Thrillers, fillers and spillers

How the hidden talents of an Emma colleague made our office a bit greener
Emily and her potted plant
Earth Day … a little bit at a time.

Maybe it was the fact that spring finally descended upon Nashville, or maybe it was the anticipation of Earth Day and our initiative — with your help — to plant 100 extra trees this month, but we found ourselves hankering to get our hands in some potting soil and bring some greenery to our desks.

Our inspiration other than leafy goodness? Marc Powell, who leads our infrastructure team, and his invariably green thumb. A visit to his desk sometimes involves parting fern fronds to see if he's actually in his chair.

Marc was kind enough to impart some planting knowledge to a few eager members of the Emma community team. During a recent workshop, he taught us which plants thrive in terra cotta, glazed and self-watering pots, as well as the recipe for a beautifully planted "ensemble" (that's the combination of a few complementary plants in a single pot). Marc's ensembles are all the rage here in the office, and I'm happy to share his secrets with you, in case you'd like to get your office in the Earth Day spirit:

  • Select plants that need approximately the same amount of water and sunlight
  • Consider how much light your workstation gets when making plant selections
  • Combine plants in odd numbers (otherwise the human brain tries to find patterns rather than just enjoying the aesthetic)
  • Go for contrasting colors

Finally, remember that a perfect ensemble pot contains three kinds of plants:

  • Thriller, which boldly shoots straight up and gives height and drama to the ensemble
  • Filler, which provides leafy bulk and interest
  • Spiller, which tumbles out of the pot

With Marc's wisdom fresh in our minds, we headed down to the closest nursery and picked out some appealing plants. We potted our own little ensembles in no time flat and are currently enjoying them at our desks.

Do you have any Earth Day tips, or ideas for making your workspace greener?

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

Emma goes to TEDxNashville

Kelley and Christy share their TEDxNashville experience

Emma's feeling the love for TEDx this month. Gina Nykerk and Annie Parsons attended TEDxMileHigh on April 7, and two days later, a group of folks from our Nashville office went to TEDxNashville (take a look at our pictures from the event on Facebook).

Kelley Kirker and Christy Montoya, two of Emma's design coordinators, share their TEDx experience here.

Kelley Kirker
by Kelley Kirker

New to the world of TED, I didn't know what to expect from a day of "ideas worth sharing." I was curious enough to invest a Saturday, and I'm so glad I did. I left inspired and utterly motivated.

Nashville's theme was "A Sense of Wonder," and as I listened to each speaker, it wasn't long before I started to ponder how I could play a role in changing the world. I may not be a philanthropic photographer or children's songwriter, and I probably don't have a future in rocket technology, but my mind was alive with wonder.

The final two presenters of the day, Ashley Judd and Jimmy Wayne, went beyond wonder and absolutely moved me. Ashley shared experiences from her travels and introduced us to the lives of people this world has forgotten: women and children who live in some of the worst conditions imaginable. She shared her commitment to honor and remember them.

Then, Jimmy took the stage. Since he's a musician, it didn't seem strange for him to step up to the microphone with a guitar strapped on. But I was in no way prepared for the weight of his message and the poignant song he shared. Jimmy spoke quietly as he told his personal experience with abandonment, incarceration, foster home survival and hope. Ultimately, Jimmy's story took something previously global (read: a world away) and made it local. It's not a heartache nine time zones away — there are children right here in Nashville who need to experience safety and love. It is surprising and wonderful to connect so profoundly with a story.

Now I know TED. It's about knowledge and inspiration that resonates and spreads. Thanks to the folks at TED, the local planners and the speakers for a life-changing Saturday.

Christy Montoya
by Christy Montoya

Months before TEDxNashville arrived, I was invited to join the marketing committee coordinating the exposure and communication of the 2011 event. I had become intrigued by TED over the previous year and was quick to join the team for Nashville's 2nd annual conference focused on Technology, Entertainment and Design. Taking a step behind the scenes allowed me to see the creativity and determination of those in my community, all committed to facilitating a space and time for ideas to be shared, for energizing dialogue to take place and for inspiration to jumpstart a thousand more fantastic dreams and goals.

The conference flew by with each speaker approaching the stage for a few minutes to share his or her story. I was struck by the simple idea that a portrait could allow someone to see his or her value, that a poetic anthem might preserve the dignity of otherwise forgotten sisters, that the plight of homeless children would cause a man to walk 1,700 miles across the country in order to spread awareness about their experiences.

I'm proud that Emma supported this event, that so many of my colleagues attended and that I had a behind-the-scenes look at the people who make TED successful. (Check out TED's initiatives if you're interested in getting involved.)

