In the last couple of weeks, unwanted emails have increased. Either that, or I am hearing more complaints about the number of unwanted emails and messages people receive. Email marketing is essential for businesses to reach their target audience and promote their products or services. However, it is crucial to understand the importance of consent when engaging in email marketing campaigns. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of consent in email marketing, including when you need to ask for consent, using lead magnets, and the relevant UK legislation.

UK Legislation – GDPR and PECR

As we discussed in our blog ‘GDPR, Business and Social Media’, email marketing is regulated by two key pieces of legislation in the United Kingdom: the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

The PECR specifically addresses electronic communications, including email marketing. It sets out rules regarding consent, privacy, and electronic communications that differ between individuals and registered businesses. It is important to know that not all businesses should be treated equally.

You may have noticed that I use business and organisation in my blogs. That is because a business and a company have slightly different meanings.

A business does not have a distinct legal status. It operates under the legal framework governing business ownership, such as sole proprietorship or partnership. On the other hand, a company is a separate legal entity with its own rights, responsibilities, and obligations. A company is registered in Companies House, and that depends on the location in the UK you are.

Now, in relation to PECR, a business is a sole trader (and certain partnerships) and, therefore, must be classified as an individual, as it is not a separate entity, and therefore consent is required.

Check out this blog for email marketing and companies.

Under the GDPR, individuals (including sole traders and some partnerships) can control how their personal data, including email addresses, is used. As a business, you must comply with the GDPR by obtaining explicit consent to process data from individuals or having a legitimate interest before sending them marketing emails.

Now, GDPR and PECR are interesting. Under PECR, obtaining consent from your individual subscribers is a fundamental requirement in email marketing. Consent ensures that you have the legal basis to market to individuals via email. You must ask for explicit consent before adding an individual to your email list. This means that individuals need to explicitly opt-in and provide their consent to receive marketing communications from you unless they are existing customers.

You may add existing customers to your list through a ‘soft-opt-in’. This means you can only send them marketing messages offering goods or services similar to those they have already purchased. The same rules for opt-out apply.

A common strategy used in email marketing is the use of lead magnets. Lead magnets are valuable incentives you offer your website visitors in exchange for their email addresses. These can be in the form of e-books, whitepapers, exclusive content, or discounts. While lead magnets can be an effective way to grow your email list, it is important to ensure that you obtain proper consent from the subscribers who sign up through these lead magnets. This means putting the checkbox to consent before signing up and DO NOT link it to the download button. Saying they have to consent before downloading does not allow them to consent freely.

What can I do if I receive unwanted emails?

If you believe you are being sent electronic messages and you have not consented or that they are still sending you them after you request to stop, report it to the ICO. How can the ICO know it is happening without reporting it and taking action? The more they are reported, the more evidence they have, and the more people complain, the more likely action will be taken. Click here to go to the ICO website and see how.


Email marketing is a powerful tool for businesses to engage with their audience and drive conversions. However, it is essential to prioritize consent in your email marketing efforts. Always obtain explicit consent from individuals before adding them to your email list, and be transparent about how their data will be used. Additionally, comply with relevant UK legislation, such as the GDPR and PECR, to ensure you adhere to legal requirements and protect your subscribers’ rights.

By following best practices and respecting the importance of consent, you can build a strong and engaged email list while maintaining trust with your subscribers.

We have created a quick guide to email marketing and the regulations. Download your copy here