Awesome Office 365 Signatures with HTML

Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The process of implementing branded email signatures has changed in the last few years. Most companies have definitely moved on to simple clean designs. The days of the big banners are thankfully gone, the few remaining hold outs are probably filtered by spam. Thank you for that smart inbox filters.

Many companies probably are not even aware that when they build signatures the old way, that those signatures are not actually working outside of the organization’s email system. If you have not tested this, please do. Check an email that has been sent to another system, and look at in on a mobile device. If it is not showing on mobile platforms, then setting the signature is a waste of time.

Although schools are not companies, most do have branding regulations, and if a school has switched from the traditional Outlook/Exchange environment to the cloud, they probably have struggled maintaining consistent branding.

Cloud based branding options are limited unless a third party solution is involved. These solutions can be expensive, and really, the email signature does very little for the school. Very few people and organizations connected to a school even notice email branding, and/or are influenced by email branding. Email branding is good and should be consistent, but it is not worth more than a few minutes of time per employee.

I am going to explain how to do email branding properly in Office 365 using a simple and free technique. Some HTML skills are required, but the implementation is very simple. This process will probably work in Google Apps, but testing is pending.


  1. A server or computer that can host an HTML file for your school. This can be done on the local network.
  2. Someone who has basic to intermediate HTML skills. This would be a great project for some middle school students.
  3. Outlook 2016 for those not using Office 365 WebMail.
  4. The design and standards. This needs to include font names etc.

The Code

There are many ways to do this. I am using tables because the Office 365 WebMail and Outlook 2016 support tables in the tool bar.

<table width="550px" cellspacing="0px"</pre>
<pre>Trebuchet MS','黑体','SimHei';">


<td>Anthony DePrato</td>



<tr width="50px">

<td>学习技术主任 <font color="#4d9e4a">|</font></pre>
<pre>Director of Technology</td>




<td>电话 Telephone: (86) 21 000000 - 6311</pre>
<pre><font color="#4d9e4a">|</font> 手机 Mobile: (86)0000-060-8007</td>




<td><a href="http://YOURSERVER"</pre>






<td><a href="http://YOURSERVER"><img</pre>




<td><img src="http://YOURSERVER/ykpsqr.jpg"</pre>
<pre>width=120px height=120px></td>




The code is very simple, but if you are using Chinese Characters, then there are other methods you need to follow. This may also be the case with Arabic, Japanese, and Korean. However, the localization process is not that hard, and you do not need to make everything into graphics. I am happy to explain how to localize for any language. All anyone needs to localize the email signature are HTML skills. Contact me via email if you need help with localization in any part of Office 365.

The Implementation

Here are the steps with a video to reinforce the process:

  1. Go to the URL of the HTML page holding the signature
  2. Select All and Copy
  3. Open the Signature Setup on Outlook WebMail
  4. Delete any current signature(s)
  5. Paste the new signature
  6. Change the information to match your details. You can type right over the content.
  7. Open Outlook 2016
  8. Go to the Signature Setup
  9. Repeat steps 4-6

Microsoft says that Outlook 2016 will inherit settings, but my setup does not seem to do this consistently. The majority of our users are only on WebMail, so the Outlook 2016 process is only for about 20% of the staff.  If it were 50% or higher, I would definitely focus on the auto-sync features.

You Have an Awesome QR Code, Do I Want That?

I think many people read emails with their phones next to them. I like the QR Code because it draws the reader to the bottom of the signature, hopefully reading the signature.

Readers can then use their phones to go to the QR link, which probably creates a chain reaction of sharing and linking on social media.

Setting-up the QR Code with colors and logo is not that difficult. I will do a full tutorial on that process in the future, but here are some resources to get you going:

In Summation

If you are doing email branding, and you want to have the average person be able to apply it consistently, use HTML. The whole process can be easily managed, and future updates are trivial.

If your organization really believes email branding drives parents to the school or donors to your institutional development, then ask for data on this before spending the time and money on a platform for centrally managing email branding in the cloud. Marketing is important, and so is brand identity, but I do not believe email branding in schools achieves any significant ROI.

Schools are not exactly the same as corporations, even if they are for-profit schools. A school can justify to parents and stakeholders that simple marketing initiatives are implemented to allow more investment into learning. And you know what? People respect that more than a flashy logo or banner in an email.

