Let’s Talk About Your Emails
It wouldn’t be a shock for you to hear that I have written plenty of emails in the last 15+ years of my career in marketing. Challenging myself right now to estimate how many I’ve written exactly, if I estimated 240 working days on average per year, 10 emails written a day average and 15 years of working as a project manager in marketing, I’ve probably drafted around 36,000 emails, if not more. Not to mention how many I’ve probably read: It’s got to be closer to 100k… which begs the question, what have I done with my life?!
But, I digress…I have a love/hate relationship with emails! We seem to need them for so many parts of keeping organizations moving, doing business and sharing ideas. Some emails are great – to the point, have clear purpose. Some are just painful and you probably know the ones I mean: it’s so dense that it’s like a short book you have to set aside a chunk of time on your calendar to parse through. Or it’s the 20th reply all in a thread that really could have just been sent directly to one person. Or it’s the type of email that probably should have been a live conversation. I fall into any of these groups with emails I write myself – I think it’s easy to do with the best of intentions.
I think something valuable to do (and sometimes overlooked) is to put yourself in the mindstate of the person you’re writing to as a first step.
- Are you writing someone who you know responds best to actionable, succinct summaries? Write to them that way. They will appreciate it being direct and to the point.
- Do they appreciate lengthier detail in an email because they’d rather communicate that way than on a call? Do what will work for them, but just be mindful of density. In a longer email you’ll want to be sure any abundant supporting details don’t overshadow the main ideas, the main request or main action you want the person to take away as a next step.
- Do they just dislike emailing in general? You wrote them a masterpiece and they never responded. Next time, try writing in all caps. Just kidding! A face to face conversation may be a better use of your time and theirs than emailing them.
Think carefully about what action you want the recipient to take based on your email (is it asking them to do a certain activity, approve something, or share an idea) and make sure that’s clearly communicated, preferably with a timing expectation set so it doesn’t fall onto the backburner and off their mind! It can also help to sandwich the supporting detail between an opening and a closing reiterating the request, like:
“Hi [cool person],
We wanted to share the attached designs today, which we are requesting you to review and share thoughts about by 3/14.
(Here are 3 paragraphs of supporting detail.)
Please let us know and questions, and we look forward to receiving your feedback by 3/14.
[fellow cool person]”
Keep in mind also what email is inherently good for – keeping a record of a communication thread or documenting a formal milestone. It’s not always ideal for a back and forth conversation on something routine – think about using instant messages or direct conversation/video chat instead for those cases whenever possible to speed up the flow of getting the good thing done.
People stay busy, in social good and impact marketing especially. There are funding concerns, events to plan, communications to coordinate – sometimes people have tiny breaks in their calendar to fit in a sweep through their inbox. Having a clear subject line to highlight the purpose of your message and make it leap through the noise is critical. If there’s a chain of messages 15 deep in replies, consider starting a new chain rather than piling onto the same one – it’ll help it feel more urgent and let your note not get lost. Try also to keep important messages outside of the threads generated by declining or accepting calendar invites. It’s easy for these types of messages to get lost or overlooked when the receiver has an inbox full of calendar auto-response emails all with the same subject line.
Finally, remember you can change the world and make a huge impact starting with a single email expressing the right proposal, concept or idea. Love or hate the medium, this is how we interact a lot of the time. Keep your comms tight, focused, action-driven, with expectation setting on timelines for action, and with the reader or intended audience clear in mind.
At the very least, I can say with certainty that at least your project manager will appreciate it!