Kids art franchisor uses e-mail marketing for corporate, local outreach

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Time was when a direct marketing effort on behalf of an arts education company might be prohibitively expensive, what with the need for outstanding graphics and production, not to mention printing and mailing costs.

But for Abrakadoodle, the Reston, Va.-based national arts education franchisor, the use of appealing html newsletters augmented by modern e-newsletter distribution technologies make frequent direct outreaches easy and remarkably affordable.

“Our owners hire and train teachers in their area, and market and promote the concept,” said Karin Machusic, Abrakadoodle’s community outreach coordinator in charge of the company’s e-mail marketing efforts. “We want to make sure people understand art best practices through promoting our programs.”

Abrakadoodle’s business model is meant to fill a void in art education in the United States. The company has some 60 franchises around the country that offer art classes, camps and parties for children as young as 20 months to 12 years old. Art programs are offered at schools and other community locations through the company’s mobile art education program.

To get the word out, the company works with Constant Contact, an e-mail marketing company based in Waltham, Mass. Its direct marketing effort involves development, management and distribution of e-newsletters from corporate headquarters to build awareness nationally as well as communicate with its franchise owners in 26 states.

One corporate goal is to promote the program among schools that have lost their art education programs through curriculum budget cutbacks. But media exposure and direct communications also reach out to parents who may want to enroll their children in local Abrakadoodle art parties or camps.

At the same time, and mindful that each franchise has its own community of involved educators, potential teachers and parents, the company maintains online newsletter templates and discreet community e-mail lists for each of its owners to use locally.

“In addition, we make use of Constant Contact with daily announcements, invitations, reminders and any update about new program features,” Machusic said. “And we’ll make sure to send one out featuring an owner who’s had an exceptional month.”

For corporate outreach purposes, Machusic designs Abrakadoodle’s e-mail templates and writes articles highlighting trends in art education as well as and the company’s offerings. Franchise owners have access online to those templates as well, via a newsletter-building wizard, for customization using their own stories and photos and sending them to locally developed lists.

The templates have “locked down” corporate elements they can’t be altered to maintain brand identity.

“That gives the franchisor peace of mind that its messages are going out in line with corporate guidelines while allowing franchisees to get their voice heard by local customers,” said Kevin O’Brien, senior manager of Constant Contact’s franchise program.

Constant Contact counsels Abrakadoodle franchise owners on ethical ways to build local permission-based e-mail lists (it doesn’t allow the use of nonpermission, purchased lists). It also conducts webinars for franchise owners on how to use its Web-based newsletter-building wizard.

Constant Contact, which went public last year, bases its subscription pricing on the size of its clients’ lists. For 500 or fewer names, users can send out as many newsletters as they’d like for $15 a month. Even a list with as many as 2,500 names is just $30 a month.

Abrakadoodle headquarters and franchises also get Web-based reports in real time on how those that failed to reach inboxes, as well as open rates, click-throughs and forwarded newsletters.

“Abrakadoodle has told me their e-mail marketing program is their most successful outreach they have,” said Kevin O’Brien, senior manager of Constant Contact’s franchise program.

Machusic agreed: “I think we’ve been doing well even in the current environment,” she said. “What I feel our promotions have given us is to make us more available to people with an interest in children and in art education as an activity.”

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