Episode 4

Email Process and Managing a MarTech Company with Elliot Ross

Show Notes

Joining me in this episode is Elliot Ross, founder of the email marketing agency Action Rocket and founder of Taxi for Email, an email production tool.

Elliot Ross’ Links:

Jacques Links:


Jacques: [00:00:08] Welcome to, the marketing operations podcast.

Joining me in this episode is Elliot Ross, founder of Action Rocket and Taxi for Email

Hey Elliot, thank you for joining me. So you are the CEO of an email agency called Action Rocket. You’re the CEO of an email platform called taxi. Tell me a little bit about that.

Elliot Ross: [00:00:31] Yeah. So the kind of story I guess, came out of the two companies so years ago I worked in email at different ESPs and different brands and agencies and things like that. And I went freelance in 2012. and after about a year of being freelance, what happened is I ended up taking on too much work, basically. I needed to hire some people.

Jacques: [00:00:52] Good problem to have.

Elliot Ross: [00:00:53] Yeah. Yeah, totally. Right. So what happened is I, hired a few people that I knew and that I’d worked with in the past and things like that. And then that kind of turned into action rockets. So that is now like 15 people, an agency that does, design and build and strategy for email and also other bits of CRM.

So increasingly things like push and stuff like that. Yeah. And then taxi came out of the needs of Action Rocket. So quite early on, we ended up with, we were basically doing work for people. And what would happen is we’d give them the HTML. And one of two things would happen. They’d either say, look, we’ve got an email template now we need to make email every week. So, they’d either try and do it themselves. And the challenge there is, you know, marketers are great, but one of the things that not necessarily is in their wheelhouse is doing HTML. And even marketers doing HTML, even if they’re good at it, they should probably be doing more marketing things anyway.

So there’s a bit of disconnect there. or they would come to us and say, Hey, can you update the HTML? And that’s not the greatest use of designer’s time. Right? A developer costs quite a lot of money and you don’t want them just changing the text around and things like that. in the HTML. So we ended up building taxi as a way to, to really kind of get marketers, to be able to do their job and change content, but also in a way that designers and developers could build them a world to live in.

So. It’s a lot more than, you know, obviously, there’s different editing tools and ways to make email like that. The way that taxi kind of differentiates, I suppose, is. There’s a lot more, I guess, dialogue between the designer. So the designer can make a template and then say, Hey, this is how it should be edited.

And also how it shouldn’t., so you can do things like this has to be changed. This is Lorem Ipsum text, and it has to be changed before you can export it, things like that. so you’ve got really tight control over how marketers change the HTML, I suppose.

Jacques: [00:02:48] So, I guess that’s pretty interesting because my experience of working in email teams and marketing teams in general is just that. The email people are not necessarily marketing people they can be, but they’re typically interested in development. They’re more interested in understanding how to render something in outlook rather than understanding how to put together a good campaign.

And so providing this tool allows the more developey marketers to focus on the pure code side of things while letting the more strategic tactical kind of marketers. Send out great email without worrying about how it’s going to render in outlook or Gmail or whatever else.

Elliot Ross: [00:03:26] Yeah, exactly. And one of the things that we found you hear quotes along the way and things, a couple of things that are interesting. One is that. I sat down quite early on with a department store. And they said that they live eight hours at a time and they’re basically just doing the day-to-day. They’re marketers and they want to do this big picture stuff, but they can’t because they spend all day, every day on execution.

And the other thing that’s interesting is. I was speaking with someone a while ago and they said that the email team is three people, but it’s also 200 people. So you have this wide range of stakeholders, but also people that you can pull in. so one thing that’s kind of interesting as you move out of this space of having three or four people who just do email and everything has to go through them and they either become a sort of the gatekeeper or an unwitting bottleneck, or, you know, and it’s important because they have those skills, but also.

Just getting all that throughput of work becomes a challenge and they end up working late and, it becomes difficult. whereas building a world for other people to exist in those people can become the kind of gatekeepers that they can pull other people in, but in a kind of controlled way.

Jacques: [00:04:34] that’s a good way to look at it, because I’ve been in teams where I’ve unwillingly just been the bottleneck, right? So as an email developer, someone turns around and says, we need this sent now. And the reality of email is you can’t just do that. Things change less so now than they used to.

So I remember when I first started, Gmail decided to turn all black links blue, um,

Elliot Ross: [00:04:57] I do remember that.

Jacques: [00:04:59] And like the way that that was fixed is just by going with, instead of black, you just go with a very dark gray,

Elliot Ross: [00:05:06] Yeah.

Jacques: [00:05:06] which is just idiotic. Right. But the only way that people worked it out was by sharing online, through Twitter, through blogs and stuff, but.

If someone is working in an environment where they need to a turn, an email at that time, like instantly or suddenly there’s this big bottleneck that’s just happened because Gmail has changed something, and no one knows what’s going on or how to fix it.

Elliot Ross: [00:05:28] Yeah, exactly. And you end up with this world where, you know, like we’ve all. If you’ve been in email long enough, you get dragged into black Friday and things like that. Right. And we’ve all worked weekends trying to try and get all of this stuff done, just because there’s so much value hanging on email that the business needs to get it all out.

But we’re the, you know, one or two people in the business who know how to do it. so you end up with this kind of, yeah. It basically means having to pull an all-nighter and work out how to do all these things. and that’s not perfect. Right. So being able to. Have the skills, but also facilitate other people to do what they need is a really interesting proposition.