Tony DePrato

Need a reminder of what people use to do with banners? 

Ghetto Banner Ads

Aren’t you glad those days are over?

Google Apps vs Office 365 : The Simplest Answer You Will Eventually Read


I have traveled to many places on the planet Earth. I have been in deserts, jungles, various oceans, in the frigid cold of Eastern Europe, and the unbearable summers of the Arabian Gulf.

I have found that sometimes I encounter a new place that seems like a place I would want to live. Something about it truly stands-out. I am not one to move on quickly. I tend to linger and explore. I want to find the underlying reason for the charm. I want to be as objective as possible. After all, I have learned that if I decide to move and live somewhere, I can move and live anywhere.

Visits always end, and returning back to home is inevitable. It is only after a person returns home, and they are completely unable to ‘be’ where they were, that they understand what not being there means.

This inability to connect truly helps shape the final and most objective opinion we can form, always a little bias, but honest about the reality of where we are and where we could go.

Only in this state of objective absenteeism can a person say, “Yes. I do want to change and do something different in a different place.”  Or, “No. I think what I have is all I need, and change would be less gain and more loss in the long run.”

I am telling you, without any hesitation, that being disconnect and unable to fluidly use Google Apps, the Google Api, and the millions of websites that are Google powered has limited my ability to reach students, families, and staff. It has forced me to create small pieces of infrastructure, at significant cost, just to get beyond word processing and email.

I am in a place where it is impossible to guarantee universal access to anything powered or owned by Google solutions. Most people are not aware that over a million websites use the Google Api, store their videos on Youtube, or use Jquery hosted by Google. Most of the free sites used by people sporting Web 2.0 interfaces for schools use these services.

Google Apps is not about mail and making documents, it is about being part of a massive ecosystem. If all you do is bicker and worry over the best way to make a presentation or send an email, then as a technology leader you are doing a disservice to your community.

Everyday I manage and implement features for my campuses with Office 365 and Sharepoint. My team and have just been recognised by Microsoft as leaders in our region for our implementation. I use everything they have. I design solutions in Sharepoint, move people into OneDrive for Business against their will, and create training materials full of hints and tricks like a boss.

Doubt not! I am an Office 365 ninja.

But if I had a choice, I would simply use Office 365 for office staff only. Anything and anyone connected to teaching and learning would be on Google Apps.  I would run multiple email domains, which I do anyway, and share data via the Active Directory.

I have seen a few very good international schools recently tell all staff, and new hires, “If you want Office make sure you buy your own copy.” I think this is smart, and cost effective. I also think everyone who needs Office can afford the educational price once every five years. I, in fact, have done this in the past. The world did not end. Some people were angry. But when I rolled out four new software packages for math and science with the savings from the Office license, tempers faded.

The simple answer to the debate, Google Apps or Office 365 is:

Teaching and Learning = Google Apps

Office Staff = Office 365

Everyone = Can use solutions developed in both environments.

Until you have known both, and then can only have one, you may not understand.

Tony DePrato


Office 365 Hurting the Bottom Line and Inferior to Google Apps

I have finally completed setting-up Office 365 for my school in China. I should say me and a team of people, because that is what it took- a team and constant support. This is going to be a bit of a rant, so before that happens, I want to address the costs of Office 365.

So there is no confusion with what is true and what is not, this is the pricing FROM MICROSOFT.

There are two plans most schools choose, A2 or A3. Many schools do a combination because A2 is free. There is no argument there it is 100% free. Many schools put students on A2. Why? It DOES NOT INCLUDE MS OFFICE. This means students have to buy MS Office. The teachers and staff will go to A3 to cover MS Office licensing, support, and data backups.

“Wait! This is in the cloud you don’t need MS Office!”, says your hidden voice of reason. Well, that is not true. In order to use many many features of Office 365 you need MS Office. In fact a school using Office 365 for any business applications, working with data, etc., has to have MS Office. The worst part is 90% of the people will simply use MS Office, and the community will be back to desktop applications and emails with 10 attachments instead of leveraging the power of cloud-based collaboration.