Even now, I find myself reflecting on the stories and ideas shared a few weekends ago, and I sense a renewed passion for the causes I care about. What idea are you putting motion to? How might your passions make the world a better place?

Things we love: Creative alerts to email subscribers

Fandango Email
Fandango sent their new address in style.

As seasoned email marketers know, it's important to alert your subscribers when something changes related to how they're hearing from you. But it's not always the most fun message to share. After all, it would be more entertaining to send a note with big news like, "Taylor Swift visits our office!*" instead of a heads-up that you're changing the frequency of when you send, asking your audience to update their preferences or prompting your subscribers to update their address books with a new RSVP address.

That's why I unexpectedly smiled (and it *may* be because I'm a bit of an email nerd) when I received this email from the folks at Fandango. They wanted to let me know that their "from" email address was going to change, and that I should add the new one to my address book.

I love the way they framed the message as if they were moving physical locations. We all recognize the mundane process of going to the post office, filling out the change of address form and then notifying everyone of our new address. It was easy for me to relate to. They also did a great job with the design of the email — it's branded with a clear call-to-action at the top. (The cute Muppet-like guy didn't hurt either.)

Add a little creativity to the way you shape these types of messages for your audience, and you'll most likely yield some successful results. A simple heads-up or FYI alert might not be enough if you want your subscribers to actually engage with your email, even if it's something as simple as clicking "Add to Contacts."

*(Hint hint, Taylor.)

Mind your email’s images

How three Emma customers use well-sized images to elevate the design of their emails

In the email marketing industry, the adage is true: Less is more. And this is nowhere more true than when it comes to images in your emails. It may be tempting to splash your email with every image you created in Photoshop or mined on Google Images, but it's better to practice restraint. Email benefits from simplicity and ease over complexity and bulk. After all, your email is being delivered to hundreds or thousands of inboxes that have their own way of rendering your campaign. If your images are too large or too many, your email runs the risk of being blocked or, even if it reaches the inbox, being poorly rendered.

Let's take a look at three Emma customers who've used moderately-sized images to balance the text and tone of their campaigns.

Natural Touch Marketing

Natural Touch Marketing, an Olympia, WA distributor of massage marketing tools and supplies, sends email campaigns twice monthly to their subscribers. This campaign spotlights a series of new business cards, promotional posters and clearance items. The images are modestly sized at around 215 x 180 pixels — large enough to see, but small enough that readers want to click through to the website to view larger versions. That pays off for Natural Touch Marketing with a 43% click-through rate to their website.

The send-off, at a glance.
> Sent Tues, Feb 1 at 3:11 pm to 2,041 people
> Subject: Stellar New Business Cards
> Open rate: 31% | Click-through rate: 43%
> Created with an Upload Your Own HTML template

Harrison West Society
The Harrison West Society is a nonprofit civic association in Columbus, OH that plants trees, builds parks, organizes public art projects, hosts social events and more. They spread the word to subscribers and fans in a monthly newsletter that's equal parts update and entertainment. In this campaign, the images are 120 x 120 pixels, and they condense the news blurbs to balance the images (with "read more" links for continuations of the stories).

The send-off, at a glance.
> Sent Tues, Feb 1 at 2:00 pm to 187 people
> Subject: Harrison West Society – February 2011 e-Newsletter
> Open rate: 62% | Click-through rate: 47%
> Created using Emma's newsletter 5 layout

Sawyer Design Associates
Sawyer Design Associates, an interior architecture and design firm in Dallas, TX, is a co-branded Emma agency, partnering with Emma to offer email services to their clients. In a recent campaign, they alternate images of about 250 x 190 pixels using Emma's newsletter 7 layout, resulting in a balanced, stylish email whose content takes center stage.

The send-off, at a glance.
> Sent Feb 17 at 1:08 pm to 235 people
> Subject: Stay warm. Do good work. Work for good.
> Open rate: 53% | Click-though rate: 4%
> Created using Emma's newsletter 7 layout

Guarantee that your campaign's images look good no matter where they end up by adhering to a few best practices:

  • Avoid mega-sized images. Large images take longer to load and cause problems if your campaign becomes too big in terms of file size. 40KB is about as large as any single image should be, and 480 x 480 pixels or smaller is our recommendation for an image's length and width.
  • The more images in your campaign, the smaller each image should be. Visual symmetry is key. If you're using Emma's simple layouts, we recommend images of 480 x 480 pixels or smaller. A newsletter layout works well with images that are about 240 x 240 pixels. Our advanced layouts tend to be most successful with images that are around 120 x 120 pixels.
  • Limit the number of images in the campaign. Our layouts have 10 or fewer image placeholders for a reason: More than 10 images may result in an email file size that's too large for servers to digest. Additionally, too many images serve as a distraction to your email's content. If you have more than 10 images, consider creating a landing page to further content, or save content for a part II installment.

