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Design team gives back: The Contributor

A look at our design partnership with Nashville's street newspaper

Being a member of Emma's design team is a pretty great gig. It's even better when we're able to use our design chops to contribute something meaningful to our community. When the right opportunity comes along, we help nonprofits effectively communicate their mission to their target audience — and it feels great to be a part of something so valuable.

Last year at a local design conference, keynote speaker Tasha French wowed us with her passion and devotion to Nashville's street newspaper, The Contributor, which she founded in 2007. Since then, Tasha has worked with a fantastic team, dedicated vendors and the Nashville community to turn The Contributor into the biggest street paper in North America.

Homeless and formerly homeless vendors sell and distribute the paper, which covers various aspects of homelessness and poverty in its monthly issues (although Tasha's hope is to increase publishing frequency soon). Many of the Contributor vendors sustain themselves through this work, and more than 35% have gone from homeless to housed since they became vendors.

After meeting with Tasha to determine the best ways for us to help, the design team began working on a fundraising and awareness campaign to target Nashvillians and tourists alike. Together, we established a consistent aesthetic for the project, and each piece went to a different designer. Here, each one shares details about the work they did.

Project: Postcard
by Kelly McClain

The main push behind this entire campaign is to encourage supporters to not only buy the paper but to also read and enjoy it, since a lot of great work is put into publishing each issue – and ultimately, its long term success depends on readership.

To that end, we used actual vendors' and readers' comments about their favorites parts of the paper (in their own words – and even in their own handwriting). We also featured beautiful photographs, taken by Tasha, of the people we quoted. This gave the campaign a very personal feel, which we particularly loved for a newspaper that is sold face-to-face, person-to-person.

For the postcard, I made a stamp-like graphic with the simple phrase I read it, and gave it a weathered texture in a stand-out color. We wanted to create a look that was the right balance between clean and professional, but with a print feel (without getting too carried away with the street paper aspect).

Project: Email stationery
by Seth Wood

Collaborating with The Contributor over the past few months has allowed us to peek into the inner workings of the paper and see how it really affects change in the lives of its distributors. It's affirmed the good that The Contributor is doing for our community, and I hope my piece of the project serves as a meaningful contribution to their campaign.

I was tasked with creating their new email stationery, which is fairly neutral in tone — its colors and textures are highly reminiscent of what one might see in an actual print publication (e.g. roughed edges and a slightly distressed texture). To keep continuity with the different designs, I repurposed some elements from other pieces of the campaign, such as a stylized version of The Contributor's logo, parts of the footer and the image of a vendor.

Project: Poster
by Lauren Johnston

I am thrilled that we had the opportunity to work with The Contributor. As a team, we decided on a lot of the design concepts before we got started individually. For example, we agreed on font styles and a color scheme and then delegated the specific projects. I love that all the pieces are cohesive, but each one is unique to its designer's style.

I created the poster, which was the perfect assignment for me. I crafted a vintage, collage sort of feel, and paired it with solid type treatments and plenty of white space to keep things easy on the eye.

The poster has a subtle newspaper background texture, and an actual vendor is highlighted on the front. In the top right portion, printed in the vendor's own handwriting, it reads, "I read the Contributor about the issues that happen around us." I cannot wait to see the whole campaign up around Nashville.

Project: Billboard
by Elizabeth Williams

I had the pleasure of working on the billboard design for The Contributor's "I Read It" campaign. It was quite exciting for me as I'd never had the chance to design anything over five feet. It was a challenge, too, because its message had to be slightly different from the other pieces in the campaign.

According to conventional wisdom, a successful billboard consists of seven words or less, as people only have about 10 seconds to absorb your message — not an easy task. Because of that, we decided to change the message to a question: Do you read it? We really want viewers to ask themselves that question. Hopefully, they'll think about about why they buy The Contributor and what value they place on it, and it may intrigue non-readers enough to pick up a copy next time they see a vendor.