I think that’s, it’s interesting seeing how teams change. They have that kind of power.

Jacques: [00:06:11] Yeah. And I guess related to that, there’s also the view of, well, if the email people are kind of the people who use the ESP, typically you won’t have anyone else in the ESP and they’re the people who are looking to integrate. Personalization and all of this tracking and data stuff that enables email to really perform well.

which other people in business either aren’t aware of or just don’t know how to do, or just don’t know that it’s even possible. In that way, they’re like gatekeepers of all this technology that enables like real bottom line revenue generation.

Elliot Ross: [00:06:46] Yeah, exactly. And the thing that’s interesting there, is. I was having a conversation a while ago with someone about like, what does the CMO actually wants to know about email? and it’s interesting because. If you’re not careful, they become interested in things like open rates. And obviously, you know, if you spend five minutes looking at a channel, then that’s the obvious thing you’d look at, right.

And CMOs are very busy people. but you know, we know as people who work in email, the open rate can be a good indicator for things. It can be an indicator, things have gone drastically wrong, but it’s, it’s a bit of a blunt tool and there’s, there’s lots of ways you can read it, you know, in a way that isn’t right. so what I think is more valuable for a marketer is actually to spend time getting their head around all their stats and also pulling them out to other people and saying, right, so now I’m going to sit down with the CMO and say, here’s the things you actually need to know about email and here’s what we’re doing.

And here’s the stats that I’ve had the time to generate and all this kind of stuff. and then you get to pull those people along for the journey as well. And then they understand that actually what we should be looking at is whatever, click to open ratio, you know? but you have the time to educate them.

Jacques: [00:07:53] Yeah. So, I mean, from your agency experience, what are those metrics typically?

Elliot Ross: [00:07:58] Yeah. I mean, it really depends on different companies, right? So like an e-commerce brand, they love open rates, like, and obviously conversion is the biggest number for an e-commerce company, because that’s basically, we put X amount of money in money and effort and sent an email and we got X amount of money out.

Right. and there’s all sorts of things about conversion. Yeah. Do you track the first click? Do you, you know, if you send an email to someone and then five steps later, you know, they read your email go and think about it, wander around a bit. Look at some competitors then think, yep. That’s the product for me.

I’m going to search for it. I click through, is that a search sale or an email sale? Because emails done the heavy lifting, but search is what they clicked through last.

Jacques: [00:08:47] There’s that concept of the, I guess it’s called the halo effect, which is yeah, exactly what you’re describing.

Elliot Ross: [00:08:53] Yeah, exactly and ultimately. There’s all sorts of nonsense when people come up with stats and things, but there is some kind of stat around, like, it takes 10 to 15 touch points to actually get people to make a decision.

Right. So those 15 could be email, but they’re more likely to be walking past a shop and seeing your brand, and then seeing some tweets and then seeing an advert on the back of a bus and then, you know, all this kind of stuff, it all adds up, but

Jacques: [00:09:16] Yeah, attribution online is such a shit show. Um, it’s just,

Elliot Ross: [00:09:21] chaos.

Jacques: [00:09:22] it’s. I guess everyone just defaults to last click because that’s easiest.

Elliot Ross: [00:09:26] Yeah, exactly. And you know, it’s not necessarily what you can track. The challenge is understanding the reliability of what you’ve tracked. You know, like if you, if you track last click, then that’s great, but just be aware of, of its limitations. And don’t say, right, well, search was 99% of all of our clicks. So let’s put all the money on search because chances are, that’s not gonna.

Not gonna work out long term.

Jacques: [00:09:52] I guess that’s one thing that marketers often do, and I don’t want to say wrong, but it’s, they look at the numbers they have. And often those numbers are not the right numbers to be looking at either because they just don’t track the right stuff, or they just don’t know how to track the right stuff. Um, and particularly with email, right, you might.

Open rate is a really common example. People look at open rate because it’s a really easy metric to look at. It’s one that one has available. Every ESP makes it as if it’s a big deal. And so everyone focuses on that and it’s not necessarily a good indicator that your campaign is performing.

Elliot Ross: [00:10:29] Yeah, totally. And I think that’s the, the kind of catch 22 that we have, right. Is that the stat is there and there was a quote, is it Einstein or someone like, not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted. Something like that. Anyway, maybe it’s Winston Churchill.

That’s what people say for quotes right, but yeah, exactly. But you know, the point now is that ultimately what we want to track is engagement. Right? We want to understand whether the message has gone in and whether people liked it, but unfortunately, brains aren’t computers, you can’t download the data from someone and say, did this.

Is, is this message in their files somewhere. Right? so unfortunately, we, were stuck with, you know, measuring behavior and measuring behavior has its flaws. So. We can take it as an indicator. You know, if you send an email and, and your open rate is zero, the chances are your email’s gone wrong. So it’s useful for that kind of thing as a blunt instrument, but saying we made the call-to-action button red and the open rate went up by 3%, probably completely unrelated. It’s not worth making any decisions based on that.

Jacques: [00:11:41] I remember I ran a test. This must have been like nine or 10 years ago where I title cased the subject line versus just like.

Elliot Ross: [00:11:50] Right.

Jacques: [00:11:50] Not title casing and the title case one had like a 0.1% higher open rates. Wow. Look at what I’ve done. So wrong.

