One of my team has just spoken at the latest DMA “Effective Email Marketing” conference on the importance of when to send email marketing.   

As part of one of the presentations, John Nugent of Responsys asked a very topical question:

“Should email marketers be paid commission on all the revenue they generate?”

This question has been niggling away at me for a few days, and I can honestly say I don’t think they should. Before you scream, let me explain why.

The logic goes; if you paid commission there would be even more incentives to ensure campaigns perform to the best of their ability. Databases would be respected - nurtured and not over mailed. Communications would be timely and relevant and results would be tracked. 

Email marketing programmes would be constantly evolving, with constant improvements and email marketers having an eye on the long term. 

The tide of spam would be reduced as it would be in no-one's interest to dilute the effectiveness of your campaigns. Sounds good so far doesn’t it? 

But, I fear this is unfair and assumes that online marketers are not as effective as they could be. It suggests they’re lazy and could overcome those barriers with just a little more effort that they would put in if they’d get money in their back pocket. 

The E-consultancy Census shows this isn’t the case - there are a multitude of barriers, many of which are significant and require business-wide buy-in:

1. Lack of Skills & Training  - 42% viewed this as a problem
2. Lack of Budget / Finances - 39%
3. Lack of Strategy - 36%
4. Lack of Segmentation - 35%
5. Quality of Email Database - 35%

(Source: E-consultancy Email Marketing Census, Feb 07)

Improving your team’s skills and investment in email technology requires budget. Budget requires business cases and decisions from boards. Building a high quality database and selecting the best segmentation for your business needs buy-in from the entire business. Both of these elements can be influenced by email marketers, but not decided on.    

As an MD of a rapidly growing company, I can’t help but see the strategic risk too. Traditional direct marketers do not operate on commissions. So why should email marketers? If everyone wanted a piece of the action, would there be enough left to invest in taking the business forward?

On an individual level, many marketers are simply ‘turned on’ by the creativity in the role. Would this reliance on commission mean these types of people don’t get involved? Good creative is an essential part of an effective campaign.    

There are still some companies that are in the early stages of their email marketing. They’re beginning to realise the benefits of the quick wins. Indeed, without trying, a fairly small percentage of the significant sums that will be generated can translate to fat wage packets. The impact and discontent for other members of the marketing team being on this deal will be considerable.

Commission may sharpen the urgency, but in all conversations I have ever had, I’ve been reassured that email marketers are committed to making their email marketing as effective as possible, without offering a golden carrot.    

I can send over copies of our presentation at the event if you’d like - just email us on

Henry Hyder-Smith is the managing director of Adestra .

Henry Hyder-Smith

Published 9 October, 2007 by Henry Hyder-Smith

Henry Hyder-Smith is CEO at Adestra and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (1)


John Nugent, Consultant at Nugent Consulting


I'm delighted to have you raise this issue to a broader audience. You make some interesting points against rewarding online marketers for their hard work.

If you had been at the event you would have realised that my question was actually whether email marketers should be commissioned based on achieving not just revenue targets but also retention and data acquisition targets.

In my experience, most marketing departments receive an element of bonus based on performance. I believe this is an equitable system that benefits both employer and employee. Most marketers get a kick out of exceeding targets.

My commission suggestion was to bring this model to a more granular level that would expose the enormous potential of the email channel.

I agree that there are many barriers that can impact the email channel, including training & education. However, there is no better way to overcome these barriers than to highlight the real value of the channel to every level of the organisation.

At Responsys we take a three step approach to email marketing:

(1) What's the business case?
(2) What resources do I need?
(3) How do I optimise relevance?

... without a business case - and aligned motivations - it is unlikely that (2) and (3) will ever be addressed effectively.

Email marketers are some of the hardest working marketers I have had the pleasure of working with. Many are under significant time and resource pressure. That's why the technology and services at Responsys are designed to maximise the relevance of complex email programs through automation.

If employers and employees agree that a commission-type model is relevant to them then they should be free to do so without criticism. There are many differences between email marketing and traditional direct marketing - perhaps this is just another?



John Nugent

almost 11 years ago

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