Once we settled on the message, it was a matter of perfecting the typography — making sure it was legible, well-designed and consistent with the other campaign pieces. Along with the typography, I used one of Tasha's photographs of Dunn, a Nashville vendor, who just happens to look as if he's waving to the people passing by the billboard. Plus, he has such a genuine smile that his photo was really the ideal choice for the billboard design.

It was such a meaningful experience to work on a project that is making a difference in the lives of so many. When you care about a cause and your professional skills can help lift it up, it becomes your responsibility to do your part. We were fortunate to be able to take on this partnership with the folks at The Contributor, who so graciously trusted us with delivering their message.

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We enjoyed working together to create a campaign that The Contributor will use to spread awareness throughout Nashville and surrounding areas. And we hope you've learned a bit about our design team's process and enthusiasm for this project. We'd love to hear about other nonprofits that are making a difference in your community.

Do you love The Contributor as much as we do? Support it here.

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

5 questions with Frank Eliason

A bonus round with a social media expert and this week's Talking with Tom participant

Frank is SVP of Social Media for Citibank. He lives in the Philadelphia area.

Frank Eliason is SVP of Social Media for Citibank in New York and former Director of Digital Care at Comcast. A self-professed gadget geek, he's participating in Tom Martin's social experiment, Talking with Tom. Take a look at his interview with Tom, and read below for more from Frank, including his thoughts on customer service and how to do social media well.

What's the most interesting thing happening in your industry right now?
Within social media it is conversation regarding Google+, and specifically Hangouts that I find interesting. I have always seen video as a disruptive option and hangouts make it easy. I am also fascinated with the notion of social fatigue, although I do not believe it is being discussed heavily right now. I watch my newsfeed on Facebook, as well as other spaces, every day and I am noticing less and less posts by those not associated with social media. I believe this is more fatigue, as individuals decide what they want to share, with whom and how often. In the service industry, I enjoy watching businesses start to realize the impact this social world has on the overall customer experience and how they need to improve that via all customer touch points. Service is the most important aspect to business and now the customer is making that point. Just appeasing those in social is not enough, and not the right approach anyway. If you want customers speaking positively about your brand, you have to provide the experience that would encourage that. It is no longer lip service.

What inspires you?
Passion! I love watching passionate people change the world. I see it through people like Guy Kawasaki, Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan, Brian Solis and others. This is what drives success. For me, I am passionate about the consumer, and I will live that in everything I do.

Which companies are leading the way in social media and customer service?
I still think Comcast is doing a great job. I also like watching Samsung, Dell Time Warner, AT&T and many others. At Citi we strive to lead by finding alternative solutions to better engage customers. As an example, the trouble with banking and social service is customer privacy concerns. Our solution is implementing secured click to chat. If you are talking to a Citi service representative and the conversation drifts to something that requires private dialogue, we can share a link and you will be able to continue the same conversation with the same person in a secured manner. If you are on a mobile device, we can send a similar link that will connect you to a call with the same person.

What brand do you love right now?
I have been an Apple fan for many years. I have also found myself purchasing many Samsung products for around my new home.

You can invite any four people to happy hour. Who'd be there?
Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King. Every one of these individuals were disruptive in their own way yet were able to achieve so much. In responding to this question I was able to think of so many others that would be fascinating, including artists, religious, world leaders (good and bad) and business leaders who truly generated change. I think many of us are doing that today through our thoughts on social media, yet others paved the way for this disruption to take place, and it would be fascinating to learn from them.

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Get involved with Talking with Tom! Vote now to help decide who gets the last word.

Staying in touch with music fans

How a few customers in the music business use email marketing with style

Emma's home office is in Nashville, TN, home to about 1.5 million residents, and (by my count) approximately 1.4 million are involved in the music business in one capacity or another, including myself. In fact, my first introduction to Emma came while I was working at a small independent music label. It was love at first press release, and I soon switched over to working at Emma full-time. I had seen how helpful Emma could be for musicians who wanted to spread news quickly.

