Four Tips to Avoid Email Misfortune

Doh!If you want to send a newsletter to your clients, there’s nothing simpler – you can sign up to a package and manage your newsletters online. 

When HTML newsletters were new, however, these services did not exist and it fell to me to design a template to be used with the company’s two email clients – Outlook and a sales database with an email add-on.

I knocked out some sample text and, for reasons unknown even to myself, I chose not to use the standard Latin “Lorem Ipsum” text and opted, instead, for a spoof sales pitch for the company I worked for.  I tried it in Outlook and everything worked fine.  Then, I tried it in the sales database.  I waited for the email to come, but it never did.  I checked the “Sent Items” and it had definitely been sent… only not to me.  Inexplicably, somebody else’s email address had become associated with my name in the database and that somebody was none other than a media analyst.

Fortunately, I suppose, the experiment hadn’t completely worked, so the analyst would have received jumbled HTML code in his inbox.  Still, if he had scrolled down, he would have got the gist of the email.  Face white as a sheet, I printed the email and took myself off to the CEO’s office.  Colleagues later said that I had looked like a dead woman walking.  The CEO told me that I looked dreadful and nothing he could say would make me feel any worse, so he accepted my apology and sent me back to my desk.

I was lucky: the damage was limited and my CEO had a sense of humour.  Others have suffered much worse consequences for their blunders.  Who can forget Jo Moore, special adviser to Stephen Byers, who suggested that September 11th2001 was a good day to bury news?  Or Claire Swires, whose saucy email to her boyfriend circled the globe when the cad forwarded it on to his friends? 

Sometimes, however, an email clanger can have unexpected benefits.  Ten years ago, when my husband and I had just started dating, I’m ashamed to admit that I used to keep my diary free in case he called!  At the same time, some of my girlfriends were trying to organise a night out.  At the end of a very long forwarded email, of which I hadn’t originally been a recipient, were the words, “Cath’s being crap again.”  I was quite shocked – I hadn’t realised that I was being so transparent, or indeed so ‘crap’!  I resolved there and then never to give my nights out with the girls equal importance and I am glad my friend forgot to edit the email.

 To avoid email disaster:

  • Never write anything about anyone that you wouldn’t be happy for them to read.  Not only could it find its way back to them eventually, but it is also so easy to type the name of the person you are writing about into the ‘To’ box.
  • Don’t write anything about yourself or include any photos that you wouldn’t be happy for your elderly relatives to read or see.
  • When testing out an email or drafting a blog post, insert placeholder text using a lorem ipsum generator and highlight it in yellow, so you don’t forget to change it.
  • If forwarding a mail or adding a new person to the receiver list, re-read the email before you send it.  Make a habit of trimming unnecessary detail from long emails.

If, after following these tips, you still manage to make one of those toe-curling blunders, treat yourself to Great Email Disasters by Chas Newkey-Burden and keep telling yourself it could have been a whole lot worse!

2 responses to “Four Tips to Avoid Email Misfortune

  1. good post! i’m wondering if another thing that could be tried is to get someone else to read it through – i often find you can get too *close* to messages that have taken a long time to craft so independent eyes may help spot ‘over jargon’ etc.??

  2. Hi Chris! That’s so true and I’m always saying that even professional writers need to do the same. Don’t always follow my own advice though 🙂

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