Don’t let the dot-com wreckage fool you. As America goes back to school, more than 100 million people in the United States are using the internet to research topics and stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues.

As a result, eMarketing is thriving. Happily, one of the most effective eMarketing tools is also the most affordable.

“For professional communicators, the landscape hasn’t changed,” writes internet marketing expert Daniel Janal in Outlook for 2001. “People have become used to getting their news off the net, communicating with companies with the net, and working with reporters via the net.”

The same holds true for parents, school board members, senior citizens, elected officials, and other target audiences public schools rely on for support.

Using basic eMail functions and a database, school marketers quickly can create personalized, one-to-one communications that carry more impact than a dozen slick brochures or newsletters. You can also drive more traffic to your web site.

Say you want to publicize a new program you’re debuting for gifted and talented sixth-graders. Instead of using the traditional “flier in the book bag” method, send a personalized eMail to the sixth-grade parents. Student records, your information technology department, or school secretaries should have this information. If the entire list isn’t available or is too much for your system to handle, try targeting each school’s parent leaders and volunteers.

To strengthen your appeal, include a hot link to a web page featuring photos and program details. Include a strong “call to action”: a phone number, registration deadline, or some other response system.

If you really want to reel parents in, add a “how to tell if your child is gifted” checklist or an article that gives “tips for raising the gifted child” to your web site and put this link in your eMail. Then give parents the option of subscribing to your mailing list for future program announcements and other school news.

Over time, you’ll build a subscriber database of interested parents and other constituents that will be worth its weight in gold. You’ll also provide parents with a valuable service. In marketing lingo, this is called “news you can use.” The fact that it also helps promote your new program is an added benefit.

“Of the dozens of ways I’ve promoted my business online since 1996, eMail marketing still ranks No. 1,” says Jim Daniels, founder of JDD Publishing.

While traditional publications are declining in number and usefulness, online newsletters distributed via eMail are booming. The key to success is to stay clear of traditional PR fluff and focus on clear, compelling content on specific topics.

While a typical school or district newsletter contains a range of news from recent school board decisions to athletic conquests–the proverbial “one size fits all” approach–online newsletters are carefully crafted and tailored to meet the special interests and needs of a particular audience.

For example, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is developing a one-page, online newsletter for employees that will focus primarily on human-resource issues and concerns, such as changes in benefits, new board policies, application deadlines, and recruitment incentives.

Promotions, birthdays, marriages, and other announcements–while important–aren’t going to be included in this publication, which is serving as a direct line from the superintendent to the staff.

The goals of the publication are to make employees aware of time-sensitive information quickly and easily and to “get there first” with important news–the good, the bad, and the ugly. (This last statement needs no clarification if you’ve been following North Carolina’s state budget woes.) If employees need more detail, they can access links to the district’s intranet or other sources.

“We want employees to learn about things that are going to impact their lives from us, and not our local media,” says Eric Smith, superintendent. “Given the speed with which news travels today, we have to be able to reach our staff rapidly and with 100-percent accuracy.”

For help in building online newsletters, check out iMakeNews, which provides easy-to-use templates, graphics, and ready-made content. The site also offers a free white paper, “Electronic Relationship Marketing Made Easy,” that has lots of great tips for dealing with security issues, managing subscriber lists, handling “bounce-backs” from outdated eMail addresses, and monitoring feedback.

But before you spend hours creating an online newsletter, note that personalized means just that. Take the time to build a database that can do an eMail merge (just like a mail merge using addresses and word processing documents).

As in other forms of direct marketing, eMail will only work if you get the right message to the right person at the right time. In other words, 60 to 70 percent of your success in using this strategy will come from compiling and maintaining accurate eMail lists and using them judiciously.

Therefore, make sure you have a system in place–even if it’s simply something you do manually on a weekly basis–to honor “opt out” requests and update eMail addresses.

Links:

Daniel Janal: Internet Marketing
http://www.janal.com

JDD Publishing
http://www.bizweb2000.com

iMakeNews
http://www.imakenews.com