These days, I'm becoming familiar with more and more musicians and music venues, as Emma has a talented bunch of customers from all across the country. For those in the music business — whether you're an independent songwriter, concert hall or symphony — it's important to stay in touch with your audience even in the midst of a busy schedule, and Emma is a great way to share news quickly. Let's dive into a few Emma customers that hit all of the right notes.

Marshall Chapman
Click to view the full version.

Marshall Chapman

I'm a huge fan of the emails from the delightful and talented Marshall Chapman. Aside from being a talented songwriter and performer, Marshall knows how to put together a compelling email. Sure, you can find the usual suspects, such as upcoming tour dates, links to purchase her record and current happenings, but I really enjoy the personal content Marshall includes. A link to Marshall's favorite summer salad recipe? Delicious. A list of tunes she's been rocking lately? Sounds great. My favorite segment of the email is a little something she calls the "Hummingbird Hall of Fame." Fortunately for those of us whose musical ability doesn't extend past that year of recorder lessons in elementary school, becoming an inductee simply involves forwarding a campaign to a friend.

+ View the online version of this email campaign
+ Visit Marshall Chapman's website

The Worsties
Click to view the full version.

Jesse Worstell, a member of Emma's billing team by day and total badass rockstar by night, is a member of The Worsties, along with his wife and his fellow Emma colleague, Jairo Ruiz. When fans hit The Worsties' website, they can sign up to receive updates and news from the band. After submitting their contact info, fans immediately receive a welcome email with a link to download a free MP3. Jesse makes sure to capture subscribers' zip codes when they sign up so the band can easily let fans know when they will be rocking a stage near them. (If you want to set up a welcome email like this, read how-to steps here, and make use of Emma's document library for downloadable content.)

+ View the online version of this email campaign
+ Visit The Worsties' website
+ Follow The Worsties on Twitter

Nashville Ballet
Click to view the full version.

Nashville Ballet

If you've had your fill of pedal steel licks or grown tiresome of cowboy songs, don't fear — Nashville is chock full of all kinds of arts. The Nashville Ballet sends a fantastic monthly newsletter to ticket holders, donors and supporters with a wealth of engaging content. The option to buy tickets is front and center, but subscribers can also learn about the ballet's involvement in the community, welcome new board members and even register for dance classes to stay fit. Bellissimo!

+ View the online version of this campaign
+ Visit the Nashville Ballet's website

Need an encore? See more campaign examples in the slideshow below.

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Talk with Tom, won’t you?

Getting involved with a social media experiment

This past January, Emma became chummy with a fella named Tom Martin hailing from one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, Louisiana. Tom is a social media consultant and digital marketing specialist who writes, speaks and helps clients by demystifying the digital marketing landscape at Converse Digital. His current project, Talking with Tom, really got our attention at Emma for a few reasons.

Tom's experiment
Tom is a believer in content marketing. A brand can strengthen customer relationships and develop high quality leads by providing relevant content that establishes you or your company as an expert or influencer in your field. You may have noticed a lot of buzz lately about content marketing. Truth is, email marketing is and always has been a medium that requires lots of planning, strategy and creativity to keep your readers interested. There are just a lot more ways these days to distribute and draw attention to your content.

Our customers often tell us that creating content is one of their biggest marketing hurdles. Many people assume creating compelling content requires a team of people, deep pockets and tons of time. And sometimes, it does. But we think Tom may be on to one way to simplify that process and, dare we say, even have fun creating content. Tom is proving that it can be done with a great idea, an iPhone, easy-to-use online software and a simple plan for spreading the word.

Emma's involvement
And why was Emma compelled to sponsor Tom's project, you ask? Good question. Along with a healthy curiosity in hearing answers from a rather impressive list of experts to Tom's question: "What's next {in digital media}?," we like Tom's message. We wanted to help him prove that he could create interesting content and get results by using technology available to businesses of every size. Also, Tom is an influencer and subject matter expert, so we'd like to see if having brand association with him will give our own brand more exposure.