Visit our Image FAQs page in our Help Guide for more tips, and let us know if there's anything we can do to help.

A leafy infographic for Earth Day

Plus, help us plant 100 more trees
Earth Day infographic
Design by Jennifer Kasdorf. Inspiration by Terry in Hoboken. Click to view the full infographic.

In anticipation of Earth Day on April 22, we sat down to do a little trees-by-the-numbers infographic recently here in the Emma office. Designer Jennifer Kasdorf and writer Molly Niendorf — with some help from Jesse Worstel and Jamie Bradley — came up with all kinds of nice things to say about our tree friends.

And just as soon as 100 of our non-tree friends share this post or this month's Emma email roundup on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, we're going to plant 100 extra trees (in addition to the five we already plant for each customer, of course). We're pretty sure the forest creatures would help with this social networking effort, but — let's face it — squirrels and rabbits are ridiculously inept when it comes to computers. So it's probably up to you.

You can take a look at the full version of the infographic handiwork above and share it with your followers using the icons below. And thanks! We'll let you know right here on the blog and right over there on Twitter what happens.

Reduce, reuse, recycle your emails

Strategies for writing and re-purposing compelling content
Recycle it
Recycle your content in earth-friendly *and* audience-friendly ways.

Props to you for sending emails and doing your part to cut down on paper waste, which is something we especially think about every April as Earth Day rolls around. According to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. Yikes. We figure that by sending emails instead of printing things, the Emma community has saved a mighty impressive number of trees through the years. Continue those tree-saving ways by applying the tenet, "Reduce, reuse, recycle" to your content strategy. Read on for tips.

+ Reduce. If you haven't done a content audit of your emails recently, now's the time. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, email recipients who open your email spend an average of 51 seconds reading it. These folks don't have patience for aimless verbosity and visual clutter. Reduce the following:

  • Unnecessary adjectives, adverbs and circumlocutious language. (Weak: It was a terribly depressing movie that bitterly affected me and left me feeling melancholy. Better: The movie depressed me.)
  • Multiple font sizes and styles. An overly stylized email distracts from its meaning. Keep it simple.
  • Multiple calls to action. Too many calls to action could turn off your audience. Focus on the primary action you'd like them to take.

+ Reuse. Just because you've shared an article or resource in the past doesn't mean everyone in your audience read it. Reusing content can be good, as long as you package it in a fresh way. Try the following:

  • Linking to past issues of your email newsletter so new subscribers have access to them.
  • Testing click-through rates on a white paper you developed by moving the "Download" button to different locations in your email.
  • Bundling a few of your most popular blog posts and sharing them in a new context. You'd be surprised how many folks may not have read them in the past, but will read them if they're packaged as "Our top posts of the year."

+ Recycle. If you've been churning out emails and blog posts for longer than six months, you've got a ton of content to work with. Don't reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to write content. Consider recycling the following:

  • How-to articles. Readers love a good how-to that's value-oriented and easy to follow. If you wrote a level one how-to article last year ("How to grow basil" ), follow up with its level two relative ("How to start an herb garden").
  • Customer success stories. If you profiled a customer in the past, write an update that illustrates where they are now, how their business has changed and what new projects they're developing.
  • Tips and best practices. Revisit a list of tips you provided for your customers, and write a check-in that identifies which practices are still recommended and which ones have gone stale.

See there? Recycling's never been so handy — or so good for your business.

You say TEDx, I say amazing

Denver does the first TEDxMileHigh

Just when we thought Denver couldn't get any better, Annie Parsons and I had the privilege of attending TEDxMileHigh, the first public TEDx event in Denver.

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to ideas worth spreading that started as a four-day conference 26 years ago. TEDx is one of its many initiatives: a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. (Read more on their website.)

"Inspired Citizenship" was the theme of the TEDxMileHigh evening, and I am truly inspired by the citizens and natives of this state. Annie and I live in the company of big thinkers and even bigger doers. Doers like Casey Sheahan, the CEO & President of Patagonia (be still, my outdoor enthusiast heart). Casey spoke about Patagonia's incredibly successful 1% For The Planet initiative, and their new mission to create every product out of recyclable materials and also make every product recyclable.

