Aug 26, 2013

Behind the Scenes of Walker Art Center’s Email Collaboration

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Every two weeks, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis sends an email to more than 50,000 people who care about "the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences," as the institution’s mission states. Established in 1927 as the first public art gallery in the Upper Midwest, the Walker now employs around 160 people and features exhibitions, events, performance art, dance, and other multidisciplinary creative endeavors.

Thinking ahead

With so many departments and people, how do they put together a big email twice a month? "The first step is done well ahead of time," assistant director of PR Meredith Kessler says. The Walker team maps out its bi-weekly newsletter in two-month blocks at a time. "That ensures that we get balanced coverage on as many events as possible. Every department at the Walker reviews this and comments."

Culling, drafting, testing

When it comes to the week of sending, a member of the Walker’s marketing team writes the newsletter on Monday. Images are pulled from the Walker website—where they’ve already been processed by the photo editor—and placed into an email template. From there, they send a draft to about 30 employees from different departments, testing in various email platforms to make sure text lines up right, images display correctly, and links point to the right places.

Each department is responsible for the copy and images for its own events. Other folks, like the designers and the director of PR and marketing, take what Meredith calls "a more holistic view of the newsletter," commenting on multiple sections of the campaign in a more general fashion. "The email represents quite a broad collaboration," design director Emmet Byrne says. "The marketing department and the design department have to bring together a wide range of voices and a pretty large amount of programming, and figure out how to condense all of those thousands of messages into one digestible form."

By pulling in people from different departments, the Walker ensures a couple things. First, they make sure that department-specific sections of each newsletter are proofed by someone who knows the material covered. A sculpture person doesn’t edit the dance part—a dance person does. Secondly, by making sure images has been processed by the photo editor, and templates approved by the design team, they make sure the Walker’s emails looks like the Walker’s website, shop, and overall aesthetic. Consistency is key, especially with an institution of this size, and the Walker keeps everyone on the same page by essentially treating their email like the publication process of a book or magazine. At MailChimp, we follow a similar process with everything from our quarterly MonkeyWrench newsletter to the screenshots included in this very blog post.

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Send, rinse, repeat

On Tuesday, all those edits come in from various folks, and the changes are made to the campaign. On Wednesday, either the Walker’s marketing manager or digital marketing associate sends the campaign.

Then the reports start rolling in, and it’s on to the next campaign, while new subscribers continue signing up from all over—events, the Walker website, fairs and festivals around Minneapolis. "The Walker’s a really complex institution," director of PR and marketing Ryan French says. "We have restaurants, a sculpture garden, a shop…we have many, many moving parts, and we serve almost 600,000 people annually. It really is a team effort, both from the client side and from the drafting and approval side."