So You Want To Be The Next Email Star

Email writers who aspire to excellence can learn a lot from watching "The Next Food Network Star." Just like us, week by week, the culinary contenders are vexed and hexed by unforeseen challenges. They struggle with strange or insufficient ingredients, difficult working conditions, snarling competitors, and ruthless judges. They have to overcome these obstacles not only to produce great dishes, but also be able to present their chef-d'oeuvres on camera with authority and charm.

No wonder so many hopefuls crash and burn.

The challenges email writers face are not dissimilar, and may come from a variety of sources.

·     COMPETITION: As with celebrity chefs, email is a crowded field, and your biggest competition is the inbox. How can you make your product, service, and offer stand out when your recipient's eyes are already spinning at the sight of dozens of unopened emails?

·     INGREDIENTS: Often, email writers are dependent upon sources outside of their own department to deliver brand guidelines and timely information on promotions being driven by another group. I would never suggest that sabotage might be on the mind of an external agency that's holding out, but collaboration can feel more like antagonism when it doesn't go smoothly.



·     JUDGES: The bigger the brand, the more layers of approvals there are, often requiring a multitude of tweaks and rewrites. The good news is, most clients with big brands are experts on what works for them, and their guidance is invaluable. However, once in a while you may have a client who is not well-versed in the peculiar constraints of the email channel. When this happens, poor direction may be given at any stage of the creation process.

·     THE JITTERS: If you are a writer, you already know about the paralyzing effect of a blank page. For others reading this, just know that coming up with fresh ideas and committing great writing (and design) can be a lonely and even painful process. Tread lightly when your creative team is at work.

These are some of the major hurdles writers encounter between them and their pursuit of excellence. Here are some strategies to overcome them.

·     NAIL DOWN THE CREATIVE BRIEF. This is step one of any engagement. As with the cooks on "Food Network Star," a correct interpretation of each challenge is essential to winning. Pass the brief back and forth with the client until you have a clear articulation of brand goals, the purpose of the email, the content strategy, and the metrics by which success will be measured.

·     ASSIGN ROLES. Never mind breaking them; you can't make an omelet if you have no eggs at all. It's crucial that everyone is clear about who is supplying what information for the email and by when.  It may, of course, be you, the writer; your content may consist solely of articles you have written for that purpose, or tips and tricks culled from the brand's website. Just be clear about who's bringing the ingredients, especially when the email is part of an integrated campaign.

·     STUDY BEST PRACTICES. Current knowledge of email trends will fortify you when standing in the glare of the spotlight to present and defend your work.

·     ADHERE TO MILESTONES. The bigger and more complex the project, the more checkpoints there should be to ensure all the moving parts are coming together correctly. Allow plenty of time for meetings, reviews, changes, legal approvals, coding, and testing, in addition to your creative hours. This way, when the timer goes off on deployment, you won't be sending out a half-baked message. 

·     BRING YOUR "A" GAME. Your audience can unsubscribe with the click of a mouse, and then there are no do-overs. You have to outshine the competition on every send. Write emails that are personal, relevant, consonant with branding, and that convey juicy benefits for your readers. Then, bring your star power to the job, and make your email sing. Let it stand out, move readers to laughter or tears, compel a click, ignite a discussion, and close a sale.

If you can follow this recipe, you will be a shining success as an email writer. 

3 comments about " So You Want To Be The Next Email Star ".
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  1. Rita from FreshAddress, Inc., August 8, 2011 at 12:19 p.m.

    Interesting comparison - and as with other proactive planning, make sure that your email address is clean before deployment to be confident that your well crafted message is delivered. With a 30+% annual attrition rate, email list hygiene should be one of a good 'cook's' first steps.

  2. Cynthia Edwards from Razorfish, August 8, 2011 at 12:53 p.m.

    Rita is correct, there are many ingredients to successful email programs. My advice here is confined to the elements for which copywriters in this channel typically have responsibility.

  3. Tina Stewart from Lyris, August 8, 2011 at 2:30 p.m.

    Great analogy, Cynthia. Email is an important piece of any digital campaign and getting the recipe right is crucial to success. I’d add to this not to forget about the rest of the meal – integrating social, mobile and email will guarantee that you’ll be the next email star!

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