Elliot Ross: [00:12:00] yeah. I mean, we all learn this kind of stuff. Right. And I think it’s interesting that platforms, because it is an easy bit of technology to make and sell, right. So it’s, it’s a given that they do it, but also sometimes. Yeah, it can be over egged in people’s minds.

Jacques: [00:12:18] Yeah. What do you allow tracking of metrics in taxi or is there any kind of functionality there or around data or, that side of things?

Elliot Ross: [00:12:27] Yeah. so we don’t do. We don’t do analytics in terms of, we don’t, we’re not an analytics platform, you know, we won’t give you stats or anything like that. But what we can do is we can facilitate you setting them up. So for example, if you’re doing Litmus tracking, you can set up the code and it will pull it over to Taxi and put that in your email.

But also, one thing that I’m really excited about is, and anyone who’s worked in email, you’ll have got, we call it like copy and paste elbow, like. basically adding UTM strings to things like if you make an email, you’re gonna put loads of links in, and then you need to track where people have come from.

Right? So people land on your website, you ended up putting these things called UTM strings. If you’ve got Google analytics and you put these on the end of your URL. And then when someone clicks through to the website, your website sees that and goes, right. These people have clicked through from an email and you put these parameters in your, in your strings.

And if you, if you think of the average email, that’s about 50 links in there. Maybe even on an e-commerce email. And it’s absolutely the kind of thing that we’ve all done manually right copy and paste it and stuck it all in

Jacques: [00:13:27] Oh, yeah. And done wrong and like accidentally forgot to update a few and yeah.

Elliot Ross: [00:13:31] exactly. And you know, if you do anything 50 times like that, you, you get one of them wrong. Right. and then you have to check more and all this kind of stuff. So, in taxi we have the ability to say, right, here’s all your links. On this link. Do you want to have something specific for this one call to action? do you want to change the parameter across all of the links by changing one value?

Do you want to do something weird and wonderful with your, Google or all the other tools, with your setup for, for parameters that get put on the end of links? so. That basically means we can make sure that marketers have got the control. They need to say right these links. I’m happy with all of these, having the same campaign ID or whatever.

Actually, but this link, I want to change, put the UTM strings into something else so we can let them change whatever they need at whatever level. or we can completely automate it and say, just put today’s date on the end and hope for the best. And, you know, don’t worry about link tracking. It’ll just happen.

And obviously different brands have different things, and they want to do different, you know, different stuff around analytics. But, yeah, the thing that’s really exciting though, is we can just make sure all that happens in a way that people don’t get wrong. Right. Because yeah. As I said, you’d do anything 50 times you get it wrong.

Especially if you do it then multiple languages, multiple regions, all of that kind of stuff.

Jacques: [00:14:40] Yeah. I guess email QA is like its own beast. Right?

Elliot Ross: [00:14:44] Yeah, it’s a huge problem. And one thing I’m interested there is like not to plug taxi too much but one of our interests is, is like systematically removing the opportunity for an error to happen.

Jacques: [00:14:58] Yeah.

Elliot Ross: [00:14:58] So that’s a good example, right?

Like we can make it so that you can add your UTM strings in a way that you just don’t get it wrong to begin with. whereas catching mistakes is useful of course, but it’s better to not make them in the first place. So I’m keen to find ways to stop things going wrong because then that reduces the need to catch them.

And then ultimately that saves you time. But also it reduces the, uh, the chance of an error going out. Right.

Jacques: [00:15:25] Yeah. So you mentioned with action rocket, you’re starting to do I guess more of like a CRM marketing thing. So looking at push and things like that, is that also something you’re looking to do in taxi or is that for now just, an action rocket, thing.

Elliot Ross: [00:15:38] Yeah. So with, with action rocket, what tends to happen is we go in speaking about email to people and they have some kind of email needs, you know, and then we either build them some templates or we do some consultancy around how they can do better email. but then what happens is. Increasingly the people who make email, either work with, or are the people who are responsible for these other channels, especially emerging ones like push and things like that.

Cause they’re new channels and you don’t really say right now here’s my push marketing department and that’s completely different to our email department. you know, it’s all broadly CRM, and increasingly social as well. Like we have a client where, the social team and the email team work really closely together.

And it’s really interesting seeing content be generated for both channels. and how actually email with content that has been thought about in a social context is actually really interesting. Like putting little memes in and in little short video clips and things like that, you know, expecting people to consume your email as if it’s social content is, is quite an interesting way to think about it.

Jacques: [00:16:39] I guess that kind of goes back to what email used to be, which was just that one, like communication between friends, family, all that kind of stuff.

Elliot Ross: [00:16:47] Yeah, exactly. So, so yeah, so action rocket does a lot of that kind of work and it tends to be as the relationship grows with a customer or a client then they say you know, so we’re thinking about doing this with social. Can you help us do that? And, you know, kind of goes from there. We had one, one customer once I think that they’re still with us, but we made a gif for an email.

And then they said, oh yeah, the people in the people on the TV channel really like that gif, can you give us the files so we can make it and to put it on the TV, it’s like 50, 50 pixel gif or whatever, like it’s not going on the TV. but anyway, yeah so in terms of taxi, I dunno, like taxi, we’re really interested in that process of how people make email and, and making it, like super-efficient, but also making sure there’s as little margin for error as possible and helping people scale out and things like that.

