When no one else in London is available, I’ll occasionally be invited to a dinner party. And, when I am, it’s this story that I’m generally asked to wheel out from my disaster storehouse. It’s my friends’ favourite of all my mishaps.
Let me transport you back to a Friday afternoon, shortly before Christmas a few years ago. On an average week, Friday afternoons in an office are full of workshy folk doing Buzzfeed quizzes to find out which Spice Girl is their spirit animal pizza, but the week before Christmas?! You’d be lucky to see people fully clothed and fully sober.
It wasn’t my last day in the office before the holidays as Christmas Day fell on a Wednesday or something ridiculous. Nonetheless, I had that giddy, end of term feeling you get when you can almost smell the sweet scent of no iPhone alarm.
As Web Editor at a Christian radio station, I’d been tasked with creating a festive e-card to send to our 98,000 newsletter subscribers.
I’d sorted the content – a nice old painting a bit like this of a (mystifyingly Caucasian) baby Jesus lying in a (mystifyingly clean) bed of straw.
Hey Jesus, Lady Gaga called – she wants her hat back
Police e-fit photo of what that baby Jesus would look like aged 21
All I needed to get this dooberry out the digital door was the right subject line.
Subject line: Merry Christmas from us all at Fake Company Name
Subject line: Happy Christmas to you!
You know, the kind of difficult copywriting task you need a degree for.
Our Marketing Manager wanted to sign off the e-card, and was being very hands-on in his signing-off. I kept having to send a test email over to him on the other side of the office while he checked the subject line and the contents (which didn’t change) and then he’d reply with other ideas.
Eventually, given it was a Friday afternoon…and nearly Chrimbo…and we’d already spent 45 minutes on SUBJECT LINES…I started to care very little. I think you would have almost found it impressive just how little I cared. I drafted a new test send and forwarded it over to him.
Subject line: A bunch of crap
I’ll admit, I was acting up. I was tired of the whole task. I wanted to schedule the bloody thing and move on to something far more important, like checking Facebook or my eyebrows.
The Marketing Manager came RUNNING over.
“TELL me that email only went to me!!” he yelped as he careered into my desk.
“Of COURSE!” I replied, already feeling sick down to my socks that not just sending it to him was the exact kind of thing I would do.
I did my best fake I’m-the-Web-Editor-you-can-trust-me smile as I checked our email marketing system. The e-card was winging its merry little ding-dong way to 98,000 Christians who were gearing up for the celebratory period of the birth of our Lord.
The subject line? A bunch of crap.
The image when you opened it? The meek and mild infant Jesus.
I lost control of all my faculties and started pounding at my keyboard like a chimp.
I was probably wearing a similar onesie too, in fairness
I didn’t know what to do; I could almost feel the email plonking itself down unceremoniously in inboxes around the country. The Marketing Manager took control and instructed me to phone the email marketing provider and get them to stop the send ASAP. I could barely dial the number for trembling but eventually got through and they halted the e-card in its tracks.
They managed to stop it so only 25,000 or so had received the message.
ONLY TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND, NO WORRIES.
As I sat shaking at my desk responses were already starting to flood in (like I said, it was a Friday afternoon – people were clearly sat at their desks pressing F5).
“This is an outrage!”
“Hey – just thought I should let you know it looks like you’ve been hacked?!”
“What is the MEANING of this??!”
In amongst all the angst, one dear, dear man called Wayne brought a smile back to my frazzled face. He replied saying:
“Strange email! I wasn’t expecting that. But a very Crappy New Year to you too! :)”
I have a soft spot for that happy stranger to this day.
We had to draft an apology email to the 25,000 recipients explaining that the subject line was not expressing distaste for the divine CONTENT but the dull PROCESS.
My line manager wasn’t in that day so I spent the entire weekend worrying whether I’d find out on Monday that I’d been fired. Every time I nearly forgot about the whole sorry mess one of my sisters would point at something – like a postbox or a pigeon or a cloud- and exclaim “What a bunch of crap!” and then fall about laughing.
I kept my job, in case you were worried. But I’ll never look at baby Jesus in the same way.
So there you have it folks: Email Marketing for Dummies.