Case Study: The future of Essex direct communications
The future of Essex direct communications
Formed in 1889, Essex County Council (ECC) forms one level of local government within the county of Essex. Working with other local authorities, as well as regional, national and international authorities, ECC delivers services and represent the best interests of the people within the county of Essex. At the time of the 2021 census, it served a population of 1,503,300, making it one of the largest local authorities in England.
After working with an alternative platform for more than five years, the team at Essex undertook a market consultation exercise. Their concern was their requirements had outgrown the capabilities of the platform they were using. To comply with increased accessibility requirements and to accurately analyse engagement and ROI, the team had to find a more proactive and forward-thinking partner.
“Our old platform just wasn't fit for purpose anymore. When we first joined, they were kind of “the” local government newsletter platform on the market, essentially, and everything fit in with what we needed at the time. But as we've evolved, and our standards have evolved, we needed something that was a little bit more up-to-the-minute and more in-line with email marketing as a whole, rather than just email marketing that is centred to local government.”
ECC is leading the way with its accessibility focus and developments, and email could not be an exception. To make even small steps in terms of accessibility was difficult and required finding workarounds rather than something being officially supported.
Analytics, particularly with reference to ROI, was something the team was also finding increasingly challenging to measure with the tools they had available to them.
ECC also had a large team of people involved in email delivery with a diverse range of skill sets and levels of technical experience. Maintaining standards, whilst wanting to embrace functionality that they saw in email more generally was high on the agenda, although not a driving factor.
“We have a really complex account, with over 85 individual newsletters and around 120 users that we had to onboard. Our users also range in experience. We have some people who just produce these letters as part of their role, all the way up to dedicated marketing professionals. So, it had to be a platform that was easily used, easily picked up, and really adaptable to everybody's needs.”Bethany James - Content Advisor
How e-shot helped
ECC were sophisticated users of their previous system, but the transfer to e-shot gave them the opportunity to address both their internal processes and their external facing topic and preference options. Topics were consolidated, and due to e-shot counting unique contacts only once, and not by topic membership, the council's data stood at 140k contacts rather than 300k that they held which included multiple duplicates.
A portfolio of best practice templates was created for use by less experienced email creators and users were set up with role-based access, so were only able to manipulate data, designs or campaigns if they had the relevant permissions to do so.
"It was a great experience carrying out a project implementation with e-shot. The whole team at e-shot really know their product and were able to give realistic and accurate advice about how we should best apply it in a way that would work for our organisation given our individual starting position. Key documents and plans were shared between the two organisations and kept well maintained and reviewed in weekly progress meetings – it felt like one team. The team managing our account were highly responsive, and there was no long chain of command to go through when a change needed to be made to the product or way we were implementing it. "
Catherine Barton - Project Manager, Transformation Delivery and Support, Essex County Council
A principal focus of any public body is to ensure that they are achieving the best possible value for money. By migrating to the e-shot platform, ECC were able to achieve a significant cost reduction, even in year one where the additional time and cost of guided set up and data migration was required, so future savings are anticipated to increase, even though the contact database, the sophistication of communications and numbers of users are all also increasing.
“When we went out to market, we found e-shot provided great value for money compared to our current provider, were really focused on improved functionality and future improvements and developments and they provided great training and support through blogs, articles and face-to-face conversations that really helped us during the onboarding and implementation process.”
e-shot has made email for everyone a reality working with the ECC team in a project to overhaul their brand and communications to ensure accessibility. Significant improvements were made from the point of migrating to e-shot, giving the team high-impact, low complexity changes they could make to their designs easily within the design builder UI, no longer needing difficult and complicated workarounds ensuring all messaging leaving the platform had improved accessibility.
Results, ROI and the future
Increased engagement and enhanced database
With more in depth analytics of the campaigns available, the team at Essex conducted various investigations into ROI and cost per click, as well as running a comprehensive view on their database health. As their previous provider had double-counted contacts ie if a contact was in more than one group they would be counted for each group membership rather than as a unique contact, the team at Essex had a much clearer picture of individual's cumulative engagement. Measurement and cost per click stats on the email engagement showed a marked increase. The positive feedback on designs and content increased and there was an increase in subscriber numbers, as Bethany shared;
“Since onboarding with e-shot, our total subscribers for all of our sub accounts, have actually increased by about 10,000 subscribers since we first bought it."
The team directly attribute this to word-of-mouth endorsement of subscribers sharing how much they like the newsletters.
Analytics and optimisation
The team, as a whole, have embraced the ability to split test, as it is so much more straightforward to achieve in the e-shot platform. This has enabled them to optimise – in particular to identify a newsletter template that encourages more engagement which includes a series of quick-links and synopsis articles that push out to details held on the website, giving a greater insight into the interests of the audience for improved segmentation and personalisation. The team are convinced that the new style newsletters have not only improved engagement but have had impact on sign up numbers too through recommendation and forwarding of existing recipients.
Proactive service and support
In Bethany's words: “I would definitely recommend e-shot, I would recommend them purely on the basis of the support that they give. e-shot don't just say yes to everything that we want. When we've made requests, because that's what we're used to, and what our experiences are, if they don't think that that's actually the most effective way to go about it, they will suggest other ways to achieve the same or better goals essentially."
The level of account management and on-going support and consultancy has helped drive the communications forward and helped the team achieve some very enviable results on their campaigns. Take a look at their work on the Ukrainian Sponsors comms where they achieved display rates over 80% and click through rates of 36%. (We have a study purely on this campaign available here)
Simple and successful
"Having a platform that is more inviting more, user friendly, has been really, really helpful. We've been able to onboard a lot more users than previously, including those who may have struggled before. e-shot is simple to use, but it's really advanced so it produces advanced content in a really, really simple way.”
Strides in accessibility
"It was a great experience carrying out a project implementation with e-shot. The whole team at e-shot really know their product and were able to give realistic and accurate advice about how we should best apply it in a way that would work for our organisation given our individual starting position. Key documents and plans were shared between the two organisations and kept well maintained and reviewed in weekly progress meetings – it felt like one team. The team managing our account were highly responsive, and there was no long chain of command to go through when a change needed to be made to the product or way we were implementing it. "Catherine Barton - Project Manager, Transformation Delivery and Support, Essex County Council
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