Anyone doing cloud based applications will tell you that you cannot straddle the fence. Working in the cloud is a different way of working. Yes you lose awesome features like Word Art, but you gain collaboration, speed, efficiency, and redundancy across the board.

If you look at the cost per year of Office 365 for 100 teachers, it is about $6240 USD. Or $18720 USD over three years. This is not a system you can easily move off once you are rolling, so once you are in, you are in for 3-5 years.

In addition to paying a license fee, the single-sign-on features and other security processes you need to really make the system user friendly require the setup of three separate servers. This is also a cost that most schools do not realize is part of the full plan. Depending on the schools local infrastructure this cost could be very high or very manageable.  Either way, it is money going out the door to a service.

The cost cannot be view in terms of money alone. The time needed to set this all up and the expertise to make it a seamless user experience is substantial compared to other services. While setting-up Office 365, we lost an IT engineer for 2-3 weeks.

The Local Microsoft Corporate Office in China was actually very good with direct support. There are no complaints there, the human support is real and not a recording. However, the documentation provided by Microsoft Corp. was horrible, I should say, is horrible. The instructions do not match the current Office 365 layout so we are constantly having to map through all the menus to find the terms mentioned in the support documents.

The language settings in Office 365 do not hold. They constantly revert back to the regional default. Most “Apps” in Office 365 create an error page each time a setting is applied. I have a text document with links in it. This allows me to navigate Office 365 without using the navigation. I paste in where I want to go. I have to do this because the pages constantly fail to load when in administration mode.

As a content management system is shockingly deficient and slow, even compared to open-source systems like Drupal. I actually use Drupal to help make the Office 365 experience less painful for the users.

I could go on, but I will stop the rant. I have to use Office 365 because where I am, it is the best and most affordable option for my organization. My biggest disappointment was realizing Sharepoint is still basically just as awkward and hard to work with as it was many years ago. I was looking forward to some improvements that would significantly reduce the steps required to create anything meaningful. My hopes and dreams were crushed.

The Point

Google Apps is better. I have setup both, and gone through the frustrations of both environments in the last year. I used Drupal with both as well. Drupal and Google allow powerful integration, especially because the Google Apps data from Spreadsheets can be used to create dynamic pages in Drupal.

Not only is it better in terms of power and functionality, it is significantly less of an investment in money and time. I was able to setup Google Apps alone, and then have normal people help me populate it. The human resource investment has to be considered with any project, because every time there is a major change or shift, that amount of resources will probably be needed again. Oh yeah I forgot, Google Apps is free as long as you qualify as a school. I always recommend buying 2-3 business accounts and upgrading storage on a few accounts, but the annual cost is so low it does not even more the numbers on the balance sheet.

Schools that are privately funded and in a location where they qualify for Google Apps, should not consider Office 365 unless there is a strong underlying dependency on data driven applications powered by Microsoft products. If you do not know what I just said, then you probably are not using these applications. They would be customized and powering the business processes. This does not mean you like Word and Word Art and really feel it is integral to learning.

An Office 365 subscription maybe financially beneficial to a school that has no investment at all in MS Office or MS Exchange, but to be honest, subsidizing individuals to own their own copy of MS Office is probably the cheapest way to go, if the average contract is 3-5 years. However, the setup of an Office 365 subscription in a Microsoft free environment would be easy and provide tools that may have been missing.

I am not sure who, if anyone, reads my blog, but I hope some parents do. It would be nice for parents to inquire about school fees on the basis of the cost of certain products. It is incredibly expensive for schools to invest in products from companies like Adobe where there are not many, if any, alternatives. So savings money on groupware and communication tools should be a priority. Buying technology to meet a need or standards should trump buying because of brand loyalty or because the technology department does not know how to use anything else.

Think about it like this. Office 365 for 3 years for 100 teachers is $18720 USD. Or…

  • 50 Lego Robotics Kits with spare parts
  • 600 Raspberry Pi Kits
  • 120 TI Calculators
  • 6 MakerBot Replicator 3D Printers
  • 60 iPad Minis
  • 30 MS Surface 2 Tablets
  • And….

I could keep going, but I will end here.  If you are someone who is paying tuition, please start asking the good questions and doing the research. Counter-points are welcome.

Tony DePrato