What's next … your turn
Tom has some exciting interviews still in the pipeline. I'm so tempted to name-drop here, but I won't risk being the WikiLeaks of the Talking with Tom project. Suffice it to say, you're going to be interested in hearing from these experts. We'll also be checking in with you along the way to get some thoughts from you as the project unfolds. In fact, we could use your thoughts right about now. Tom did a great job of plotting out his influential interviewees, but we just couldn't help asking him how influential he's willing to get. We drew up our own little dream list of possible interviewees for a 53rd bonus interview, and Tom agreed to land the interview with the personality *you* choose.

So you get to help us choose who gets the #LastWord on What's Next? by voting now.

You also might want to visit the Talking with Tom site and spend some time with the 28 interviews he's already posted (they're around two minutes each). Stay tuned to the project by checking back here on the Emma blog, following @TomMartin and @EmmaEmail on Twitter, and subscribing to the Talking with Tom email list.

The next six months will be exciting. Almost as exciting as being able to call Tom our new friend.

And go ahead … vote now!

5 questions with Sarah Selecky

Sarah is a writer and teacher in Toronto.

Sarah Selecky is a busy gal. She's an author and creative writing teacher; she regularly updates her website with special events, class schedules and news; she's active on Twitter (follow her at @sarahselecky) and maintains a twice monthly email newsletter with writing ideas and inspiration. (If you're a writer or creative type, it'll be hard not to sign up. Need proof? Take a look at a recent newsletter here.)

Read on to hear Sarah's refreshing and inspiring answers to five questions, plus a bonus question.

Tell us a little bit about what you do and how you use email to reach your audience.
I'm an author and a creative writing teacher. Last year, when I launched This Cake Is for the Party, I created an email campaign to let everybody on my list know about my book. But mostly I use email to keep in touch with my writing students — my campaigns let them know about my upcoming courses, workshops and contest deadlines, and I give them instruction and inspiration to motivate their writing practice.

Your emails have fantastic response rates (more than a 60% open rate on average). What's your secret?
I did not build my list in a rush. I've always believed that it would be better to have 100 people on my list who really love what I send to them than it it would be to have 1,000 people on my list who don't really care about my emails. I feel very grateful to the people who subscribe to my newsletters! There is so much stuff that fills our inboxes every day. I am honored that people sign up to receive my emails. So when I write my newsletters, I keep that respect at the front of my mind. I never forget that every single person on my list is a passionate and busy human being. I try to write emails that I would welcome in my own inbox: inspiring and energy-giving (not energy-sucking). I try to keep the clutter out of everything I send. I hate clutter, especially in my inbox!

Since you're a writer, does crafting good emails come naturally to you? What advice would you give to folks who are staring at a blank email campaign (or blog page or computer screen), feeling stuck?
I wonder if being a writer actually makes it more difficult sometimes! With an email, I don't have the time to write a draft and go over it for days and send it to an editor to make it "perfect" before sending it. I always take a deep breath and cross my fingers before I press send!

The best advice I can give people who are feeling stuck in front of the page is this: Write your emails and newsletters and blog posts as though you are writing to a dear friend or client. I always use Emma's personalization feature when I send my emails out, but when I write my newsletter, I pick the name of one of my clients and I actually write the whole letter with that person in mind. I'll literally write, "Dear Olivia," and write a letter to Olivia. This makes it much easier to write honestly and openly. I truly care about all of my clients — but when I write my newsletter to a big general group of people, it's hard to get that care to come across.

Describe your book, This Cake Is for the Party, in 8 words or less.
Stories about people trying to love each other.