We do do things that work with other platforms and channels, but it’s more about an integration, so it might be that You have a place where you make all your content and then we can pull your content in and make the emails from it, that kind of thing. Or if you’re making all your push notifications, you could make that content interact with the content in taxi, and kind of connect to other platforms that you use to make it. If that makes sense.

Jacques: [00:17:58] Yeah. So with action rocket, you’ve been doing it for how long did you say.

Elliot Ross: [00:18:03] Oh a long time. I guess 2012, the company was registered in 2011 and I was kind of like, uh, you know, in terms of companies house it is my freelance business. Right. It’s kind of, we named it and it grew, so I registered that in 2011 I used to go into work at like six, 7:00 AM and do like three hours of what would become Action Rocket and then do my day job at e-dialogue.

Jacques: [00:18:24] How have you seen the email industry changed in that time? Like how, how have you seen people respond to the email channel within businesses in that time.

Elliot Ross: [00:18:33] Yeah. so I guess the big change is, you know, you’ve had the year of mobile about five times now. Um, so you know, mobile. Yeah, so mobile, you know, mobile kind of hit around that time. I left e-dialogue, I suppose, about 2011, 2012., that was when it became, I remember the last couple of years I was there, the big projects I was working with is making all of the BA emails, British Airways emails responsive.

And they were one of the first brands to really embrace it. so yeah, I guess that was around that kind of time. And then, yeah. The sort of early 2000 tens, there was a bit of like convincing of like, Hey, you, you should think about mobile and yeah, that’s a given now right? so yeah, that, that kind of approach has definitely changed.

People are just super onboard with things like that now. And it is just a given way of doing things. in some ways, things haven’t changed. It’s still about getting a good message in front of people and seeing what resonates and ultimately getting people that do an action that you want them to take, right?

That’s not changed at all. The attitude is interesting cause that’s changed quite a bit. It used to be the email was, it sounds ridiculous for a platform that is often the highest revenue generating channel for a brand, but it used to be just given to the intern or like, you know, my first email work was, I was a junior designer in an agency in 2006, and they’re like, yeah, can you just do all these emails?

I used to do them for Ebookers and Malmaison and people like that. And now there’s, you know, head of CRM at a massive company is a legitimate well-paid well-respected role, so that has changed. and to some extent that’s probably people who started off being juniors when email was a thing that was given to juniors and they’ve grown with it.

But also it is a serious tool and people recognize it a lot more. It’s been interesting, sort of mentioned social, but. There was definitely a kind of, well, social’s the thing now, and let’s forget about email. and then the money did go to social for a bit, but people realize that it’s hard to, it’s hard to do that analytics and tracking and to actually tie the conversion.

Even though we just talked about that, that’s not necessarily the, you know, the, the key thing, but it it’s, it’s harder sometimes to prove the case for investing in social. And also, I think what happened is, you know, the shiny thing was social and then it settled down and people realized how to make money out of it and how not to make money out of it.

And then they realized actually that the thing that email does is good and that’s, and here’s how it fits into the overall mix. And we’re going to really go back to investing in email. I like brands, like, um, it’s in one of my talks, but people like, pretty little thing. Pretty. Yeah. They’re one of the, is it Boohoo instant?

Jacques: [00:21:16] Uh, well, I don’t know if they own them or, but yeah. They’re like the fast fashion kind of,

Elliot Ross: [00:21:21] yeah. That kind of space. Right. and yeah, like, I, I really liked their emails because they. They were a social brand, right? Like they, they came pretty much from nothing by selling to influencers and getting influencers involved and building that brand of social. And then you look at their emails and they’re obviously very, they recognize that.

Their audience is a social media savvy audience, and they pull some of that aesthetic and that approach to retail emails, which is a really interesting way to approach the email design. And I think it’s pretty smart for them because ultimately a brand is a brand, right. So people don’t go, right. I’m looking at email now.

So I’m happy reading five paragraphs of text compared to Instagram or whatever. That’s not how it works.

Jacques: [00:22:06] I guess that’s one thing that marketers often get distracted by is a new shiny thing. It’s like Tik TOK, Snapchat, Facebook, email, whatever technology or platform it wants to be. It does have a tendency to just the shiny thing is like the blinkers are on and this is a new thing we have to do. And to the detriment of what you were saying is a campaign is a campaign and the actual marketing hasn’t really changed that much.

Elliot Ross: [00:22:36] Yeah, exactly. it’s interesting seeing how we have a new wave of marketers now. Right. And probably some of the marketers we’ve had now have actually studied marketing at university. so they, they actually come through knowing what to do a bit more, perhaps, you know, but marketing is definitely one of those disciplines where people fall into it.

Because they’ve studied other things and, you know, people come to it from various directions and what’s interesting there is you get, I think sometimes a bit of a, whether it’s conscious or not, a sort of imposter syndrome of like, I’m doing this and I don’t really know what I’m doing, but it seems all right.

And I’m going to get found out at some point, that kind of thing. And I think. That can breed to this idea of like, I’m just going to find the shiny thing, because obviously that’s the thing to do. without. Much kind of critical ability or critical thinking. and that’s how these things I think can kind of spiral, yeah.

I’m, sort of mildly amused about how susceptible marketers are to marketing. Like we, we know the tricks. We know when something is nonsense because we’ve done it ourselves. Like we should recognize it and it’d be more immune to it really.

