If your company’s email newsletters are sent out in text-only format, you’ve probably made a conscious decision to sacrifice image for readability, and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who chooses to go down that route. At the other extreme, colourful multi-column emails do give off a professional image – at least to the recipients whose email clients show them the way they were designed. Sadly, unless you’ve tested the email in enormous detail, there’ll be a number of recipients who see an unprofessional mess, or nothing at all. Somewhere in the middle lies the sort of simple compromise which you’re looking at if you receive the emailed version of this article.
So what’s best? Only testing can find out for sure, but if you’re determined to go down the prettily-designed email route, think about the functionality of the design decisions you take. Perhaps the most fundamental will be choosing between a simple, single-column newsletter, and a more complex two-column one (more than two would really be pushing your luck). The subject is discussed succinctly in Designing an Email Newsletter: One Column vs. Two Columns on Email Transmit’s Info Center, and I think it supports my view that for our type of B2B audiences, a single-column approach tends to have more going for it.