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