Pioneers in the Email Highlands

Here in the United States, email marketing has become a booming business. The case studies I write about in this column tend to focus on improving campaigns aimed at an already receptive (for the most part) group of recipients.

But I began wondering what the situation is like in other parts of the world. And, as it so happened, a case study from Scotland fell right into my lap. It nicely illustrates how to run a campaign targeted toward a non-email-savvy audience.

About a year ago, the Edinburgh firm talent.ed won the public relations account for British army recruitment in Scotland. This meant communicating with about 300 regional newspapers. Notes talent.ed’s Tim Maguire, “Many of these are one-man and a dog operations in far-flung locations,” and few of them have the budget to commission original photography.

Another challenge talent.ed faced is that the army’s budget is tight. There’s not enough money to allow talent.ed to send out image-rich CD-ROMs by courier or post to all the papers. Additionally, the company had to deal with the fact that, unlike with the U.S. Army, each regiment in the British army comes from a specific geographical area, so stories concerning a particular regiment would only concern newspapers in the region its soldiers come from. Also, although the army has an online photo library, finding a photo that relates to a story is a time-consuming task, even when you know what to look for. Well, you can see the difficult task ahead.

Talent.ed came up with the idea of creating an e-press kit that would allow the firm to create appropriate, localized packages for each newspaper editor. The kits could then be introduced by email.

Here’s the rub. In the States, one could presumably go online and easily cull email addresses for each newspaper. In Scotland, it’s a bit more complicated.

“When, in October 2000, we began developing what’s become Just Press Send — the name of our email system — I fully expected email marketing to have happened in Scotland within six months,” says Maguire. “But there seems to be a comparative lack of interest in it from direct marketing and advertising agencies here. Nor are clients demonstrating the same level of urgency to convert from expensive traditional media that we can see in other markets — most obviously the United States.”

So talent.ed created a database from scratch. The company used a regional press directory, which gave it contact details for all the newspapers in Scotland, then called all the newspapers to set up their preferences. Although this took a great deal of time and effort, especially since in some cases the editor doesn’t have his or her own email inbox, talent.ed persevered. With only one exception, the firm managed to convert all of them to receiving press releases from talent.ed via email.

Then, in September 2002, talent.ed delivered the army campaign. The e-press kit was sent primarily as plain text with a link to the HTML version, mainly because most regional papers don’t yet have broadband, editors don’t have their own personal email inboxes, and editorial staff often shares a dial-up connection with the advertising offices.

The e-press kit typically includes five thumbnail images at around 12k, each with a link to a high-resolution, print-ready file. Clicking on the link downloads a self-unzipping 300dpi JPEG file to the journalist’s desktop. Additionally, links in the body copy take editors to fact files in PDF format on specific stories.

You can see the HTML version here. About 240 recipients received plain text versions, and 112 received an HTML mailing.

“The result for us has been really remarkable,” Maguire says. “While many of the editors were initially skeptical, preferring the fax machine, snail or pigeon-post to email (just kidding, but only just!), having the ability to get the whole story complete with images in one package has massively increased the quality and spread of coverage we’ve achieved — which makes our client extremely happy.”

Plus, not one editor unsubscribed from the press releases.

So, if your part of the world — virtual or real — is not yet used to the idea of email marketing, don’t give up on the idea. You can help get people there.

Note: The talent.ed Web site is undergoing revision. I invite you to check back the week of October 14.

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