Note: Recently on one of the industry discussion boards a call went out for sample email production schedules. I pulled a set of production schedules I had done for my first big client about 10 years ago and provided them to the list. Some were amazed that I had scheduled 28 days from start to finish for one email; others defended my timeframes as necessary to do great work. Here’s an article I wrote for ClickZ back in May 2013 that talks about the need for time — and how to best spend it to improve your email marketing efforts. Enjoy!
Want to make your email marketing more effective? Make sure your production schedule allows enough time to develop great creative.
Can you develop and send an email in a couple hours? Sure. And sometimes you need to. But most projects are on the calendar well in advance; starting early will allow your creative team the time they need to give you great copy, design, and programming.
My standard production schedule for a brand new email campaign is six weeks. With my clients, this usually includes multiple audiences as well as multiple efforts. If you’re sending a single email to a single audience it can go faster. If you have a lot of audiences and efforts, it can take even more time. But when you’re starting from scratch, six weeks is a good guideline.
So why six weeks? Let me walk you through the kick-off meeting and the first two tasks, which are most critical for success.
Every project should begin with a kick-off meeting to get the creative team up to speed.
With my clients, I’m usually the one creating the detailed campaign strategy, so this meeting is a chance for them to brief me on the goals, product(s), and audience(s). I often think of this meeting as a chance for me to collect pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, where the pieces are bits of information which, when combined, will become the strategy, the completed puzzle.
Some of the pieces they know I need and they bring them. We identify other pieces of information through discussion; sometimes I get what I need in the meeting and some items they need to gather and send me as a follow-up. It’s always nice when a client comes to this meeting with a creative brief we can use as a starting point, but I often find that they’ve been too busy to do one.
Here’s where the real work begins. I take everything I learned from the meeting, all the pieces, and start seeing how they fit together. Often I have questions, holes in the puzzle, and I need to do additional research, competitive or otherwise, to fill them.
Then it’s time to develop the features, benefits, and advantages of the product for each target audience. One mistake many people make here is to focus just on features – and assume that the people receiving the email will “get” the benefits and advantages. This is a big mistake.
You want the email and your landing page(s) to create a “garden path” leading people to take the action you want them to. You need to make the case in the email – and that means spelling it all out for the readers. I also try to address objections here. It’s really a case of “getting into the head” of each target audience to figure out what will entice them to take the action you desire.
This is a creative process. It’s not that you need to spend a solid eight hours a day for three days developing the first draft of strategy. I tend to work on it and get as far as I can, then move away from it and let my mind “percolate” on it a bit. I often find that some of my best insights and ideas on strategy come when I’m not “working” – it’s when I’m cooking, running, just waking up in the morning, or doing something else. Then I can go back to it and flesh it out more. There are usually a few of these back-and-forths before I get the puzzle pieces together so I can clearly see the strategy and present it to clients.
I’m always surprised when clients want to dramatically cut back the time spent on strategy or eliminate it entirely. If you’ve done the work previously you can shortcut here, but moving into the copy phase without a sound strategy is going to hinder your ability to be successful.
Copywriting goes more quickly when a sound strategy has been developed, but it still takes time. And the time it takes has nothing to do with how quickly your copywriter can type.
This is another place where a lot of email marketers don’t schedule enough time. For most emails, copy is king. It, not the design or the coding, is what will motivate readers to action. I typically include five business days for this when we’re talking about multiple audiences, emails, and landing pages.
If it’s a large project (many emails and/or target audiences), the copywriter may need even more time. Give it to her, even if you do so by breaking the email efforts or audiences down into logical groups with rolling deadlines.
At a bare minimum you want to provide a copywriter at least two days, even if it’s just a single email. As with strategy, this is a creative process and writers needs to be able to percolate on it. They need to be able to go back and forth until they’re satisfied that the copy is a sound execution of the strategy. All of the great copywriters I work with sleep on their copy – write it and then look at it again the next morning with fresh eyes and revise. Now that I often write the copy as well as do strategy for clients, I make sure I always sleep on it.
Many copywriters write with a wireframe layout in mind. It’s always a good idea to ask them to share it with you. Assuming they are knowledgeable about the importance of the preview pane view, this can save you a lot of time when you get to design. This element of the copy process is another reason you want to provide enough time.
Design, Programming, and Quality Assurance
Design, programming, and quality assurance are important as well, but I’m not going to go into detail on that here. If the strategy, copy, and wireframes are sound, it should be smooth sailing through these additional phases – but again, don’t skimp on time!
So look at your calendar – do you have an email campaign set to mail six to eight weeks from now? If so, try to start working on it now, using my standard production schedule. See if you don’t end up with better creative and a more effective and profitable campaign.
Until next time,