How should I approach asking a contact on our email marketing list, who has previously unsubscribed from emails regarding a show, to resubscribe now that a new show is planned?

We run numerous exhibitions, which happen yearly. We're looking to implement a new preference system shortly where someone can not only unsubscribe from every email regarding that show, but has the option to only unsubscribe from this year's marketing. This is useful for people who have already stated they are attending/exhibiting at the show, and do not need any further marketing, but want it to resume next year.

The only problem is, we've been running shows (and performing email marketing) for well over ten years, and this preference centre is only being implemented now. We have millions of contacts on our lists, with thousands of unsubscribes, and the-powers-that-be want to ensure that people who previously unsubscribed actually wanted to.

Now, I know it's very close to the legal line doing this, but I want to ensure that we stay on the correct side of it. Can we simply send an email saying "We're sorry you left... would you like to come back?" or would something else be needed? As we have numerous shows, and a contact could well have unsubscribed from many of them, am I allowed to send them the email for each show? Or can I only email each address on file once? Can I send a similar email every year to unsubscribes, who may have checked the wrong box in the preference centre last year?

On a more design-orientated side, (seeing as this question will be posed to designers): if I was able to do this, how should I word/design the email? Should I be very sheepish, with numerous apologies for the possibly-intrusive email, or be bold and assume that they will want the email, effectively trying to convince them that this is definitely a good (but one-off) thing?

  • 15
    The fact that you are mailing me again after I have unsubscribed is going to really annoy me since by unsubscribing i have indicated that I dont want to receive any more emails
    – Mervin
    Mar 18, 2014 at 10:49
  • Trust me, I know. I realise this is a bad idea but we've been asked to do it, and right now I'm just trying to find ways to minimise backlash from contacts, whilst ensuring it is, and stays, legal.
    – mpdc
    Mar 18, 2014 at 10:58
  • 20
    I'd say - you can't. The people have chosen to unsubscribe for whatever reason (you can't know the actual reason; there's probably many different reasons people unsubscribe) so they've made that decision. Go back to the marketing route - they must have discovered you originally before you had their email address (advertising, social media shared links, word of mouth...) so go back to the marketing team to attract new customers ('new' also includes 'people who have unsubscribed').
    – JonW
    Mar 18, 2014 at 11:06

3 Answers 3


This one is quite easy, you simply can't.

If you would use an address on an emailing list where the recipient has opt-out you violate the 6'th requirement of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Doing so is violating the law and will enable the recipient to sue your company:

Each separate email in violation of the law is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, and more than one person may be held responsible for violations

You take this to the-powers-that-be and ask them to reconsider.

  • 15
    I'd add that while the risk of an individual suing you is low; a significant number will start clicking the Report Spam buttons in their mail accounts. If enough people do so, Google/Yahoo/Microsoft/etc are likely to start routing mail you send to current subscribers into their junk mail folders by default. Mar 18, 2014 at 21:06
  • @DanNeely Indeed you're right. Either way, the outcome is not desirable. Mar 19, 2014 at 7:15
  • 1
    Thank you for the link to the CAN-SPAM Act - having a PDF to show seniors I'm hoping will be invaluable to avoiding this marketing mistake.
    – mpdc
    Mar 19, 2014 at 15:33
  • @MatthewPeckham I hope it goes well. You've done your part. Mar 19, 2014 at 18:59

I don't think it would be a good idea to send them an email again if they unsubscribed to the newsletter. The user could lose confidence in your service. If he decided to unsubscribe it means he had good reasons to do so. Maybe the emails was too frequent, the content wasn't suitable, etc. Plus the legal parameter to take into account.

Sadly I think you'll have to find an other way than using emails to convince them to come back. You could announce the new way you handle newsletter on the website. If they still visit it, they'll see the message and decide if they want to subscribe again or not.

However, I'd like to suggest you a method for the future unsubscribes. When they are going to unsubscribe, some sites offer two choices : ask for less frequent mails or unsubscribe from everything. This kind of method could be interesting in your case. Allow users to refine their subscription by picking themes, frequence, etc. on the unsubscribe page.

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    Long story short, OP needs to start a real advertisement campaign. Mar 19, 2014 at 10:52

Here's an idea. Include a retargeting tag on the unsubscribe page and target them through conventional advertising. You cannot send them another email -- due to the law and ethics. But, you can deliver advertisements targeted to those who have unsubscribed, and encourage them to re-subscribe for the latest show updates. Whether it is cost-effective or not is to be determined.

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