Where do you draw inspiration?
From everywhere! But especially the natural world. I live in Toronto, and it's a big, noisy city. As much as I love it here, I grow noticeably dull (and so does my work) if I don't pay attention to the way water moves over rocks, or the way an ant crawls up a blade of grass, or the way tree branches look like capillaries. It's easy to get so busy that I feel out of touch with nature — and this is not good for my writing.

What unrealized dream are you going to fulfill before the end of the year?
This is a big year! I am getting ready to launch an extraordinary digital writing workshop this September. It's called Story Is A State of Mind, and it is the culmination of what I've learned from over ten years of writing, teaching, editing and coaching clients from around the world. I have designed the course for beginners and seasoned writers alike – this course is everything I know about how to write powerful, authentic stories. I am so excited about this because it is exactly the kind of writing course that I would want to take myself. There's video, audio and text — it's pretty special.

Of course, I'm also excited to launch this project because once it's online and ready to go, I will have the time to do something else I've wanted to do for a long time — write my next book.

Anna Yeaman’s 6 mobile design tips

How to create emails that retain their design and style on smartphones

It's 3 a.m. Do you know who's reading your email? A recent Return Path survey revealed 16% of email is viewed via mobile devices and 1 in 3 Americans own a smartphone. Chances are, at least one insomniac with a donut in hand will be reading your email. Design accordingly.

Since mobile is gaining so quickly, I asked Anna Yeaman, creative director at Style Campaign, to share her experience with designing emails for mobile devices. Read on for her six tips to optimize your email campaigns.

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6 simple mobile email design tips by Anna Yeaman

Rework your creative for touch
Threadless CTA is large enough for your thumb to tap.

1. Rework your creative for touch

Fingers are less accurate than a cursor, so you'll need to increase the size of your links and spacing. In Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, they recommend a minimum target area of 44 x 44 points. Elements you'll need to rework include CTA buttons and stacked links, e.g. table of contents and navigation.

Push the contrast
Text becomes hard to read once scaled down.

2. Push the contrast

Low contrast is not advisable on small screens, as elements become hard to read. Email on the Kindle is B&W Webkit, another reason to run a quick grayscale test.

Disable auto-scaling fonts
Here's a text-wrapping issue caused by font scaling.

3. Disable auto-scaling fonts

If your text is under 12px, the iPhone automatically scales it up, potentially breaking your layout. HTML navigation and pre-header text are particularly vulnerable.

To turn off auto-scaling add the following code:
style="-webkit-text-size-adjust:none"

Better yet, make your fonts bigger. Windows Phone 7 recommends no smaller than 15 points; Apple recommends a 17 – 22 pixel font.

Define the viewport
This is a mobile version without the viewport defined.

4. Define the viewport

Safari on the iPhone uses a 980px wide viewport. This means any template hosted on the web that's less than 980px wide will appear zoomed out. To correct this, you need to define the viewport for your mobile version and mobile landing pages.

Here's the code:
<meta name="viewport" content="width=width of your layout, initial-scale=1.0; minimum-scale=1.0, user-scalable=yes" />

Put some content on the first screen
This requires lots of scrolling.

5. Put some content on the first screen

You don't want branding and navigation to take up the first screen, burying the content users want.

It requires a lot of scrolling to get to the first article in the Smashing Magazine newsletter. While I like that the table of contents has jump tags, the links aren't designed for touch.

Narrow the width
T.J. Maxx's email has a width of 520 px.

6. Narrow the width

When email is viewed on an Android, only a portion of the screen is visible by default (roughly 320px). Unlike the iPhone, the Android doesn't scale content to fit the screen. To make navigation even more difficult, the min/max zooms are extremely limited.

If 320px (iPhone 3 screen width) is too skinny, try a layout between 480px-520px. The Android, Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry all have popular devices that use a 480px resolution.

Anna Yeaman

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Anna Yeaman is the creative director and co-founder of email creative agency Style Campaign. Visit Style Campaign's blog for more ideas and examples, and follow Anna on Twitter at @stylecampaign.

