So, here’s what happened:

Email intended for 5 contacts instead sent to entire db of 50,000 contacts. Backlash was instant, and situation escalated. Customers and recipients irate, action stations taken to minimize customer unsubscriptions and service cancellations.

Here’s what we did:

  1. Responded personally to each and every respondent to the error campaign. Most were asking what happened, which was responded to candidly and to-the-point, citing the reason as human error. Others were much more cutting and venomous, but pretty spot-on considering what happened. These emails were again responded to in a calm, professional and open way, citing human error, apologizing, and ensuring that proactive measures were being taken to prevent this from ever happening again. Few of these respondents who were replied to actually bothered to respond again. I can take from this that the original response was satisfactory. These emails represented the panic station and damage control emails – those recipients who have the gusto and determination to reply indicates that they’re willing and able to take further action – be it cancel their account, unsubscribe from future campaigns, or contact someone of senior authority.It should be noted however that, although this was a mistake that should never occur again, there was a side-benefit that not one person could have anticipated. It turned out the original campaign (the mistake) actually generated such an interest in the product it was plugging to the original 5 tradeshow contacts, that we had one of the highest returns of interested leads and prospects of any other campaign we’ve ever done. This is not an exaggeration. It seems that besides those few who were genuinely annoyed, there were many more recipients that could look past the mistake and actually request more info on the product mentioned. A ‘mystery’ email campaign that can raise interest levels enough can actually elicit a response because it gets people thinking – what is this, it looks good, what can it do for me’. This was he first step towards saving my skin b/c of this mistake.
  2. And here’s where it all started to pick up. Besides the dozens of positive and interested leads that were generated from the error campaign, we also proactively sent another campaign, to the exact same list (the whole thing) that was an up-front, to the point, and essentially soul-baring email. The content included a candid subject line ‘Oops, we made a mistake’ and the content described what happened – a human error was made when trying to select dynamic segments so that we could further target the intended list for higher response. The apology campaign in effect doubled as a subtle product feature/benefit plug, which again got great response. As soon as the campaign was sent out, the positive (if not glowing) responses poured in, and the day was for now saved. Really, the amount of recipients who bothered to reply with a great reply and light humour was overwhelming. I think my pick of the bunch (and the bunch was huge) had to go to one woman who actually thanked us for the screw-up, as it clearly indicated that there was a human being behind the send button, not a machine. It made her feel better knowing this, knowing that we’re not so far removed from anything manual anymore that we’re still prone to making a totally human mistake. She’s right, I agree, and it made my day.

Hope it helps, and I hope you realize that any mistake is never a bad one, it’s how you deal with them that counts.


Last week was hell. At my work I’m responsible for the design, implementation, testing and sending of all email marketing communications sent to customers and prospects. Although the average size of send is small due to list segmentation and targeting, a send can range anywhere from 10 to 100,000 contacts. As I’ve already sent dozens of email blasts and communications in the past, that day last week was was no different – except that I was clearly overtired, overworked, had my mind elsewhere, and quite frankly a bit bored

So what happened? I accidentally sent an email campaign that was targeted to 5 DMA tradeshow follow-up contacts… to 50,000 contacts (our entire active subscriber base).

The moment I realized what I had done was when my co-worker and my boss both mentioned across the floor that ‘the mailer looks great’. It took me about 1.2 seconds to (quietly) realize the full calibre of the situation. The reaction from the customers was instant – what’s an email marketing company who preaches a strong privacy policy, touts permission, relevance and intelligence as their tagline, and markets their products as targeting your reader before sending… doing sending a totally erroneous and blatantly un-targeted email campaign to both prospects AND paying customers? The backlash was serious, the office tension was palpable, and it was all my fault. The customers were pissed, my bosses were pissed, the VP who’s personal name and email on the faulty mailer was pissed, and I thought I was going to get fired or just walk out and preempt the insanity.

Anyways, my point? Is that for so long I’ve always been too cautious with anything I do, to a fault. So when I made this mistake that was so public, so obvious, so downright a clear ‘fuck-up’, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. But you have to remember something that’s truly important. Anyone can screw up. Some screw ups are worse than others, sure, but it’s how you DEAL with the mistake that counts. People remember the mistake, but they’ll also remember the way you dealt with (or not dealt with) the situation at hand. So, at risk of sounding like all the other marketing blogs out there that give checklists and education, Part 2 is what happened and what we did to alleviate the problem – and the results were stellar.