Better Beginnings is a program of Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) that emphasizes the importance of early childhood education and high-quality child care. It is administered by the same state agency that inspects and licenses daycare facilities in Arkansas. Better Beginnings has two primary audiences: child care and early childhood education providers, and parents/caregivers of children up to 5 years old.
We used primary and secondary research to build this client’s communication campaign. Better Beginnings has a robust and interactive website with an extensive variety of tools for daycare providers and parents/guardians of children under age five. The ongoing challenge and priority is keeping visitors coming to the Better Beginnings website year-round. To learn more about our target audience media consumption habits, we conducted the following research:
- Focus Groups – We conducted primary focus group research with parents from varied socio-economic backgrounds across the state to learn how parents picked daycare for their children and to find out the sources from which they got most of their parenting information. Our findings indicated that when selecting a daycare provider, two criteria consistently rose to the top of the list: cost and convenience to their home and work. Notably, “quality ratings” and “learning environment” were at the bottom of the list. Sources of parenting information were varied, but digital resources were the top sources cited, including blogs, YouTube, Facebook posts, articles shared by friends and popular parenting websites.
- Data Review – We reviewed daycare voucher enrollment data from DHS to look at the demographics of the parent/guardian audience. We learned from this data that 25 percent of voucher-eligible children are under the guardianship of their grandparents, who are subsequently making their daycare decisions.
- Digital Channel Audit – We conducted a channel audit that included a review of last year’s social media analytics, a review of fan/follower metrics, post volume and a content analysis. We extensively reviewed website analytics to look at traffic patterns.
- E-newsletter Readership – We looked at e-newsletter metrics including distribution, open rates, readership and click-thru rates to analyze the effectiveness of the newsletter content in moving traffic to the website.
The purpose of the research was to help take the giant universe of “early learning” and “quality child care” and focus the client on achievable and measurable communication activity that moved them closer to making the Better Beginnings website the go-to resource for all things early learning and quality child care, while making the most efficient use of their limited resources.
At the beginning of the state’s fiscal year, ComGroup led the Better Beginnings staff through a strategic planning session to determine objectives, strategies and target audiences. The planning session included a diverse group of management and staff members from DHS Division of Child Care and Early Learning. We gathered information about client challenges and their input on strategies that worked. The goal of Better Beginnings outreach campaign was to generate a healthy flow of monthly visitors to the website, keeping the Better Beginnings messages and resources accessible to parents and providers. The target audiences were 1) parents and guardians, including grandparents of children under age 5 and 2) licensed child care providers in the state. The objective of the outreach campaign was to create 12-months of consistent communication with an emphasis on generating a 20 percent increase in audience traffic to ARBetterBeginnings.com, thereby giving child care providers and parents easy and unlimited access to tools on the range of important topics that influence early learning and care: literacy, math, science and the value of a quality early learning environment.
Our strategy was to build a communication plan on two parallel tracks for parents and providers, both of which converged at the Better Beginnings’ website. Parent messaging was focused on two messages: the importance of early learning on children from birth to age 5, and how to find and evaluate high-quality daycare providers. Messaging was inclusive of grandparents and Spanish-speaking family members. Child care provider messages were focused on tools and resources to improve quality and learning. Provider messaging was inclusive of both home-based and center-based providers. We built a plan that focused every tactic on getting the target audiences to the website.
The timetable for the communications campaign covered 12 months; a complete state fiscal year. Our written plan included the following tactics:
- Content creation strategy – We focused on creating original content monthly to add to the online Family Resource Library and the Parents and Families section of the website. The Family Resource Library has a wide variety of content in eight categories: behavior, child care checklist and tips, childhood development, literacy, math, outdoor activities, play is learning and science. We developed a framework for each Family Resource tool that included a downloadable PDF, a text version and an accompanying short DIY video for learning activities. The website has an interactive checklist that parents can use as an evaluation tool when visiting a provider for the first time. Provider content focused on early learning tools for use in the daycare environment and resources for improving quality.
