Earlier this month I received what has to be one of the single worst marketing emails I’ve ever seen in my professional career.

It was like a train wreck: one long, rolling chain of marketing disasters that had me fixated until I could scroll no more. And as I experienced it, I had a sobering realization: a huge amount of businesses (including, potentially, yours) are probably just a single errant step from generating their own similar fiasco. This story will have you ringing up email marketing consultants in no time.

The Email

The guilty business in this case is (hopefully) already embarrassed enough about this situation, so I’ll refrain from calling them out by name. For the purposes of this story, I’ll refer to them as “Talent Agency X.”

Talent Agency X first crossed my radar when a pair of its sales associates stopped by the MarketPro office a few weeks back to introduce themselves and exchange business cards. A few days later, I received my first follow up from them.

The idea behind their message was sound enough. It was an email that featured certain professionals who were available for hire; outlining their skill sets and what they brought to the table. It’s a clever way to showcase work-ready talent to potential clients who might have an immediate need, and a tactic that’s quite common across the recruitment industry. This email even had a nice Valentines Day theme.

So far, so good, right?

But the execution was such a remarkable mess, I just had to share it as a cautionary tale of what happens when your digital marketing is put in the wrong hands:

A CC: Catastrophe

By far the biggest mistake Talent Agency X made with this email was to send it to a list of 300 hundred people…who were all named in the recipients line along with their email address.

Yep, my work email is now readily accessible to at least 299 other people I know nothing about–without my permission. And I likewise have their emails as well (we’ll get to that more later).

This is a hugely embarrassing mistake. It makes the business look completely amateur and inexperienced. More importantly, it betrays the implicit trust they have with their prospects to be good stewards of their private information.

This is a big breach in the security of their customer data, and one that would immediately discount them from any of my business if I had been previously considering them.

It also indicates that this organization is probably still using a very primitive email marketing tool like Outlook or Gmail, which means no analytics and no way to tell how their efforts are performing!

Content Calamity

I could almost forgive the email address gaffe if the Talent Agency X sent me an email full of useful, valuable information. Instead, it was entirely useless to me. None of the talent showcased in the email had the slightest relevance to our business. It was all healthcare specialists; even though I’d specifically informed the sales visitors about our business focus.

This would be understandable if I had signed up for their emails myself. At that point, it’s my fault that I signed up for them.

But in this case they took the liberty to include me in their email list on their own.

That’s not the last of it; the email was bizarrely formatted and far longer than it needed to be. And it included personalization tokens of some kind that didn’t work.

email marketing staffing personalization

This message was clearly a corporate marketing/sales email. Yet nowhere was there a link to opt out, a path to manage my email preferences, or directions to cease further communications.

This probably violates the Federal Trade Commission’s CAN-SPAM regulations:

Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand.”

That’s a huge risk for any business. Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. Can you afford letting the wrong people manage your marketing when the stakes are that high?

Showing Your Hand to Competitors

To make matters even more awkward, this business is a competitor–if an indirect one–to MarketPro. We both provide talent placement solutions for clients, and are based in the same region.

So it seemed strange to me that they were so eager to deliver marketing content directly to a competitor.

Obviously, no business with a robust marketing operation will be able to keep all of its efforts away from competitors’ eyes. After all, many campaigns involve aggressively blasting a brand across radio waves or plastering a messages on huge billboards. Not exactly subtle.

Still, there’s no need to be handing your competitors your marketing playbook–especially if you operate in an industry where personal connections and long-developing relationships are critical for success. And as mentioned before, I also got full access to their mailing list. So I not only know what prospects they’re targeting–I also have their contact info if I wanted to contact them on my own for any reason.

How to Avoid the Same Fate

Mistakes happen.

Even very advanced marketing operations stocked with top talent and equipped with all the resources they could ask for aren’t immune to missteps. I know I’m certainly no exception.

Ads end up in front of the wrong audience. Minor typos slip through editors’ review. Poorly-worded Tweets accidentally cause social media embarrassment.

Absolute perfection is impossible. But a well-developed brand and marketing team can overcome mistakes and work to avoid them in the future.

I have no idea how Talent Agency X is structured, or whether they even have a marketing team or digital strategy agency. But if I had to diagnose the core of the problem here, I’d guess that there was little to no oversight from marketing professionals or email marketing consultants on the design and deployment of this email.

This is a scenario that’s all-too-common among businesses everywhere, especially small-mid sized organizations without well-established marketing programs (though it’s not uncommon in larger businesses either).

They often lack a culture that defers to the marketing team when it comes to basic customer-facing subjects (like email). Or they lack the resources to build the marketing team needed to help the business avoid mistakes.

That’s why it’s so important to install powerful marketing leadership (perhaps with a marketing executive search) with influence across the entire organization as early as possible. Digitally fluent experts should at least be able to save your business from absolute disasters.

If you don’t have the ability to add a lot of marketing talent right away, there are still ways to put systems in place that will help you deliver powerful, clean marketing content. In a case like this, email marketing staffing or email marketing consultants could well be sufficient to set up more sophisticated email automation, ensure clean delivery and effective personalization, and protect your hard-earned data.