Staying on the Corporate Radar Screen

You meet someone at an event, have a great conversation, perhaps even follow up by phone or email.

Now what? How can you possibly maintain and expand on that relationship, plus keep your prospect informed about what’s new in your world? Especially these days, when everyone’s so busy they have the attention span of a flea.

The answer, of course, is an e-newsletter.

Here’s an example of how TechBoston, a department within Boston Public Schools that supports advanced technology courses in the district’s high and middle schools, uses its e-newsletter to stay in touch with the corporate world.

TechBoston’s mission is to inspire Boston Public School students by providing access to cutting-edge technology resources and opportunities to positively advance their academic and career aspirations.

Through its involvement with the Boston Digital Bridge Foundation, TechBoston got connected with IMN of Newton, MA, a leading e-communications service provider, which offered it e-newsletter capabilities on a pro-bono basis.

Though the e-newsletter is sent to all TechBoston stakeholders in the community, for the purposes of this column, we’ll focus on how it helps the organization stay in contact with the corporate world.

A Professional Image Inspires Corporate Confidence

TechBoston works through the Boston Private Industry Council to place technology-skilled high school students in jobs and internships. A staff member from the council identifies after-school or summer work for high school students in the technology industry. When he meets a potential employer in the corporate world, he puts the contact information from her business card on the e-newsletter distribution list.

The e-newsletter features student success stories and reassures companies it’s good business to hire technologically savvy high school students. As Acting Director Felicia Vargas explains, “It takes a lot to reassure a company that it’s OK to hire a high school student. But when a corporate executive sees a profile of one of our Web design students who has been hired by PUMA, they think to themselves, ‘If their students are good enough for PUMA, it’s worth looking into.'”

Catching the Eye of the Big Guys

Through the e-newsletter, TechBoston caught Verizon’s eye. Verizon also supports Boston Main Streets, a Boston initiative to revitalize commercial neighborhoods. Through this program, TechBoston students create Web sites to help increase the visibility of small local stores and restaurants. The students are paid $60 for a simple one-page site; half comes from the small business, and half comes from Verizon. So far, the initiative has resulted in $10,000 worth of business for TechBoston — and not just for simple Web sites. Some are e-commerce sites that incorporate PayPal capabilities.

Through the e-newletter’s pass-along capabilities, TechBoston got the attention of Gene Longo, Cisco’s Networking Academy U.S. field operations senior manager. He shared TechBoston’s e-newsletter with colleagues who were looking for pilot sites for the company’s gender equity initiative. TechBoston now works closely with Cisco to sponsor activities that promote the interest of young female students to pursue technology-related areas of study.

Everything Is Easier Now

Having an e-newsletter brought other unexpected benefits to TechBoston, according to Vargas. “We now have a way to advertise job openings. Not only is it less expensive to advertise ourselves, but also we get a better response. Recently, we connected with the Cisco Alumni Network and are connecting with professionals on their list.”

In addition, the e-newsletter has dramatically streamlined TechBoston’s communications with its Industry Advisory Board. Says Vargas, “We meet three times a year with the board and used to spend most of the time updating board members on our progress. Now they already know what we’re doing. So we can focus our time on more substantive issues and move forward.”

Using email service provider IMN’s self-service features has made sending the e-newsletter a breeze. Vargas says TechBoston recently hired a new staff assistant on a Monday who was to take over formatting the e-newsletter, which was due to be published on Wednesday. All it took was 10 minutes’ training for the new person to get the hang of IMN’s system. The e-newsletter made deadline with room to spare.

Great Results and Key Learnings

The TechBoston e-newsletter averages a 40 percent open rate and 35 percent click-through. Through experience and use of IMN’s online analytics for understanding readers’ responses to content, Vargas has learned to limit the number of articles to five. “The sixth article just doesn’t get read,” she found. On the advice of a PR firm, she publishes on Wednesdays for maximum attention.

The e-newsletter has made its way into the inbox of a major business journalist, who informed Vargas he plans to do a story on TechBoston in the fall. This is all to the good, according to Vargas, who says, “If you’re not out in front, you’re just not seen.”

That’s good advice for anyone who needs to stay on prospects’ radar screens.

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