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It’s been a tough year and we wanted to make sure students’ union comms people know their work is valued so we sent out personalised certificates to confirm that they’ve been amazing.

Obviously I’d love to pretend that I painstakingly wrote each one out and individually emailed them over to people but…. nope – I used some computer wizardry! A few people asked how they could do something similar so these are the steps to follow.

You could do something similar with certificates for volunteers, invitations to events or just a nice message to say hi!

I used a couple of tricks in Illustrator to create the images and send them out with Mailchimp.

Step 1 – make a list of recipients

You’ll need a csv file with the details you want to include as personalised details (in my case a list of first names and surnames). Each item needs to be in its own column and I’d recommend including a column for people’s email addresses as it makes step 4 a lot easier.

It’s worth checking through your data carefully before you use it to spot any empty fields (use conditional formatting or filters to highlight empty fields in Google Sheets or Excel), typos or incorrect capitalisation. 

Also, make sure you’re happy with everyone on your list getting the email. Remove anyone that it won’t be relevant to, for example I only sent this to people who work in comms or who have been clients, and anyone that it wouldn’t be approriate for (this wasn’t an issue for me but for you might include anyone involved in disciplinary processes or anyone who is no longer a volunteer). 

Step 2 – create your personalised images

I created a simple design in Illustrator then used this tutorial to personalise them

You create separate text objects for the bits you want to personalise (it can also use custom images), use your csv file of the personalisation details and tie them together with a script.

It’s absolutely not as technical as that might sound! You just copy and paste the code for the script into a text file and save it then tell Illustrator which column in your csv file goes with which object in your file.

It’s worth making sure your design works for the longest/biggest combination of custom details and/or do some spot checks to make sure everything works. In my case I had a few people with long double-barrelled surnames which didn’t fit into my text box so I had to go through afterwards and manually adjust those ones.

The final step is to save all the images (which the tutorial walks you through too) and Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt. 

I have to confess that I struggled to save the images with a file extension so I did manually go through and add the .png to them (which was not a fun process but neither was trying to get Illustrator to behave!). I’m sure someone with more Illustrator experience would be able to work this one out in a flash.

Step 3 – upload your images to the internet

I used Mailchimp’s guide to attaching personalised files to emails which suggests uploading your files to Mailchimp BUT as you’ll need each person’s unique file url and the Mailchimp ones are random I didn’t fancy copying and pasting all 175+ urls.

Uploading them to my website (using FTP to do them easily in bulk) meant I could dictate what the url would be.

I used one of my favourite Google Sheets formulae – CONCATENATE – to add a column to my list of names to fill in the url. I just added a column and used the formula [=CONCATENATE(“<the first bit of the url that is the same for all files>”, <the cell with the person’s first name, “-“, <the cell with the person’s last name>, “.png”]. I’d saved all my files in the format firstname-lastname.png so this just added the personalised file names to the url so they matched the urls of the uploaded files. Magic.

Step 4 – link your images to your Mailchimp contacts

Mailchimp needs to know the url for each person’s image but this is really easy to do.

Using your csv file which now contains each person’s email address and their personalised image url just import this into Mailchimp.

You’ll need to create a new field for the url – make sure you set this up as an image field. You can tweak this via the signup form builder (you’ll want to make it a hidden field if you’re using Mailchimp sign up forms or landing pages.

When you import the list, make sure you select the option to update existing subscribers so the new field is added.

You can check this all worked properly by looking at your audience in Mailchimp which will now feature a thumbnail of the images.

Step 5 – create your personalised emails

The email itself is the easiest part! You create a new email in the usual way and use Mailchimp’s merge tags to add personalised details.

In my email I used the recipient’s first name in the subject line and opening sentence of the email but you can be as creative as you want as long as you have the right information in Mailchimp! Don’t forget to make sure your email will make sense if the field is blank for some recipients, either by being careful with how you phrase the email or by using a suitable default value for the merge tag.

You’ll add the image itself by simply writing the merge tag for the image field into a text block where you want it to appear (you don’t use the image block which took me some trial and error to work out!).

If it’s relevant, you can include buttons for people to share the email on social media and a call to action for them to share the image.

You might want to include a disclaimer that the image/email are automatically generated in case there are any typos or layout issues in the image or someone gets the email and isn’t sure why.

Use Mailchimp’s preview with live merge info to check that everything is working properly then send it out and dazzle people with the personal touches 🙂