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Boldfish delivers e-newsletter technology



ABOUT THE VENDOR

BoldFish, Inc. provides Global IT organizations with outbound electronic messaging solutions that are scalable and integrate with all databases and legacy systems. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, BoldFish is privately held and is venture-funded by Alloy Ventures and the Mayfield Fund.

ABOUT THE CUSTOMER

Bigchalk.com, The Education Network, is a comprehensive education destination for the K-12 learning community, with both subscription-based and free learning tools for educators, parents, and students. Bigchalk provides instructional resources such as library resources, supplementary curriculum, and assessment professional development Web products. Among the bigchalk suite of tools is bigchalk Library, a research database providing access to more than 2,000 full-text magazines, newspapers, reference books, and TV, radio and government transcripts, plus thousands of maps, pictures, and streaming audio and video. Other research products include ProQuest products, which provide coverage for every research need, and eLibrary, a Web reference tool for students of all ages.

ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY

BoldFish's architecture and products enable the quick sending of millions of messages, without taxing the internal network. BoldFish has an "opt-in" philosophy and incorporates an anti-spam clause in its licensing.

With three newsletters distributed

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weekly, and one on a monthly basis, bigchalk's core newsletters must reach their recipients quickly and efficiently, both to be relevant and as an important source of advertising revenue. The newsletters address a variety of topics and audiences, requiring that each email contain trackable URLs to measure click-throughs. The resulting statistical information must integrate with an Oracle back-end database and be delivered to the company's advertising agency as proof of effectiveness. As an expanding business, it was crucial for bigchalk to have an effective platform to grow communications with students, teachers, librarians and parents. bigchalk chose BoldFish to manage the production and delivery of news email while letting bigchalk focus on its core business of gathering education information for its subscribers. We spoke with Tim McLain, portal content manager, about the project.

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SearchCRM: How did you choose BoldFish?
McLain: The system we chose had to be able to create customized URLs that were easy to track. It also needed to have the ability to link itself to our other databases that are collecting customer data. Another issue was cost. BoldFish has a significant price tag, but it was within the budget we had established for the project.

We looked at three vendors. The other two were on a whole different level in terms of their cost, and their functionality was even more than what we needed. We needed something fairly simple but with the ability down the road to connect the servers to the back end database to be able to mine our click-through and customer data for even more than we already had.

SearchCRM: What was the most challenging aspect of the technology evaluation?
McLain: Initially it was almost an internal conflict because we had so many ideas of what we wanted to do with the technology. We had a hard time separating our wish list from our needs list. We had a lot of internal constituencies that wanted to play a role in picking it, and we ended up having to decide on what we needed for the moment.

SearchCRM: How did you do that?
McLain: We created a lot of internal papers that we circulated and did the evaluations together. We went through eight or nine versions of our needs list and finally made a decision. It took us several months to make the decision.

SearchCRM: How did the implementation go?
McLain: It was pretty easy thanks to the expertise of the BoldFish technical staffers. They really worked our tech team through the set-up process, and also worked with them in terms of setting up the back-up, making sure all the services were up and running correctly. From pulling the trigger on the contract to beginning to use the tool took about 30 days, which was well within our parameters.

And since then, part of the BoldFish contract is a sizable amount of funds set aside for technical support, so we always have a single unique contact within the organization that we can call to get help with any items that come up. They respond pretty much 24/7.

SearchCRM: What kind of training did you have?
McLain: They did some training with us over the phone. There were only two or three of us who needed to go through the user training, but in terms of the technical training it was one-on-one between our technical rep at BoldFish and the implementer at bigchalk. I went through two training sessions and it was pretty simple thanks to the Web interface.

SearchCRM: Did you experience any internal resistance?
McLain: None at all. in fact, it was kind of a sigh of relief that we finally had a tool that could take us out of our infancy. We knew we had these newsletters that were popular, but we had no idea who was reading them or what they were reading or how successful any of the ads were. To have all that in place in a matter of 30 days was pretty exciting.

SearchCRM: How do you use the BoldFish solution in your day-to-day operations? Say you have a newsletter, you have a bunch of subscribers -- what happens next?
McLain: I'm the guy who is the conduit for what goes out. When I'm ready, I log on to the BoldFish server in Pennsylvania through a Web interface and say that I want to send a message to this list, and here's the subject line, and send me a sample of what it's going to look like. When I'm done, I can tell it to send the message out on Tuesday at 5pm.

Twice a month I log in and go over to the list manager, and I can grab all the click-through data. I also go in there once a week very quickly to see which links were the most popular for the last week in our newsletters. Every so often, I make much more detailed interpolations of the data for the sales team and the content team in New York.

SearchCRM: How does all this help your customers or subscribers?
McLain: We can really see what they're interested in. When we started this project, we had a lot of subscribers but we didn't know who was clicking on what. After we were able to get that data, we learned that our users were not so much interested, for instance, in a link to NASA.gov -- they were much more interested in going to an activity for kids to build a model rocket ship. So we realized quickly that we needed to get very niche-y with the content. We can tweak the content to be exactly what a majority of the users really want.

SearchCRM: Have you seen ROI yet?
McLain: Oh, definitely. It probably took us a good 8 or 9 months to bring our advertisers in and get them educated and get some pilots run to look at click-throughs. It was probably in the 12th month that we saw ROI. How much we're making back in terms of ad sales is beyond our expectations.

SearchCRM: So is it that you're attracting more advertisers because you're better able to give them stats on who's looking at the ads?
McLain: That's certainly part of it?the first step is that we can give them hard data on the click-throughs. But we also offer them a multitude of ways to deliver their ad. One of the nice things about the BoldFish server is that we can deliver an entirely separately text and HTML and AOL version of each newsletter. So we can have unique codes for each of those mailings, we can see who's clicking where and when. The AOL and the HTML have banner ads, smaller graphical ads, and even skyscraper ads. So whatever format our clients are looking for, we can offer them that.

SearchCRM: What has been the best result of the BoldFish CRM so far?
McLain: We've been using it now for 16 or 17 months, and we're in the process of rolling out all new versions of the content next month. The ad sales are going well, the click throughs are going up, the subscriber lists are taking off again?it's been a real win-win.

SearchCRM: What advice would you give to companies thinking of starting a similar project?
McLain: One of the things they need to be careful about is making sure the tools have the ability to handle a large volume of mail. For example, when you purchase the BoldFish server, you can go ahead and use your BoldFish server that you paid for, but that uses your internal mail hubs to deliver the mail. So if you purchase a list of 3 million people, you have to understand that that's going to hit your e-mail hubs and slow down the transmission. But the good thing about BoldFish is that in addition to having an internal server, they offer access to an external hive of servers.

It's also good to make sure you have good technical support. That's been one of the key things to keeping our project on the level.

Linda Formichelli's writing has appeared in Woman's Day, Wired, Writer's Digest, Family Circle, Psychology Today. Contact her at linda-eric@lserv.com, or check out her Web site http://www.twowriters.net

This was first published in April 2002

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