The leading email marketing legislator is some guy named Murphy, so you have to be ready for the unexpected to hit your campaign at any time. Here are some tips on avoiding the worst crises, and recovering if they do hit.

On the Internet Everybody Knows Everything and Nobody Likes Anything

Your latest email campaign contains your usual high standard of quality offers presented in an attractive and ethical manner. However, some 13 year old kid in his parents’ basement is now viciously slamming your brand on prominent social networking sites because your products cause pimples on baby seals or aren’t produced from organic, renewable spider webs.

Congratulations, you’ve just had a crash course on the nature of the Internet. If you want to be universally loved, go stand on a street corner and hand out $100 bills. Online it just doesn’t work that way.

Conventional wisdom states that you should never acknowledge the flamer’s existence. If you feel that you are being slandered / libeled, ask your attorney to write Junior a nice friendly (not) letter. Otherwise, let the water roll off your back. If you want to ignore that wisdom and go have some fun, then bearbaiting with highbrow retorts will really get him foaming at the mouth, and your readers will have a good laugh.

Online Flamefests Can Escalate to Death Threats

There is no guaranteed way to hose down a flamefest: Junior will vocally oppose everything you do until he gets bored or Daddy can no longer afford an internet connection, so accept that it’s just par for the course when you have a prominent online presence. Be prepared as the higher your profile, the hotter the flames. A prominent blogger (me) received death threats that required federal police intervention because he (I) published an article discussing why the ludicrous fad among computer ultra-enthusiasts to grind off their microprocessors’ metal coverings with sandpaper and soapy water is a stupid idea.

Give Your Audience What They Signed Up For

In the United Kingdom, one of the largest cell phone and electronic gadget chain stores is called The Carphone Warehouse. Not too many people use the word carphones any longer, but that was the common name for mobile phones when the company was started, and you needed a suitcase sized transmitter in your car trunk (British: boot) to make a phone call. Canada’s biggest overnight courier company is called Purolator. Strange name for a courier? That’s because it used to be owned by the Purolator oil filter company, and it got stuck with the name!

Now let’s imagine that Purolator is an email campaign. The original subscribers were car enthusiasts and mechanics looking for info on oil filters. So now you’re sending them emails about overnight courier services? It may make sense for your branding since the older niche may be drying up and you want to transition them into a newer, hipper market segment. Unfortunately, if your customers signed up for one type of content and you’re sending them another, you’re playing bait and switch with them and that’s going to result in an uprising by unhappy subscribers.

Have a Fallback Plan for Everything

You sent out an email marketing campaign for your new “Earthquake” product 12 hours before San Francisco falls into the sea. Or a typo has entered an expletive into your subject line. Or your link to your landing page is redirected to an X-rated site.

Although volumes have been written about public relations crisis management, when you’re put in a position that the chairman of BP would be aghast at, it always boils down to honesty being the best policy:

  • Admit that you screwed up.
  • Don’t spin or hide anything.
  • Explain that it was inadvertent.
  • Apologize profusely.
  • Promise that you’ll work harder to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  • Try to make it right.
  • Realize that time heals all wounds.

A proper balance between preparedness, honesty and fatalism will help you get through the worst of the crises. A long-term perspective, nerves of steel and a large bottle of bourbon in your desk help too!