Big thinker and doer (and recently elected Colorado Governor), John Hickenlooper, spoke about his gubernatorial campaign and how he was able to win on a positive platform. He also challenged us to volunteer in our schools. He believes that the change needed in our education system — especially given the budget crisis — is going to have to come one resident at a time. Listening to his call-to-action made me proud of Emma's Donors Choose efforts, but it also made me want to find a way to volunteer at the elementary school two blocks from my house.

From Robyn O'Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth, to Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders, to Libby Birky, co-founder of SAME Café, the list of people who inspired me goes on and on. Among all the inspiration, the one idea that I walked away with, hope not to forget, and believe will inspire me to action is: "People forget that what's in it for us is that we're all in this together."

Indeed, we are. How can we make a difference in our communities? I'd love to hear how you're giving back and if you have any inspiring stories to share.

Hiring the right clients

Beyond the RFP: new techniques for pitching and selling
The founder of Converse Digital, Tom Martin is also leading the Emma-sponsored Talking with Tom video project.

Going back out on my own last year after many years working within larger organizations has reinforced one of my core beliefs for building a successful agency. Long-term success is about having the right clients and doing the right kind of work for those clients.

That combination determines an agency's ability to "break out" or "go big." Unfortunately for most of us, the traditional biz dev route (which includes RFP hell) is counterproductive to this goal.

Personally, I loathe RFPs and the whole pitch process. I've always felt it an incredibly flawed way of selecting one of the most important business resources a company has – its marketing partner.

I mean, I dated my wife for a year before asking her to marry me. But the vast majority of companies today want to get hitched after just a few dates. But much has been written on that subject, and I'm quite sure that most readers of this blog would agree with me. For those that don't, the comment section is at the end of this post. Fire away.

Stop being hired by clients

For those that do agree, I encourage you to try a new route. Stop being hired by clients and start hiring them. Stop waiting to receive an RFP or mailing hundreds of clients four to six times a year to stay "top of mind." Instead, pick the folks you really want to work with, regardless of how big they are or what agency they currently work with. But do your homework. Don't just pick those marquee brands or brands that seem cool. Study the company, its people, its press, its social media streams and try to figure out if you'd really want to marry them. If you don't, then move on, I don't care how cool or hip they seem.

But if you decide that yes, you really could fancy a life of working together, go ahead and invest some time understanding their business and marketing challenges. From there, dream up something truly brilliant — something they would be complete idiots not to consider, much less do. Then call them and offer to share the idea with them. Find the CEO, CMO, Ad Director or whomever you can get an audience with and ask for 15 minutes to share with them a groundbreaking idea that addresses [insert their business/marketing challenge here]. Then be brilliant and succinct. If they have an existing agency relationship, let them know that you are not asking them to fire their current partner — but that if they like your idea, you'd expect to be allowed to execute it.

If they truly are a smart marketer, they'll take the meeting. If they don't take the meeting, call their biggest competitor and make the same offer – assuming of course you'd be just as happy to hire them as your newest client.

The 15-minute sell

So why 15 minutes? Two reasons. First, it isn't a lot of time, so the "risk" to the prospective client is pretty small. Second, it isn't a lot of time. So you and your agency shouldn't have to spend a ton of time prepping fancy presentations. You'll just need an idea and an easy, quick way to explain it.

I recently took my own advice and dreamed up a project that I thought would make sense to any company that sells technology to other companies. I even went so far as to begin producing the project myself. After a few weeks, I got a chance to talk about the project during a speaking gig, and I spoke at some length about how it represented the future of what's known as "invitation marketing."

In the audience was a member of an email marketing company. She came up after, we talked, we emailed and we had a few conference calls with the team. During that time, I had a chance to gauge what they'd be like to work with and whether I wanted to seriously pursue having them sponsor the project. Long story short, within a few weeks I had a new client. You might know them … a little company based in Nashville, Tennessee, called Emma.

Now had Emma not liked the idea, I'd still be ahead of the game because I could have just gone directly to their competitors or to another technology services or information company. In fact, while interviewing the Chief Content Officer of just such a company, that person asked if they could sponsor the same project. By the way, if you'd like to see the project, visit TalkingWithTom.com. Once there, you'll hear from 52 digital thought leaders all answering one question: what's next. But I digress.

The main point is this: As you prepare to enter the all-important third and fourth quarters, where the pace of traditional pitches always seems to pick up, step back for a moment and ask yourself if you really want to spend your time getting hired or hiring. Your decision and your willingness to stick to it could mean all the difference to the growth of your agency.

About our esteemed guest blogger
Tom Martin is the founder of Converse Digital, a social media marketing firm that works with ad agencies and their clients to create integrated content marketing platforms. The firm is based in New Orleans, LA. You can follow Tom on Twitter (@TomMartin) or email him.