Jacques: [00:23:41] I guess that’s one thing that’s interesting about psychology is that even if you know the tricks, you’re still going to fall for them.

Elliot Ross: [00:23:47] Oh, totally.

Jacques: [00:23:47] Like stuff like price anchoring. I know exactly what it is, but I’ll still be completely affected by it if I see it.

Elliot Ross: [00:23:54] yeah. Or, you know a one-day fire sale or something like that. I’ll be sitting there going, Oh, I’ve got to get this, you know, so

Jacques: [00:24:03] And then you visit the next day and the fire sale is still going.

Elliot Ross: [00:24:06] Yes. Exactly. Yeah. And you know, and I know the game, I know I don’t need it, but it’s cheaper than it was. So it’s somehow needed., yeah, we’re all human right.

Jacques: [00:24:15] Yeah. So how do you approach leading a business? Because obviously working within MarTech, I guess the space is now huge. There’s that visualization of MarTech brands. It’s gone from a couple of hundred to like thousands.

Elliot Ross: [00:24:31] Yeah. Like they ended up splitting it out by country in the end, the thing. Yeah. that thing with all the logos on, right?

Jacques: [00:24:37] Yeah. Yeah., so how do you approach being the CEO of this kind of business, in this kind of industry?

Elliot Ross: [00:24:42] Yeah. that’s an interesting question. Like we do, this may be a bit of a not imposter syndrome, but like this isn’t something I trained for. Right. Like I didn’t go to business school and, you kind of learn a lot of things on the job by doing. so I think you have to understand that not everything you do is going to be perfect or the first time you do it is how you thought it was going to go and things like that.

And you have to kind of come to terms with that. So the kind of structure I suppose is action rocket has a leadership team so that my time is, gets super hectic, especially with two companies and, you know, the way where the world is at the moment and things like that. So, there’s a good leadership team that looks after action rocket most of the time though, to be honest, like I’m involved in some stuff, but most of my day-to-day time, is on taxi.

And taxi as well has a leadership team. So there’s a CTO and a COO as well. and then we have people look after the finance and whatever else. So, yeah, I guess one, one key learning is understanding, what you want to do, what you can do, what you should do and what you’re happy with in that mix.

And then making that happen, I think is one thing I’ve learned, it’s very tempting, especially when you’re the founder CEO to want everything done exactly how you would have done it., but you can’t do that because the only way to do that is to clone yourself 15 times or 20 times, whatever. Right.

And that doesn’t work either. Um, you know, even if it was, if it was legitimately possible, it was still wouldn’t work. Cause you don’t want 20 of me wandering around because, you know, you need diversity of thought and everything else. Right. but, yeah, so coming to terms with like that was done, it was done differently to what I would have done it, but also the thing that we set out to do was done in a way that works. It’s just different and understanding that and being able, to live with it, I think is a good skill you end up having to learn.


Jacques: [00:26:34] I guess going from this company, being your side project to something that is almost taken out of your hands, because you don’t need to run it on a day-to-day basis, must be both scary and pretty exciting at the same time.

Elliot Ross: [00:26:48] Yeah. And it’s ultimately, it’s how the business grows, right? Because if everything has to go through you, then it’s going to be small because you only have so many hours in the day and things like that., so being able to scale. In that way and make sure that you, can give that control to people and you’re happy with it, but also in a way that is how you think the business should grow.

It’s quite hard. You have to learn it, and you have to learn that level of trust with people and. You know, trust is something that’s learned. You don’t just say, I trust you now. So you have to feel your way through it. And sometimes things go wrong, and you have to nudge them and work it into a way that it should have gone.

And sometimes things go amazingly well, and you haven’t had any interaction or, you know what you would have done. Wouldn’t have been as good. So yeah, you learn it as you go along. I think.

Jacques: [00:27:44] How have you found. Working under the new circumstances, you know, everyone working from home, all that kind of stuff.

Elliot Ross: [00:27:50] I’m going to be one of those people and be like, I don’t mind it. I have, I’m really lucky to have my own room in my house that has a little office in, it’s got everything in like it’s pretty small and it’s got about three rooms worth of stuff in it.

Jacques: [00:28:02] I’m liking your 90% pure potato book. I can see in the background.

Elliot Ross: [00:28:06] yeah. Oh, that’s a really good book.

Yeah, I have, these are all my books that are like, So I’ve been into the studio. We do have an office, it’s got like 30 desks and the kitchen and all the usual stuff it’s inferring during it costs a huge amount of money. Yeah, so every, every so often for insurance really and, you know, to make sure it’s still there and things I go in and I kind of cycle my books. around but yeah., so these, all my books that I’m kind of reading at the moment, but 98% pure potato is really good it’s about planning in advertising. And it’s yeah, there’s some, some good learnings in that. but yeah, in, in the new world, I find it really hard. the things that people typically say, like, you know, zoom is, is fine.

Really. It’s not the best software in the world, but it’s okay. and I don’t, that kind of level of interaction is okay. Like it’s probably. You know, it’s good to see people in person and have that little chat, having a coffee and things like that. one of the things I’ve kind of struggled with a little bit in the past is decisions being made in the corridor when you’re walking to the loo or something like that, like, and.

One upside is this avoids all of that. You know, if you’re, if you need to make a decision with someone, you have a call and you agree, and it’s a meeting, you know, there is no, Oh, well you said that while you were making coffee and now, I’ve done it. I’ve said it as a thing that you should maybe look at not a thing we should do.

