Law & order: West LegalEdcenter deploys email to sell CE courses

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Business publisher Thomson Reuters' legal unit includes such divisions as West, a publisher of Westlaw online legal research, as well as West LegalEdcenter, an online source for continuing legal education. Attorneys turn to West LegalEdcenter to obtain the continuing education credits required by their local governing bodies. The company sells its more than 7,000 programs in 35 practice areas individually through credit card purchases. But it is just as interested in the classic up-sell—converting as many of those single-course buyers into more lucrative annual subscription customers—which allows access to a number of continuing education courses as well as the Westlaw database. Even with subscription customers, maintaining good relations is key because subscriptions eventually expire. To accomplish the initial sale, up-sells and retention, WestLegalEdcenter has based its marketing campaign on email. “We need a certain number of credit card purchases but also subscriptions and renewed subscriptions,” said Jonathan Petrino, marketing automation engineer at the company. “Our program that we're developing now recommends specific content on our site to particular groups of people based on their profiles. These are really one-off campaigns based on personal profiles.” For the past two years, the company has worked with email service provider Responsys Inc. to determine the most profitable mix of single-course versus subscription customers, and through testing learn which types of offers and content each group responds to best. “There's even a challenge with subscription customers; people sometimes sign up and pay but then don't take the course,” said Mike Hotz, associate director-strategic services at Responsys. Reminders are important, he said, to notify attorneys that they can still take their course. “If they've signed up and paid for something, you want to make that attorney sees the value in it so he'll return,” he said. Responsys set up triggered email reminders to attorneys, support staff and the firms' compliance people about renewal dates and key programs. Support staff, responsible for keeping attorney schedules, are particularly important targets to reach out to and remind of looming deadlines, Hotz said. Offers are crucial, Hotz said, when targeting smaller law firms, for which continuing education courses can constitute a significant budget item. Also, earlier signups are rewarded with lower rates. The geographical and jurisdictional diversity of the legal profession makes well-timed triggers key. “A big challenge is that every jurisdiction has a different date and time frame to get continuing credits done by,” Hotz said. “That means you can't just send something every Tuesday, for example. This is really about life cycle marketing.” Petrino said the company also uses direct mail timed to prompt sales and renewals based on local deadlines. And it's exploring social. But email remains at the marketing core, in particular with an understanding of recipient behavior determining future triggers. “We have about 12 automated campaigns in production right now,” Petrino said. “As people pass through one, it affects how they pass through the second. That living data set plays itself out in real time.” Petrino said the company views its customers in two distinct ways—the credit card buyers, who may scramble to simply stay abreast of continuing education requirements, and “knowledge seekers,” who want to stay on top of legal changes, regulations and financial reform. Because of the importance of this ever-changing data, Petrino only recently took on his new title—marketing automation engineer—to devote more time and energy to understanding the information flowing back to the company. “The biggest challenge isn't employing the right tools or systems; I don't think we could outgrow what Responsys offers,” Petrino said. “But the issue really is how much time you have to massage the data and understand it. We realized that, hey, we have all this information; so let's get it right.” Petrino said that because email has been a central component of the company's marketing outreach for a relatively short period, determining hard ROI numbers is difficult. Nevertheless, he's certain its return is the highest of any of the company's current marketing channels. And there is a sense among management that the company is developing stronger brand relationships with its key customers. Hotz added that the future will focus on developing email content that creates a greater sense of urgency while continuing to develop more appropriate offers by segment. He's also interested in reaching the influencers within law firms, such as librarians and compliance officers. “Social also is something that West has had some success with, and have seen some success anecdotally in driving revenue,” Hotz said.
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