Sep 3, 2013

Atlanta Film Festival’s Comment-Heavy Teamwork

The Atlanta Film Festival has been bringing world-renowned movies, filmmakers, artists, and industry professionals to MailChimp’s hometown for four decades. The membership-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit fosters community and film culture with year-round events, classes, internships, and an active email presence.

Suffice it to say, this is not a one-person operation. They’ve got an executive director, artistic director, operations and marketing director, and a membership and ticketing coordinator—all of whom have input on the organization’s email campaigns. Each person has an individual login, and everyone facilitates input from the rest of the staff. The newsletters fall into four different categories, explained below by operations and marketing director Chris Holland:

* ATL Film News: "our general newsletter, which is crafted by hand every two weeks"

* Membership News: "goes out to just our paid members, usually when we have something free or discounted to offer"

* Filmmaker News & Tips: "for the filmmakers in town and abroad who have submitted films to us"

* ATL Film News weekly wrap-up: "an RSS-driven campaign that sends a digest of titles and excerpts from our events calendar and blog on Friday of each week"

So, how do they keep everything in order with multiple contributors and multiple campaigns?

For starters, membership director Shaina Lalani has final say on any member emails that go out. "She’s very protective of our members," Chris says. "Especially since it’s her email address in the reply-to field on those messages, and she’ll be the one fielding any complaints. I make sure she gets a test send of every communication intended for members."


Simplifying the process

A lot of collaboration goes into every campaign, especially the ATL Film News emails. "That’s the most involved process and requires the most input from various sources," Chris explains. "As much as possible, we funnel all that information to a single source—a marketing request form powered by Wufoo. This allows staff to easily indicate whether a particular piece of news needs to receive special attention (its own email) or just folded in with other "regular level" news (posted to the blog or the events calendar and bundled into the weekly wrap-up every week)."

Before they implemented the form, their submission process was a tad chaotic with requests coming from all over, while Chris tried to chase down specifics and details. By implementing a system, the mayhem was subdued, and his job made a little easier. "Now everyone knows what I need up front," Chris says. "They also know that if their request isn’t submitted via the form, I’m probably going to ignore it."

After the form is submitted, Chris has his marching orders. Often this will result in a blog entry about a particular topic, which can then be repurposed for the newsletter. Content informing content, as it were. "The ATL Film News email goes out every other Thursday, so I’ll pull the excerpts & graphics of the high profile blog & calendar items for use in the newsletter," Chris says. "Often I’ll write fresh copy for the newsletter to highlight new developments in previously mentioned news or to just give it a fresh coat of paint. Sometimes a different set of words will excite segments of your audience in a way that your previous copy didn’t."

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 11.19.42 AM

Comments section

Once he has a draft he’s happy with, Chris sends a test to a handful of folks for a review. Then it’s time for feedback. "Comments are collected and corrections are made before sending," he explains. "The new ‘add a comment’ feature of the test-send process in Mailchimp makes it easy for Shaina to fire off any corrections, and makes sure that I see them. Anyone else included in the chain will also see all of the comments. It’s nice to have a miniature project-management system within one of our most essential communication tools."

Chris says that transitioning a team over to a new system can be tough, but that it’s worth the effort. "One of us (who will remain nameless) will see a test email that I sent from an ‘info@’ type address, hit reply, and then edit the recipient so the resulting email goes back to my personal address," he says. "This is a workaround from the days before the comment system, but it’s totally unnecessary these days. Sometimes you have to educate and re-educate your colleagues about new software features to break old habits."

Teamwork tips

Chris also has a few tips for organizations that are trying to juggle multiple contributors and/or campaigns:

Multiple newsletters only make sense if you have multiple audience segments.

"The Atlanta Film Festival has a clear delineation between the different things we have to offer different kinds of people and we craft our messages accordingly. We try to maintain the same tone of voice across the different newsletters, but we recognize that our readers come to the table with different needs and expectations depending on the list to which they subscribe."

If your audience is properly engaged, they won’t mind if you communicate with them honestly and often. 

"Send regularly enough that your emails aren’t a massive collection of new articles that your readers won’t bother to scroll through. Automate the little stuff so you can give the more important messages the hand-crafted love they deserve."

Find your own voice and don’t water down your point of view.

"A message that doesn’t offend anyone probably doesn’t appeal to anyone either. I’m not saying go out of your way to be offensive, but we try to have fun with our readers—to treat them like people, not eyeballs."