So you avoid that. it’s hard getting the work life balance right I, I think you know, we have kids and. Yeah, it’s good that its normalized kids wandering into the room and things. you know, that’s, that’s life, so you shouldn’t hide from it. but it’s hard finishing at five.

Sometimes I’m finishing at five 30 and going, and I actually miss my commute, not because of the commutes are universally, awful right, but I like that hour of sitting on the train and just processing what’s happened and thinking about the day and writing down my actions for the next day. And, you know, even just listening to.

Jacques: [00:30:01] Yeah. It’s, it’s that disconnect between your work life home life.

Elliot Ross: [00:30:05] Yeah, exactly. And then, literally walk out the door and the kids are there, like, and you have to switch completely straight away. And so it’s a completely different person, you know? so I think that’s hard and I’ve been trying to, you know, my day does finish at half five and I have to, it’s pretty much bath time at that point, but I try to get time in the evening to like, we live on like a development.

So I go out for a run or go out for a walk around and just get 20 minutes, half an hour of just, you know, time on your own sort of thing.

Jacques: [00:30:32] Yeah, I do exactly the same because I think I’ll go crazy if I don’t just have that separation cause I’m in my bedroom literally all day. So I need to at least go for a walk before and after work, usually lunchtime as well, just to be in the right mental state.

Elliot Ross: [00:30:49] Yeah, exactly. And even just the, you know, the steps, you do about a thousand steps if you don’t go out, you know, that’s with the Apple watch over reading everything. so yeah, you’ve got to go out and get a bit of just, yeah. 20 minutes, half an hour, just go out and breathe some air in and, and Check that the worlds still there really if nothing else.

Jacques: [00:31:07] How about socializing, I guess you’ve been doing. I guess I could call like professional socializing because you’ve been doing a podcast as well.

Elliot Ross: [00:31:15] Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. So yeah, podcasts are actually really good and yeah, this is obviously a podcast, but, one thing I’ve learned as a podcast host, I guess, is you get to have conversations with people like this Even if they weren’t going out, it just forces you to have a chat with someone for an hour like that, you know, you would have met, you know, I think everyone that I’ve spoken to on my podcast, I’ve met at conferences and things.

But you know, you see them once a year, so it just kind of forces you to have that interaction, which is really good. yeah. And then the, the other social stuff that I tried, I usually DJ on Saturdays. It’s hard keeping the routine, but especially weekends cause. Routine flies out the window, but usually I do nine o’clock on a Saturday and DJ for a couple of hours and do a live stream, which has been fun.

And it’s cool. Cause you get that interaction, you get people on the chat room and things like that. and then the rest of our socializing is kids socializing. So like you go see other mums and dads really. but yeah, there’s no going to the pub or anything like that, but to be honest, I. Kind of, I dunno, I grew out of that.

I suppose I stopped doing that anyway a while ago, you know?

Jacques: [00:32:14] Yeah. On the conference thing, have you been to any of these virtual conferences that have been going on?

Elliot Ross: [00:32:21] Yeah. It’s, it’s interesting. there’s some real pros to it. especially when you look at things like diversity and inclusion, I’ll pick on litmus conference, but just as a complete example, it’s a great conference, but if you wanted to go there in real time, in the real world, it’s the best part of a grand, right?

By the time you bought your ticket and your train and your flight and whatever, and your hotel, and however you want to do it, you know, and even if your work pays for it, you’ve got to have a job that will pay for it, but also you. Need to have the ability to take about a week off. Obviously, I’m exaggerating because I used to go to the one in America and it takes a conference in America from the UK is a week. Right.

Jacques: [00:33:02] Jet lag time and all that thing.

Elliot Ross: [00:33:04] Yeah, exactly. But so obviously there’s a huge amount of things that you’ve got to have going for you before you can go to a conference like that.

Whereas. Logging onto a zoom call. Obviously, you’ve got to have a laptop and the time and things, but it democratizes it a lot more. It’s I think it’s really interesting, not just for audience, but for people talking as well. Right? It’s really hard if you’re a freelancer and you can’t give up a week’s worth of money.

It was really hard to be able to write and to pay for some of your travel, if you have to and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, so being able to democratize stuff has been really interesting and it’d be, I think it would be a shame if we just went back to, everything’s back as it was now. you know, at the very least let’s think about how we do physical conferences but have some kind of online component.

But also, you know, maybe we should do a mix of online and real-life ones or whatever., they are hard. It’s harder to concentrate, frankly. So there are some challenges with it, and I’ve done some workshops and things like that. And I’ve found workshops have been very hard as well. Whereas previously you’ve gone for a day.

I both teach workshops, and also go on them for various things. We’ve just done a writing course on our team. And you have to split it over three or four days. Like you can’t do a day’s conference or a day’s workshop where you would have gone to a place in London and sat behind a desk or whatever, because you can’t concentrate for more than half an hour looking at screen.

It’s interesting. I like how litmus did a whole week of it. and also you had the ability to watch what you wanted.

Jacques: [00:34:39] Yeah, it’s that video on demand thing where you sign up, but you can still, you can consume the content on your own schedule rather than being stuck to the conference schedule.

