Is Your Email List Legal?

Sending a regular newsletter with helpful travel advice that is sent out to your marketing list on a consistent basis can be one of your most powerful marketing tools, but are you making sure your list is legal? I’m sure you are probably like most web-savvy individuals and your email inbox gets more junk emails, or SPAM than you’d like. Because you aren’t the only one who dislikes SPAM emails, the FTC enacted the CAN-SPAM act in 2003 to limit unwanted email and text messages.

So, as a travel agent looking to build their online marketing presence by sending a regular (or even not so regular) newsletter, what do you need to know about the CAN-SPAM legislation? Is it even something you need to worry about? Can’t you just add all of your previous clients, friends and family to your list and start hitting send?

Remember that we aren’t just talking “good netiquette” here, this is a legal issue. The answer to do you even need to worry about it is absolutely YES. Is it likely that your ezine will land you a fine? Probably not but it is $16,000 per violation (meaning per mailing to your list) so do you want to risk it? Even if you don’t get fined, it speaks to your integrity as a business owner, which is undoubtedly important to your clients, right? I know it’s tempting to add every former client and email in your address book when you first get started but resist the urge.

Let’s go over the “big five” for CAN SPAM compliance:

  1. You have to ask people to opt in. If they aren’t opted in then your email has to say it is an advertisement in the header. Just because it is an article doesn’t make it “not an ad.” The definition of advertisement in the law says if it drives people back to a web site or phone number and you use either of those to generate revenue in any way, then it’s an ad.
  2. You can’t use deceptive to/from info. In other words it can’t look like it was sent from someone else. It needs to clearly show it was sent from you or from your agency. That goes both for the name that displays and for the email address.
  3. The subject line must not be misleading; it must reflect the content of the email. The big thing here is don’t say “free” if it’s not free. Don’t say 30% off if it is really “up to 30% off.”
  4. The email must contain your snail mail address. It used to be that it had to be a physical address but they’ve now made using a PO box OK. There just has to be a way for people to contact you by mail. If you are using an email list service (my favorites are AWeber and iContact) they will take care of this for you.
  5. There must be a clear and easy way to opt out and you must honor those opt outs quickly and completely. Again, a list service will handle this for you. If you are doing this yourself that opt out can be a “reply to this email with Unsubscribe” in the subject line note. Just make sure you remove their name quickly upon request. The law says it must be done within 10 days at the most.

So what can you do if you are just starting to send your newsletter and you don’t have an “opt in” list yet? From now on you can include a line in your agency terms and conditions that you have new clients agree to that you will be adding them to your newsletter list, but that they can opt out at any time. Start including a check box for “would you like to be kept up to date with travel tips, tricks and special offers?” on your inquiry forms. Add a link in your email signature to your opt in for (your list service will set you up with one of those!) letting people know why they will definitely want to opt in! As for those existing clients, since you already have an established business relationship with them you can send them ONE email letting them know about your newsletter and telling them how they can opt in.

You’ve heard the expression “anything worth doing, is worth doing right” I’m sure. That absolutely applies to building your email list and marketing to them. Remember, it speaks to your integrity as a business owner, and that’s not something you should take lightly!