- Social media campaign – We committed to produce monthly social media content and calendars that supported the integrated communications plan. Content calendars provided a structured schedule with built-in flexibility to allow for timely content to be added as needed. Content was developed for both the provider and parent audience based on the channel audit and persona development for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube followers. We used Sprout Social for content scheduling and reporting.
- Paid digital advertising – We built a schedule for the entire year that maintained paid social channel ads for a relatively small budget. All ads contained a call-to-action that included a visit to the website.
- Paid print advertising – We negotiated full-page print magazine schedules with three regional parenting magazines, one statewide magazine (delivered to every electric power cooperative customer’s mailbox) and three Spanish-language newspapers in the state. This schedule was parent-focused and allowed us to present the Better Beginnings’ message of what quality child care looks like, how to find a quality-rated provider locally and promote the online resources.
- Radio spots – We had produced four 30-second radio spots for parents that focused on science, math, love of books (literacy) and kindergarten readiness.
- Broadcasters Association partnership – We negotiated a partnership with the Arkansas Broadcasters Association that put the four radio spots into a year-long rotation in 70 of the state’s 75 counties. The schedule was strictly based on availability, therefore unpredictable, but it did allow Better Beginnings messages to be heard statewide.
- E-newsletter promotion – Every month we created an e-newsletter for the client called Better Beginnings BUZZ. Each BUZZ issue contained content for parents/guardians and child care providers. Every story included resources, tips and tools that helped move traffic to the website. We used every professional development conference and client appearance as an opportunity to request e-newsletter registration. We used Constant Contact as our distribution platform to ensure privacy compliance and provide metrics and reporting.
- Monthly website header rotation – To maintain interest with repeat visitors, we built a monthly schedule of image rotation on the website, so returning visitors saw new tools and resources the moment they landed on the homepage without having to hunt for them. The homepage contains an above-the-fold image carousel allowing us to use up to four slots for new images monthly.
- Media relations & news release schedule – We are fortunate because we have a client who is great on TV. We leveraged our media relationships to try schedule at least one appearance monthly for our Better Beginnings client manager on network affiliate TV stations or broadcast radio. We filled in media appearance gaps with regularly scheduled news releases on a variety of audience-oriented topics.
We use an internal agency team to build, implement and evaluate the campaign that includes a PR specialist/writer, a digital media specialist, graphic designer, media buyer and account planner. One challenge was the increased traffic to the Spanish-language resources on the Better Beginnings website temporarily shut the site down. The solution was increasing the amount of traffic allowed to the website.
We provide monthly reports to Better Beginnings on the following tactic outcomes: website management, social media management, digital outreach, media placement, public relations, creative output and enewsletter distribution. Our reporting helped us learn two lessons this year. The first: the accountability of the Arkansas Broadcasters Association (ABA) partnership was difficult to measure. We have moved away from measuring ad equivalency as an agency, but along with the number of times the radio spots had run, that’s the only other measure the ABA was able to provide. As a result, we will not recommend that partnership in the future. Second lesson: The print schedule was equally difficult to measure in terms of its impact on website traffic. We know print placement had value and some shelf-life, depending on the publication, but it is increasingly hard to measure for clients in a metric-oriented world. What we learned from this is both parents and providers consume a great deal of child care and early childhood education material online. We are recommending shifting more of the budget for the upcoming year to digital communication tactics.
Ultimately, our goal for this communication campaign was to get parents and providers to the Better Beginnings website.
Google analytics indicate the campaign’s measurable success:
- Website visits rose steadily throughout the year and stayed up, starting at around 2,800 monthly and ending the year at a total of 6,000+ monthly visitors
- Average monthly visitors – increased from 2,800 to 4,316
- Provider page visits – rose 40 percent
- Family Resource Library – became the most visited section on the site every month and had an 82 percent increase in visitors
- Page views – rose from 11,000 monthly to over 18,000 monthly
- Total visitors – unique visitors to the Better Beginnings website increased from 33,600 annually to 51,803 annually, a 65 percent increase
 Vouchers for payment of daycare are available to lower socio-economic parents and guardians who meet certain income edibility criteria.
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