November 20, 2012
How To

Vendor Selection: How The New York Public Library chose a new email service provider

SUMMARY: An email service provider can be a great asset to a marketing team. One that is ill-suited for your needs and team, however, can slow projects and inhibit email creativity, as well as cause issues with subscribers.

In this how-to, a marketer for The New York Public Library walks through his year-long process in picking a new email service provider as a guide for other marketers. With the new vendor, the average open rate has increased 15.3%, and the clickthrough rate is up 11.8%.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter

According to the MarketingSherpa 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, email service providers are the service marketers most commonly outsourced. However, choosing the right provider to partner with -- one that suits your current and future needs -- can be a grueling process.

For Johannes Neuer, Associate Director of Marketing, New York Public Library, the realization that it was time to move on to a new email service provider (ESP) came when his team’s time and talents were being held back.

"I discovered that the email program that we planned for the library was being held back by the system limitations that required us to do cumbersome work around it and deal with inefficiency," he said.

Email marketing is a chance to provide the best and unique view of your service to customers. Being stunted by an ESP ill-suited to your needs can be exasperating, especially when your team is wasting valuable time.

The system limitations of the previous service were especially troubling for Neuer because it resulted in "slow email production and frustrated staff."

Step #1. Assess how your team works with current the ESP provider

The New York Public Library’s email service provider had issues that did not work for Neuer's team, and needed to be resolved in its search for a new ESP.

Having a particular list of the benefits and problems your team has with your current provider is instrumental in choosing a new one that will definitely meet those qualifications.

Neuer, in particular, had difficulty with a system where no separation existed between the template and the content.

"So everybody basically had full access to the HTML and, as a result, could also mess up the emails. This created a lot of phone calls to the marketing department, and we had to jump in and try to fix things," he said.

Neuer’s team had three additional pain points:
  • Limited reporting

  • Limited automation capabilities

  • A lack of mobile integration

Moving forward, Neuer found the lack of mobile integration especially important, and an email service provider that could grow with that need was a vital criterion to hit.

Step #2. Research the needs of other departments and companies

If a change in email service provider affects more than just the marketing department, it is important to understand the needs of those areas, too.

"At the beginning of the process, I spent a lot of time collecting the system requirements that we had in the marketing department, but also from other stakeholders that used the system throughout the library," said Neuer.

Also, researching the providers of similar institutions to your own can shed light onto what is more or less likely to work for your organization going forward.

"I started researching what providers in other cultural institutions in and around New York and around the country are using, and I talked to them … to gain insights into the positives and the negatives of their systems," said Neuer.

Step #3. Review options at all levels

Neuer said along with reviewing established providers, it was important for him to research newer companies and startups as possibilities.

Customer service and ingenuity were two large criterions in his search, and a smaller organization could possibly give more attention to the New York Public Library in both of those aspects.

"I took a look at these providers that [similar institutions] were using to make sure that I didn’t only review systems at an enterprise-level size and standard industry providers, but also looked at new companies and startups that could bring fresh ideas into the email space."

Neuer was specifically looking for:
  • Easy email creation

  • Strong templating tools

  • Ability to easily move large amounts of data in and out of the system

  • Superior reporting tools and analytics

  • Could eventually be used for multichannel marketing and CRM integration

Neuer was adamant that "only truly professional companies," despite size, would come out of his search process and criteria.

The chosen provider had to "demonstrate that they not only have the superior systems, but can also manage the complicated process necessary to secure the contract with the library," said Neuer, referencing set deadlines and guidelines it was suggested to which he stick.

Step #4. Choose a provider to grow with long term

"Email marketing is the most effective form of online marketing at the New York Public Library," said Neuer. "Therefore, it is very important to have a good email service provider that ensures the system does not limit your creativity or my ambitions as a marketer."

Neuer defines a good email marketing system as one that will provide proactive feedback on the efforts of his marketing team, as well as valuable and timely support.

Most important, Neuer added, is a provider that will venture to ensure they will meet future needs, by continuing "updates to the system, implementing new tools so that your program can stay ahead of the trends in the industry."

Step #5. Weigh the results

"As a final step, you know there is a formal request or a proposal process that the library has, and I invited many of the companies that showed me the systems during the review process," Neuer said.

Eight months into using its new vendor, the average open rate of the New York Public Library’s flagship NYPL News email communication had increased by 15.3%, and the clickthrough rate increased by 11.8%, compared to the final eight months on the old provider.

"That is a significant increase that we are very happy with," said Neuer.

A more anecdotal but telling result Neuer has seen is a "noticeable decrease in internal support calls to the marketing team, so stakeholders are more confident with the system."

Neuer attributes this change to the total separation of content and template that enables stakeholders to create their campaigns on their own, without the possibility of creating errors with the HTML.

According to Neuer, the overall email production time has decreased, and "our data handling can also now be handled largely automatically, cutting down on slow manual imports and export procedures that were taking up valuable staff time."

Future plans with the newly chosen email service provider will be much more numerous than with the previous.

"We have big plans to further increase the automation and also create hyper-local newsletters that are particular to each of the branches that we have in the library, a total of 90 locations in three boroughs of New York City: Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx."

Neuer said the team plans to create a custom newsletter for each of the locations, and this system will allow them to do that, as well as venture into some other interesting areas.

These new additions to its email marketing program are "tagged with the ability to do mobile marketing at the same time and text the subscriber. … Those are very important factors that helped us make that choice," Neuer said.


New York Public Library

ExactTarget -- New York Public Library’s chosen email vendor

Related Resources

Download a free excerpt of the 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report

Email Marketing How-to: 5 steps to improve your email newsletter

Dynamic Email Marketing: How boosted CTR 88% with offers chosen by data, not instinct

Marketing Research: Top email elements to test (via MarketingExperiments)

Webinar Replay -- How-To: Best Serve Email Subscribers Through the Entire Customer Lifecycle

How to Choose an Email Service Provider (via Practical Ecommerce)

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions