones.  Apple’s email marketing always stands out from the crowd, but this one is special.

Here’s why.

The opening paragraph is brief yet sells lots of benefits. Apple is all about making it easy for the consumer, and that’s what they’re doing here. “We’ll ship it for free”.  “We’ll set it up just how you want it”.

The two product sections have lots of white space and are uncluttered. The product shots don’t even have a front view. My assumption is iPhone brand awareness is so high that they don’t need to even show the front. The side shot perfectly encapsulates the range of colours available.

The “Buy Now” buttons are small and understated.  It’s just not Apple’s style to use massive BUY NOW!!! calls to action.

Apple e-shot