Emma sponsors Step Up for Cancer

Fighting cancer, one step at a time in Denver

Emma has been in Denver for just over three years, and I've called the city home for the same amount of time. (Has it really been that long? Wow.) Being in a satellite city has its perks, one of which is the opportunity to build relationships with local Emma clients and participate in community events that I'm passionate about.

Two years ago Emma was invited to be the email sponsor for the first annual Step Up for Cancer event, put on by Generous Cancer Foundation. It's a great cause, and we said yes without hesitation. We've continued to be a sponsor ever since.

It's hard to imagine that I can help fight cancer by literally taking a step upward. You know, as in taking the stairs. But on August 7th, stepping up to help fight cancer is exactly what I'll be doing, along with my fellow Coloradoans and the supporters and staff of over 40 Colorado nonprofits at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. We'll run or walk the 1,765 stairs in the stadium, and in doing so, we'll raise money for a participating non-profit of our choice.

That's what makes Step Up for Cancer so unique — it was created with the sole purpose of benefiting other nonprofit cancer organizations.

Even though this is Emma's third year sponsoring, this will be my first year participating. Interested in joining me? There's stil time to register! Visit Step Up for Cancer's website to learn more. I would love to see you there.

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Read more about how Emma gives back here.

Building company community across time zones

How Emma staffers stay connected while working remotely

Emma's Jonathan Gesinger works from co-working space, Perch, in Austin.

At Emma, we're big on community among our staffers. Our main office in Nashville includes ongoing events around the house like the standard Friday Beer:30 (kegerator included) and weekly Wednesday catered lunch. We also participate in unique activities throughout the year like Juneteenth, Jack and Back and Ellie's Run for Africa. Activities like this improve our working relationships and get us more motivated to conquer the world of email (in a friendly, stylish way, of course).

Our Nashville office is about 100 folks strong — and growing — while our Portland office has over 10 people. In Denver, we have two folks, plus two more in New York City. And in Austin, I'm an office of one.

So, how do you participate in community when you're in an office of one or two?

How we stay connected

Those of us in remote offices fly in for some of the bigger events in Nashville, like Emma's holiday party and talent night, but it's also up to us to navigate what community means for Emma in Denver, New York and Austin.

On a daily basis, we have an ongoing flow of IMs and phone and video conferences that allow us to keep up-to-date with Emma projects and teams but also enable us to say hello and ask if Cars 2 was as good as Cars (it isn't), and if the green chili queso fries at Alamo Drafthouse are as amazing as they sound (they are).

On collaborative projects, we stay on task with online tools like Jive, Basecamp and Dropbox; they provide an archive of tasks and conversations and also allow us to interact on projects across multiple departments.

We're an email company, so as you can imagine, email is in heavy use but it's also done smartly by using group aliases so we can connect with particular groups of staffers, in addition to individuals. We even have a few unique, not-quite-work aliases for the latest viral video or the epic "Phil Collins vs. Peter Gabriel: Which former Genesis member had the better career?" debate.

Not just working, co-working

We've joined the co-working trend this past year, too, coming in to a communal workspace every day with other local freelancers and entrepreneurs. The chance to plug into our community is better than working alone from home or in a single office. Plus, it gives us a chance to learn about similar business challenges and share our experiences with fellow "coworkers" who just happen to work for other businesses.

As a business developer, I find co-working spaces particularly motivating because I have an opportunity to share local resources, make connections and learn about the marketplace we're all working in together.

By the way, if you happen to be reading this in Denver, New York or Austin, please stop by and say hi. We'd enjoy an afternoon chat or AM coffee at Green Spaces, New Work City or Perch.

You're part of our community, too. What can we learn from you?

How about you? If you're a remote employee, how do you collaborate? Does your company have a unique way of developing corporate community? We'd love to hear your experiences. Please leave a comment below or drop us a line on Twitter.