Elliot Ross: [00:34:50] Exactly. And I liked how they had a couple of life things each day, and that built that bit of community. There was a Slack channel. There was a chat room where people were watching., so you could speak with other people and watch stuff in real time. And you have that kind of social interaction, which is really important because otherwise it’s just like here’s 20 talks go and deal with it.

Jacques: [00:35:09] Yeah, which is what I’ve seen with some conference organizers. It’s been very much like just that has 20 pre-recorded talks online, off you go. Which misses the point entirely.

Elliot Ross: [00:35:20] Yeah exactly. And I think the opposite is just trying to replicate a real-life conference online and say here’s two days of straight talking. You know, that, that doesn’t necessarily work either. So it’s interesting seeing companies adapt and I think, litmus did it really well. when they did their thing.

Yeah. As I said, it’d be a shame if we went straight back to just what it was, because that’s how the world was.

Jacques: [00:35:42] if people haven’t learned anything from this, I think they’ve been like they’ve had their head in sand because. I mean working at some of the companies I’ve worked at, I know that some of the management teams were desperate to get back into the office. They couldn’t understand that employees could be happy and productive working from home.

Elliot Ross: [00:35:59] Yeah.

Jacques: [00:36:00] Obviously some people want to be in the office and that’s great. And some others want to be at home and others still want to find whatever split works for them.

Elliot Ross: [00:36:09] we found that for our team, it’s been really interesting, I guess, of the, even of the leadership team, other people on the leadership team are like, this is really hard for me. I need to be back in the office. So obviously you have to work on that and work out how everyone can be happy and things.

But also yeah, there are people who as I said, I’m really lucky to have an office where I can close the door and get on with my work. If I was working at the kitchen table all day and the kids were running around, I would be, you know, not doing my job, you know, And I absolutely see the value when it’s safe in being able to say here’s some space for you to work at and things like that.

And that’s key. I think it’s interesting seeing some companies and we didn’t do this, but We actually mostly transitioned to everyone working remotely pretty well. Obviously, there’s a bit of teething and working out people that had people get on and providing support for them and things like that.

But I heard about companies doing things like everyone’s on an eight hour zoom call every day. And if you’re not at your desk, your manager looks at your camera and says, where are you? so I think the best one I heard was there’s a memo saying you’re not licensed to put the washing machine on between nine and five or whatever.

I could imagine if you’re running a virtual call center or something then maybe, you know, but, if you’re hiring good people, and you trust them to get on with their job, then you don’t do stuff like that.

Jacques: [00:37:31] No. And there’s, there’s that whole rise of software that tracks people at home and often on their own devices, which is this big mess. And fortunately I’ve not worked in an environment where that is a thing, but yeah, like that’s crazy as well.

Elliot Ross: [00:37:48] It is very hard. One thing we’ve done with our team, I thought it’s been really good is We hired a external, I don’t know what you’d call them almost like a therapist, I suppose, like, a mental health, wellness person. So there’s a person you can book an hour with them and just talk about, anything really, you know, how you’re feeling, but also.

How you’re getting on what you can do to improve? How, if you just need to get something off your chest, all that kind of stuff. That’s been very good for the team. some people are like, I don’t need it. I don’t like it, whatever, that’s fine. You know, others are like, this is the best perk I’ve ever had. but just providing that has been really good.

And also, we’ve been trying to do a bit of learning as well. We started off doing the kind of standard, like we’re going to do virtual yoga or whatever. And you know, and it turns quickly into actually there’s yoga videos online. We don’t need to do a team yoga session or whatever, you know, people just kind of drifted away from it.

But, but yeah, providing that kind of stuff and giving people other things to think about. As I said, we did a writing course recently, we’ve been doing some other things that are aligned with what we want to do as business, but also not everyday tasks. Just things that just, help people keep, keep thinking about other stuff I suppose.

Jacques: [00:39:05] I guess that’s kind of challenging when you’re at your kitchen table, or if you’re lucky you’ve got a desk at home. So yeah, finding something to think about because it can be very draining and very distracting being at home.

Elliot Ross: [00:39:17] yes, absolutely. Yeah. So yeah, balancing that’s been fun, but yeah, I agree.

Jacques: [00:39:22] Earlier you said you, you do seminars. So I know that you, you teach HTML coding. How has that been during lockdown?

Elliot Ross: [00:39:30] it’s been interesting because, so pre lock down it was a great session. You’d go and do a day’s worth of training is in a place called Wallace space, which is a big building, full of very nice meeting rooms and all the treats you could possibly want and a nice healthy meal at lunch and you know, really great learning environment.

And you’d go there for a day and people would have sort of five, 10 people on these courses. and we go through building out in HTML, usually building out some shapes in HTML, some kind of modular layout and talking about, all the pitfalls in email and all that kind of stuff. So again, that’s one of the things where it is at the moment.

So yeah, pre COVID we do those as like day sessions, but also, I do them as. sessions for teams. So I did one for, well it’s probably NDAd, but at the holiday place where you go and stay for a week and it’s not Butlins, it’s the other one. but anyway, yeah, did a session with them and we split it over two or three days, and it works really well.

Doing it online, I think you have to take more breaks. So you had to review, like, you know, here’s all the things we talk about and, how do we split it into 45-minute chunks rather than hour and a half chunks, and put in a few more breaks and, you know, stages for people to just get a bit of fresh air.

