Newsletter Case Study: technology lessons and expectations

In February I worked on a project for an artist in South Africa. With an upcoming exhibition she wanted to make sure that her invites were properly distributed this year, after a fiasco last year, which she did not want to repeat.

So what did we do?

  1. To ensure we had every last email address that could possibly be relevant we mined her Outlook folders using a nifty utility I found here. After dumping all the duplicates and email addresses related to Facebook, LinkedIN updates, etc we had a pretty impressive contact list.
  2. I then converted the existing PDF invite into images which could be used in an email template. As I am a big fan of Mailchimp my suggestion was to re-work this into an email postcard or newsletter, and send it out.
  3. I started with one of the existing Mailchimp templates and made some changes (colour, width etc). As I hadn’t created the original PDF I wasn’t 100% sure of the fonts the designer had used, and as I was also runnning out of time I used a pretty nifty tool called “what the Font” to guess them. As the default font selection on Mailchimp is rather limited we created the bulk of the text block as an image. For the intro text I used a Google Font that was pretty close to the one in the original invite.

    Add the following into the [head] section of your Mailchimp Template.

    And then use the font in your body style further down (you won’t be able to change it via the GUI interface)

    @theme main
    			/*@editable*/font-family:'EB Garamond';
  4. After creating the template, inserting the images (with hyperlinks back to her site and the gallery site respectively), inserting the intro text and sending a few test emails we were all satisfied with the layout, and I scheduled the mail to go out.

The first day after the send everything was fine. The artist was thrilled with the way the invite looked on her iPad. Then suddenly the wheels fell off. Recipients of the email who had images disabled in their mail clients didn’t see the invite details. They clicked the place-holders instead of downloading / enabling the images – and ended up on her website where there was no mention of the show. Emails and calls back to the artist sent her into a mini meltdown. We had to send a second, plain text version just to make sure all the bases were covered.

So what did I learn?

  • Not to assume that an image should be hyperlinked – and to check the destination website contains the info to match
  • Email newsletters that only contain images are dangerous – many email client’s don’t display these by default
  • That no matter how much you test an email newsletter you can never control the end user experience
  • That the content of the newsletter is more important than the way it looks.
  • There is a very fine line between clarification and annoying people. Unsubscribes will no doubt follow.
  • Time (mine) is money, I shouldn’t waste it on redoing things when I have other work waiting.

Valuable lessons indeed.