Read Time: 7 min

Email Design Podcast #54: Behind the Scenes of Email Marketing at an Agency with Courtney Fantinato

In the 54th episode of The Email Design Podcast, hosts Kevin Mandeville and Jason Rodriguez sit down with email campaign manager Courtney Fantinato to discuss what email design and marketing is like at an agency and the challenges of educating clients about email. Be sure to follow along and join in the discussion on Twitter using #EmailDesignPodcast.

Watch the full video above or listen to the audio-only version below.

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In this episode:

  • (0:52) How did you learn HTML and CSS? Courtney learned HTML and CSS thanks to virtual pet social network Neopets and customizing her guilds on the platform. She also learned from the website Lissa Explains It All. Courtney always thought website development would be a hobby, but never thought it’d be a career. She thought she’d work with animals.
  • (4:25) What were your first development jobs and projects? Courtney built her own personal website. At university, she had a few classes on web development and was also the web editor for the student newspaper.
  • (6:15) When did you get into email design and development? Courtney was introduced to email development at her current job at digital agency BSTRO, where she started out doing WordPress site development. She was actually excited about email development because she knew all about tables, as that’s how she started out learning HTML.
  • (7:45) What is BSTRO? BSTRO is a full service digital agency with offices in San Francisco, Vancouver, and New York. There are ~thirty people in company with a shared design team and two developers for all email marketing efforts.
  • (9:15) Does it take a lot of education for the designers on your team about what’s possible for email? It does, especially for new designers. Courtney is involved in the review of all email designs in case any amendments need to be made given email client limitations.
  • (10:12) Have the designers been pushing for interactive emails? Interactive email is not something BSTRO or their clients have been pushing for as of yet. Courtney is not yet sold on the value of interactive emails. In her opinion, it’s important to know where subscribers are opening first to evaluate an investment into interactive email, information which they don’t have for all of their clients. Additionally, Courtney believes it’s really hard to test interactive email and lacks analytics on performance.
  • (11:30) Does BSTRO specialize in a certain clientele? The typical BSTRO client is B2C and Courtney mostly works with retail clients.
  • (12:00) Do a lot of your clients push for image-heavy or all image-based emails? BSTRO is trying to push clients away from image-based emails. Courtney harps on having a balance of images and text. If ever faced with any resistance, Courtney puts together a presentation of pros and cons to convince them – she believes showing them face-to-face is the best method of education and persuasion.
  • (14:40) Do you handle actual sending for clients? For the majority of clients, Courtney hands off final email assets. She sends very few on behalf of clients, who use a broad mix of ESPs.
  • (15:58) What’s your typical workflow look like? Once the creative is set with the client, the email will go into design. BSTRO creates a PDF explaining the entirety of email – including items like subject line and preview text – so clients can get a full understanding of everything going into it. Clients must approve (including legal approval, for many) before moving into development.
  • (19:12) How do you share email with clients? Courtney typically sends the actual HTML files to clients and only sends proofs when handling sends.
  • (20:10) What design files do you work with? BSTRO works with PSD files. Designers also export assets for the email development team as well.
  • (20:35) What editor do you use for development? Courtney uses Coda as her editor of choice. Everybody on the team uses the editor they’re comfortable with. BSTRO uses Git for version control for all of their assets.
  • (21:42) How do you approach the HTML structure for you emails? BSTRO uses the hybrid technique for all of their email builds. Before hybrid, they just used traditional responsive tables. Courtney learned the hybrid technique from Nicole Merlin’s tutorial.
  • (22:54) Has the Gmail update changed your development approach at all? It hasn’t changed anything yet for Courtney or her workflow. She prefers to continue manually inlining her CSS as well and doesn’t trust inliners.
  • (24:51) How do you determine what email clients to test in for clients? By default, BSTRO tests in all of the popular ones. They then test manually with their device lab (3 Androids, iPhone, iPad, laptop, and some virtual machines). They also use Litmus for render testing.
  • (27:04) Do you have an official checklist for approval process? BSTRO built an internal wiki where all of their checks live. Each email also has a Google spreadsheet tracker.
  • (31:26) What have you been doing for progressive enhancement in email lately? Courtney has been experiencing with web fonts and VML background images lately for client emails. For web fonts, Courtney prefers using Google fonts and the @media screen technique.
  • (35:15) Have you experimented with table-less emails? Courtney has been experiencing with table-less emails for non-Outlook clients, but has been using conditional tables as a fallback for Outlook.
  • (37:30) Has accessibility become more of a priority for you? Courtney has been using more semantic tags like <h1> and <p>, using ALT text on images, and role=”presentation” on tables. She eyeballs color contrast as a check as well.
  • (39:18) What is Women Of Email and how are you involved? Women of Email is a network of women working in the email marketing industry. The organization helps with career growth and leadership. There is a directory of members, active Facebook group, and mentorship programs to assist with professional networking and development.
  • (40:18) You have goals of blogging more? A big goal for Courtney in 2017 is to start blogging more on her personal site.
  • (42:02) What is your top email tip for this year? Courtney’s top tip is to balance images and text – don’t use images when it can be text. Treat web fonts as a progressive enhancement.
  • (45:15) Where do you want to see email go next? Courtney would like to see more support for basic CSS, like background images, from email clients. She also wants to see more investment into relevant and timely emails. Courtney advocates for asking for more data if you don’t have it. She also thinks optimizing preference centers are a unique area to see the industry improve on as well.
  • (46:00) Rapid fireFavorite email hack: Checkbox hack
    Favorite email client: Apple Mail
    Least favorite email client: Outlook App Android
    Favorite email designer/developer to follow: Mark Robbins
    Favorite CSS property: display
    Favorite blog: Litmus blog
    Favorite email newsletter: MailChimp for Agencies
    Favorite email campaign: Litmus Live 2017 Tickets on Sale Soon
    What would you be doing if not email? Makeup artistry

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