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This is Not a Test

June 17, 2013

Early this morning, we emailed our first quarterly marketing update to a patch-worked list of friends and clients. As with any first edition, the road to “ready” had been long and bumpy. But having worked through several rounds of changes with our freelance designer, we felt confident in the product, and it felt good to finally say, “Send it!”

Of course, having spent many years in this business, we didn’t really expect immediate feedback, and certainly not the feedback we received – as dozens of friends and clients shot back responses, all saying, effectively, “Did you mean to have the subject line read, ‘MarketPoint Emma Newsletter Test’?”

How could this have happened? Was it not patently obvious that the subject line used in our test rounds would need to be changed for the live email? Of course it was, and that’s exactly why none of us anticipated the mistake. And as much as I was tempted to blame the designer for the gaff, I knew with due certainty that the error was mine.

Many years ago, I heard a Penn State alum proudly recount a tale involving the legendary football coach Joe Paterno. When asked by a young player why the team had to practice in full pads, even when temperatures were soaring, Paterno allegedly said, “Because when you play on Saturday, you’ll play the same way you practiced today. There’s only one way to hit and that’s as hard as you can.” I have to admit, it’s a pithy line, which is probably why it’s been attributed to so many iconic football coaches. What matters, though, is not who said it, but that it’s absolutely true.

Today’s “test” email had landed in our inbox through a dozen rounds of changes, and at no point did I ever say, “Hey, we should probably be using the actual subject line.”

We recovered, of course, resending the email with the new headline that included the joke, “Correction: This is Not a Test,” and as clients shared their own horror stories with us, we knew the damage had been repaired. But the sting of the lesson remained: We practice the way we intend to play, because we will surely play the way we practice.

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