It’s harder to build that rapport with people, I think as well. so you have to be really conscious about asking people questions and making sure that they’re around and that kind of thing, making sure people are still engaged, keeping that engagement, that, you know, it’s been good, but it’s a learning curve, you know, and again, it’s a bit like a conference just taking that and shoving it online doesn’t work.

Jacques: [00:41:03] I’ve been working with a few people. Who’ve been taking courses and they’ve said some have adapted really well and have changed the way they teach to suit this new way of working. And others just haven’t quite got it yet. And it’s really evident and it just makes the whole course significantly harder to follow.

Elliot Ross: [00:41:19] Yes exactly. I mean, there’s some really easy wins, like two screens is great because you have all your zoom stuff on one. You can see everyone, and you can just share the other screen. there’s also great tools out there. So Google, um, in Google G suite, whatever they call it now there’s a tool you don’t really see, but it’s called, Jam board.

Have you seen that?

Jacques: [00:41:38] I recall the old product because there used to be a thing called jam board, and I think they bought it.

Elliot Ross: [00:41:43] Oh, yeah, no. Yeah. They bought it and it’s kind of, it’s in G suite somewhere, but you don’t really see it until you poke it around. But, yeah, that’s really good. It’s like a virtual whiteboard sort of thing. People can put the post-it notes in and fiddle around with stuff and draw pictures and things.

that’s really cool. And then there’s things like Mirro as well.

Jacques: [00:41:58] Yeah, we use Mirro at work.

Elliot Ross: [00:42:00] like again, virtual whiteboard. Yeah. Like things like that. Just make it, give a bit more interaction and help people follow along. and contribute as well. so yeah, designing that kind of stuff into, into the courses is really useful.

Jacques: [00:42:15] I think as a final question, what do you think is the most exciting thing happening in email right now? and if I can follow on with another one, what is the most exciting thing that is happening in the future? Where do you see things going?

Elliot Ross: [00:42:32] Interesting. I guess the stock answers are things like AMP and that kind of stuff. Right? Like the technologies we know about, I’ve been in email long enough to see shiny things come and go and I kind of remain a little bit to be convinced with things like AMP, but nevertheless, if it’s good, it’s good.

Yeah. If it grows then I’m up for it yeah, I’m interested in, this idea of workflow and helping teams work better. I think there’s a real. That’s probably the next big revolution. Like we’ve got to the point where we know how to code for email and, we know how, design should look and what good content is and what converts and things like that.

But being able to build a team that does it really effectively in a really smart way, I think we’re not there yet. And being able to facilitate that, I think is where the next kind of wave is. And really that’s what buys you the, the time to do the cool stuff as well. things like, AMP, and, you know, whatever guys, like Phrasee doing AI subject lines and, you know, all great things, really interested in it.

Marketers need to have the time to actually take advantage of it properly. Right. and it’s. Yeah. You know, it’s not the thing where you think, Oh, five minutes, I just press a button and it’s done and you’ve got to really get your head around it and work out how to do it well, with all of these things.

So yeah, I’m interested in that., And I think the thing that’s interesting there is that the way we make email right now, probably isn’t the best way. So it’s not necessarily a case of just improve the common processes, maybe what is the better process? there’s a lot of movement about things like email design systems, which we’ve had master templates for years.

Right. But how do we make them happen in a really smart way? that stuff is cool. Yeah, in terms of now versus the future, it kind of depends where you are as a brand. Some people are there right now. Some people are just starting. So, you know, it’s different for everyone. I think in the future, it’s interesting, like emails had a place for the last 10, 15 years in terms of a marketing channel.

I think it’s still going to have a place in five, 10 years’ time. But what that place will be is interesting we’ve seen this idea of business chit-chat is in things like Slack, ow. and that’s great because anyone who works in an office 10, 15 years ago, you know, my favorite example of that is I worked somewhere and the office manager, she would send these almost deranged emails about like, you know, remember you should only have one piece of fruit from the fruit bowl. End of message. To the whole company. I’m glad that that stuff is in Slack now. my favorite one, you can bleep this out or cut it or have it, but, and it’s a language thing that she said, there is man servicing the ladies for the next 15 minutes. End of message.

And I mean, she meant the ladies toilet. Right. But, um, yeah. Um, yeah, so I’m glad that that kind of business stuff is moved, you know, to a better place, really. but what does that mean for the inbox? You know, does that mean that people are spending less time? Does it mean that when people spend time in their inbox, they’ve got better expectations of what’s actually going to happen?

you know, mobile has seen that people go from checking the email once or twice a day to having it in their pocket and checking it every 10 minutes. So that’s great for us, but with that mindset means more distracted. Mindset and less time concentrating on email. So they might check it every two minutes, but they’ll only give us two seconds.

So seeing how that plays out, really, I think, you know, how’s the channel used and what people doing in email? Will, it just become a channel that is purely for interactions with brands and marketing. Like on the one hand that might mean that people go to it less, but also on the other hand, if that’s what people’s expectations of email, they’ll be less annoyed about stuff that isn’t, you know, great.

Jacques: [00:46:21] I guess we’ve kind of seen that start to play out with the promotions tab and actually that hasn’t. Well, we’ve not seen a significant drop in interaction with the commercial email.

Elliot Ross: [00:46:35] yeah, yeah, exactly. And you know, it’s on us as marketers got our heads around it. Right.

Jacques: [00:46:42] Well, thank you very much for your time. really appreciate you speaking with me, it’s been great.