Launched in 2010, Better Beginnings is a program of the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Division of Early Child Care and Early Childhood Education (DCCECE). Better Beginnings provides Arkansas children with the best care and education as early as possible and connects Arkansas families with information and care that helps their children experience a safe, happy childhood. Initially, the Better Beginnings Buzz was a way to reach Better Beginnings providers and families with important information, such as tax forms for parents, new research and more when available.
The creation of 2017-2018 fiscal year plan saw the implementation of the Buzz as a monthly e-newsletter. This decision came because of informal research in the form of face-to-face discussions at Better Beginnings booths during conferences. This qualitative form of research came through asking attendees how much they knew about Better Beginnings and how they would like to receive information regarding the program. Other informal observations made during conferences and child care related events revealed how eager child care providers and teachers are to receive the latest information so they can share with families.
Once goals and objectives were in place, the ComGroup team determined the overall layout of the e-newsletter, including the amount of content and visual elements used each month. ComGroup’s PR and creative specialists worked together to stay informed of the latest resources, tools and research available in order to produce compelling content.
Once written each month, the Buzz was sent to the client for approval. The Buzz was distributed once a month via Constant Contact to a database of more than 4,000 providers, teachers and families.
The primary target audiences for the Buzz are Better Beginnings providers and teachers and families with children enrolled in
Better Beginnings facilities. Secondary target audiences include non-Better Beginnings providers and teachers. Content on the Better Beginnings website, ARBetterBeginnings.com, is not limited to members of the Better Beginnings community. Anyone with access to the website can sign up to receive the Buzz. All audience groups include English and Spanish speakers.
The primary goal of the Buzz is to share new and relevant information with Better Beginnings providers and families with children in Better Beginnings facilities. A key objective of the monthly e-newsletter is to increase traffic to the Better Beginnings website, as well as to increase awareness of the Better Beginnings community throughout the campaign year.
To drive traffic to the website, the content summarized the specific resources with multiple back links. This provided an easy way for the reader to go directly to the resource they wanted to learn more about or download. To increase awareness of Better Beginnings, ComGroup used conferences and other child care related events to engage with providers and teachers who didn’t work at Better Beginnings facilities. ComGroup encouraged those men and women to sign up for the Buzz, and to share the newsletter with their director and the families with children enrolled at their facilities.
On a state fiscal year, writing for the Better Beginnings Buzz began in July of 2017 and runs through June of 2018. The June edition of the Buzz is scheduled for June 25. The fiscal year ends June 30. During the planning, we determined the target audiences for the Buzz. Once the plan for the state fiscal year 2018 was approved, it was time to send out the July 2017 edition.
In order to determine which information and resources to promote each month, ComGroup regularly referenced the calendar to find holidays with opportunities to promote resources, such as sharing family rules for safety ahead of summer vacation. ComGroup’s PR specialists communicated regularly with the creative department for monthly areas of focus, i.e. science, math, reading, etc. The creative department also let the PR team know about new resources that were created and when they would be released. In order to share information with providers regarding research and requirements, ComGroup communicated with DHS and DCCECE staff.
The use of Constant Contact allowed for instantaneous and accurate reporting to share with the client. The analytics were also used to reveal which days of the week and time periods received higher open rates, which helped us overcome an obstacle we faced. Of the two editions with the lowest open rates, one was distributed on a Thursday, and the other was distributed during Christmas vacation. The use of our analytics through Constant Contact revealed distributions scheduled earlier in the week, and not the same week as a holiday, resulted in a higher open rate. Regular social posts promoting signups as well as social posts and blog posts highlighting pieces of issues were distributed to increase the open rate and distribution database.
A free website featuring high quality and eye-catching images and videos is used at times to draw the reader into the Buzz.
On average, five-to-seven hours a month were dedicated to the creation and implementation of the e-newsletter, totaling approximately 60-to-84 hours a year. This included writing, editing and finalizing copy, searching for visual elements, the creation of the e-newsletter within Constant Contact, contact selection and distribution scheduling.
While the purpose of the Better Beginnings Buzz is to provide information to providers, teachers and families, we wanted it to be visually pleasing. Instead of using dramatic layout designs that could overwhelm the reader, we used high-quality and aesthetically pleasing images and videos to attract the reader. Any images used were strategically placed to draw the reader’s eye to the content, not away from it. The overall layout of the e-newsletter is simple and clean with clear lines designating where one piece of writing ends and another begins.
Copy was written with the target audience in mind. Knowing there was a mix of individuals receiving the e-newsletter – providers, teachers, parents, etc. – there was content for each individual. With at least three stories an issue, there was a piece for parents and guardians, a piece for providers and teachers and a piece for both. Each story contained multiple links to the website’s homepage and specific pages. With each opportunity to link to an English-language page, a link to its corresponding Spanish-language page was included.
Of the 11 Buzz newsletters distributed in the current fiscal year, the average open rate is 22 percent. Although slightly below the industry average of 24 percent, it is nearly double the Better Beginnings average of 13 percent. The previous fiscal year had an average open rate of 23 percent, but only distributed seven e-newsletters. The click-thru rate for this year’s Buzz is 16 percent, significantly higher than the industry average of 7 percent and the Better Beginnings average of 6 percent. Each e-newsletter contains at least 10 links for users to click that direct the user to ARBetterBeginnings.com. More than 200 providers and teachers, including those from non-Better Beginnings facilities, signed up to receive the e-newsletter at the conferences and events where Better Beginnings had a booth. During one event where ComGroup assisted Better Beginnings in a presentation, the ComGroup team learned many teachers were not aware of the vast number of resources available to them, especially the Spanish resources.
Analytics are ran each month to report website traffic. To see how effective the Buzz was at driving traffic to the website, analytics were ran each month for the week following the Buzz’s distribution. Of the 11 issues of the Better Beginnings Buzz distributed, 45 percent of the time, the website saw at least a 20 percent increase in traffic from new users.
Through production and distribution of the Buzz, we learned that providing multiple links within each story led to a higher click thru rate. Not only were we linking readers to the website, but we were linking them to the exact page they wanted to see. We also learned providing too little information made the reader feel like they had to work to get information, and providing too much information didn’t make the reader see the need in visiting the website.
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