Case Study: Connecting Students, Teachers, Parents, and Librarians With bigchalk’s Timely Newsletters Staff

Updated · Jan 31, 2002

Introduction: bigchalk, The Education Network

Bigchalk, inc. 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's vast array of library resources, supplementary curriculum, and assessment professional development Web products provide access to unparalleled instructional resources.

Among the bigchalk suite of tools is bigchalk Library, a research database designed for ease of use and breadth of content, 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 the acclaimed ProQuest products, each of which provides uncompromising coverage for every research need, and eLibrary, an easy-to-use Web reference tool for students of all ages. Bigchalk has superb curriculum products designed for subject comprehensiveness and ease of use. In particular, ClassMate Earth Science, Language Arts, and U.S. History and bigchalk's Integrated Classroom provide excellent solutions for classroom needs. Complete information about bigchalk's product line can be found on the company Web site.

The Situation

As a recognized information leader for students, teachers, and parents, bigchalk provides over 150,000 email newsletter subscribers with content connected to time-sensitive news of the day. The newsletters include:

  • Top 8. Covers educational sites and related online content
  • W.O.W., or “Wonders of the Web.” Showcases new and notable sites based on a learning theme
  • Adventures of the e-Team. Contains a serialized story complete with learning themes
  • Tech Tips. Draws on Internet resources with editorial content and product reviews

With three newsletters distributed weekly, 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.

“We really needed to find a new way to distribute our emails efficiently, as our audiences count on receiving them in a timely manner — sometimes as part of a homework assignment,” commented Tim McLain, portal content manager for “From a production standpoint, we needed to have precise version control for newsletters sent as plain text, for AOL, or as HTML. For users to unlock the value of bigchalk services, such as HomeworkCentral, they need to receive the newsletters with fresh information, in the right format, quickly.”

To address issues of personalization, relevance, and timely delivery, realized that email was the ideal delivery vehicle. Yet there were specific criteria that had to be met to build a consistent, useful email resource and communications channel for customers.

At the heart of its email communications dilemma were the inherent limitations of traditional email systems. SMTP-based email applications have three fundamental shortcomings, creating obstacles for the email marketer. First, the volume of messages that an e-marketer needs to send often exceeds the capacity of most email servers, which often are limited to less than 50,000 messages per hour. This number may seem substantial, but companies such as bigchalk often send messages in much larger volumes over very short periods. When messages must be sent in minutes, not days, traditional systems hit overload and crash.

A second limitation for high volume email communications is caused by enterprise bandwidth. Sending hundreds of thousands of email messages dramatically increases an organization's network load and often results in slow network response for employees, or causes overtaxed email servers to shut down and results in network administrators spending too much time managing systems ill-suited for the task of sending high-volume email.

The third obstacle inherent in high volume email communications can have a disastrous impact on customer satisfaction. When enterprise networks are bogged down by servers handling high volumes of messages, the performance of third-party applications can suffer. For example, customer databases or content management systems used to combine customer data with email messages can cause message errors or interrupt the delivery, which frustrates and alienates customers awaiting timely email information.

An important part of the solution to these problems is a fundamental change in a company's infrastructure for email. Instead of combining customer data with personalized messages in-house and sending emails from company networks, a new generation of outsourced high volume email delivery services does so on its own networks designed for the task. For companies such as bigchalk, a dedicated email platform is used to send the most important information and messages from its local network. An outsourced service, such as BoldFish “No Fail Email” is used for heaving and lifting or fail-over backup, with message merging and transmission managed by a purpose-built system ideally positioned right over the highest bandwidth communications site. “We have the added confidence with the BoldFish ‘No Fail Email' backup service that our time-sensitive material will always sent on schedule,” added McLain.

The Solution

Bigchalk chose BoldFish as its in-house high-volume email solution because it was impressed with the unique set of features BoldFish offered to solve a combined set of requirements. Even better, McLain and his team recognized the value of an enterprise-caliber solution because it made their marketing infrastructure more robust with its capability to integrate with the existing bigchalk database.

“In addition to satisfying all our critical production and management criteria, BoldFish also has a great Web-based interface not found in other products,” noted McLain. “For example, I can be checking on mailings while they're running and making sure [they're] not overloading our servers. BoldFish truly offers industrial-strength capabilities with high ease of use. Even better, we don't have to worry about bounced message management, because it's all taken care of automatically.”

For bigchalk, BoldFish streamlines a historically difficult task for savvy marketers: combining large amounts of content with personalized customer data and managing the transmission of the resulting messages efficiently. When personalizing the messages, BoldFish saves bigchalk significant time while greatly reducing both network load and process management time. After the messages are sent, BoldFish automatically updates bigchalk's database with bounced messages and requests to unsubscribe. In concert, the BoldFish end-to-end deployment for bigchalk fundamentally improves the velocity and effectiveness of enterprise communications for marketing and customer relationship management.

The Results

BoldFish allows bigchalk to combine educational data with personalized messages to send custom newsletters while preserving control of the response process and using a minimum of staff time. “We see the BoldFish solution as a vital tool for our outbound communication programs,” says McLain. “In the past, sending out large amounts of email and pulling from our database of customers was painfully slow and very labor intensive. As a market leader in education information, our newsletters are the service our customers see the most, so delivery must be consistent. It is crucial for us to have an effective platform to grow our communications with students, teachers, librarians, and parents. Using BoldFish to manage the production and delivery of news email lets us focus on our real business of gathering the best education information for our subscribers.”

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