Bad boy, Brendan! Two critical lessons from a broken email

  • Brendan Farnand

    Brendan Farnand

    Co-Founder & CCO, Knak

Published Jul 10, 2024

Bad boy, Brendan! Two critical lessons from a broken email

My kids’ school does a fundraiser every year, and I’m one of the parents who volunteers to help with the event.

Because I’m a marketer, and because I know all about emails, I was tasked with creating the email that would promote the fundraiser.

But even though I’m an expert, I screwed things up big-time and sent out a broken email.

Today’s post is about the lessons learned from the experience – and what every marketer can do to avoid sending broken emails.

Setting the scene: How the broken email was created

When I took on the task of creating the email promoting the school fundraiser, I realized I could save the school a bit of money by changing the platform they were using to send out their emails. They had been using Mailchimp; HubSpot offered a less expensive option.

So after I had convinced them that this was the thing to do, I moved all the names on the contact list from Mailchimp to HubSpot.

Moving the contact names was a big project and it took a lot of time and effort.

When the time came to send the email, I was tired and just wanted to finish the job. So I cut-and-pasted an HTML version of the email from Mailchimp directly into HubSpot.

On my screen, it looked just fine.

So I hit ‘Send’ and the email went out to the 1,000 or so people on the school’s mailing list.


The email wasn’t fine. The people on the mailing list got a message with garbled text and images that didn’t show up. Even the fonts and colors were off.

It was a textbook case of ‘broken email.’

As a marketer, I was mortified!

Yet the reality is that I see this kind of thing a lot. Sadly, it happens in every company.

As I sat there red-faced, I realized there were two simple lessons here for all marketers.

1. Focus your efforts on what the customer sees

In retrospect, my biggest mistake with the school email was that I put too much energy into the back-end stuff and not enough on what the email recipients would see.

For example, I worked long and hard to make sure I had migrated every single contact on the mailing list to the new platform.

Necessary? Yes.

Important? Sure.

But what was even more important was making sure that the people receiving the emails got something clean, clear and informative. Something that wasn’t broken.

I wasn’t quality-checking the most visible part of the email process – the content, the stuff that people read.

So to avoid that kind of mistake, focus your efforts on what the recipient sees. If I were to make a mistake, I’d rather it be leaving two people off the mailing list than sending out a broken email to everyone.

How to keep your eye on the recipient? Here are a few suggestions.

Build for the email platform you’re using

The broken email was my mistake, and not due to any problem with Mailchimp or HubSpot. Each of these platforms has its own requirements, and I had chosen to ignore HubSpot’s requirements because I did not want to have to rebuild the email. In short, I was being lazy.

I was also being a bad marketer. When I sent it, the email looked (to me!) to be ‘good enough.’ It was not!

Don’t take shortcuts

There are ways to speed up the creation of marketing emails. But some things can’t be gotten around. I should have realized that what I was doing was a total shortcut. I should have spent the time building an email I could have been proud of.

I didn’t, and my broken email came back to bite me.

Have someone collaborate with you on what you’ve created

Collaborating with someone else is the best way to catch errors and omissions. I had not shown my school email to anyone.

Omissions, by the way, are as important as errors. Is there some critical piece of information missing, like the address for an event or the price of admission? Another set of eyes will help catch things like that, as well as plain errors.

Get approvals on the completed email

My wife is on the school mailing list. When I sent out the broken email, she was the first person who saw it was broken. (Or at least the first person to tell me about it.) Even something as simple as getting approval, or sending a test email to her before finalizing things would have saved me from embarrassment.

(My wife now insists I send all school emails to her for review before they get sent out.)

2. Own your mistakes

The second lesson is that you cannot and should not walk away from your mistakes.

Broken emails have consequences.

They confuse or anger the people getting them. They damage your brand. And they undermine trust that people have in you.

We once got a broken email from a potential customer in the tech sector. It looked horrible; it made us wonder just how good their technical skills were.

And embarrassment can be compounded if there’s a problem with accessibility – for example a broken email that is not accessible to people with a visual impairment.

Despite the best intentions, mistakes will occasionally happen.

The best way to recover from them is to own your mistakes.

If it’s a simple rendering problem – for example, if people can read the email but it just doesn’t look good – then you should quickly send a ‘Sorry!’ email with the proper rendering.

A more serious mistake might require an apology in addition to the proper information.

Either way, admit to the error and act quickly to limit any damages.

In my case, this is a lesson I had already learned. I immediately rebuilt the next school email the right way. I tested it multiple times and I made sure to show it to my wife. I worked on it until it was something I could be proud of – and something that would reflect well on my kids’ school.

So marketers, remember: Content is your public face.

When preparing emails, make sure the content is as good as it can be.

Oh, and if your spouse wants to see the email before you send it, show it to them!

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  • Brendan Farnand


    Brendan Farnand

    Co-Founder & CCO, Knak

    Brendan is a career enterprise marketer who's passionate about making modern marketing accessible to everyone. He has worked at organizations of every size, from startups to global enterprises, and is experienced with the full spectrum of marketing operations, including analysis, go-to-market strategy, asset creation, sales enablement, and demand generation. He also loves dad jokes, even though his kids do not.

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