WARNING! Microsoft Office Mail Merge ‘Gotcha’

We recently had a nightmare scenario and had to apologise for sending a number of emails addressed to the wrong person - really embarrassing and not something we or anyone else wants to do, let alone repeat, what can we learn?

It was tricky working out what had gone wrong, but we have discovered the cause, so we want to share it with you and hopefully save you potential embarrassment. 

Sometimes we needed to contact lots of people by email in one go, (all GDPR compliant of course).  Whilst every email was very similar, we wanted to make each one as personal as possible, but due to time pressure, we had our admin team to set up a small Microsoft Office mail merge to be sent to attendees of the Internet Marketing Workshop we held on the 22nd March 2108.  

So far so good, a few minutes later all the emails had been sent, but disaster!  Some of the emails were fine, but some were addressed to the wrong person…  Nightmare!

What on earth happened, why were some emails correctly addressed and other not?

Red Faced, and needing to know who to apologise to, having investigated, we are both older and wiser, allow me to share the detail of what happened… 

  1. If your mail merge spreadsheet includes a row without an email address, for example, as per the list below.  Microsoft shifts one row, so in our case, it went wrong on the line highlighted in yellow, (see below).
  2. We also discovered Microsoft does not start at the top and work down, it starts at the bottom and works up, so everyone above Linda, received an email addressed to the wrong name – nightmare!
    1. Karina received an email addressed to Linda
    2. Richard received an email addressed to Karina
    3. Jonathan received an email addressed to Richard and so it goes on…
  3. They just when we thought we understood, it turns out that halfway up the list, our trusty companion, Microsoft then corrects itself.  We were almost grateful to discover things were not as bad as we thought.

We wish it had never happened, there was an element of user error for which we must take the blame, (not spotting and removing the line with no email address.  Clearly, we cannot undo what has already been done, we can only ensure it is never repeated. 

We have now written to everyone who got an incorrectly addressed email to apologise and ask their forgiveness.  However, the Microsoft Office mail merge tool is a very useful way to send personal email to a number of people in one go.  If you do use it, please learn from our mistake and make sure an email address included in every line of your mail merge source file.

I hope this is useful to you and that you can learn from and smile at our acute embarrassment.

News Date: 
Tuesday, April 17, 2018 - 14:15
Sean Farnell