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Award-Winning Email Marketing Tips from Latin School of Chicago
Andrew Martin

Finalsite introduced the Finalsite Double Diamond Awards at Finalsite University in Chicago earlier this year to recognize all the amazing work our school webmasters put into their websites to create compelling content with Finalsite modules and tools. The award show was also meant to inspire school professionals to take their websites in new directions, try new ideas, and explore different ways to use Finalsite’s communications tools and modules. 

The second entry in our 10-part series recapping the Double Diamond Awards, the Messages and eNotify award recognizes schools doing new and exciting things with our email marketing tools. The winner’s emails were fun, engaging, and successful, breaking the misconception that professional has to be synonymous with boring. The school's open rate alone suggests otherwise. The winner is . . . Latin School of Chicago!


Latin School of Chicago (IL)

Exciting is how we’d summarize Latin School’s email in one word. But let’s not limit ourselves to just one word. How about fun, engaging, attention-grabbing, dynamic, informative, personable, and direct? This one email from Latin School is all of the above and so much more.

“It’s fun, didn’t take itself too seriously, and people like to laugh,” said Client Success Manager Meredith Kaplan, one of the Messages judges. “We forget that a lot of times when we start marketing and creating emails, and everything begins to feel too corporate”

The bold header at the top of the email immediately grabs your attention, and the consistent use of gifs keeps you engaged as you scroll down. Matched with short, witty text and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a thoroughly engaging email that’s an absolute joy to read. 

Think about the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of emails you open on a daily basis. They’re likely text-heavy with few images that are dry, bland, and devoid of personality. You can’t say the same for Latin School’s email with its emphasis on creating a fun environment.    

Latin School also makes sure to deliver important content alongside the humor and excitement. Consistent calls-to-action with short text that gets straight to the point invite the reader to take immediate action from within the email, rather than making them visit the website at a later time. 

“Talk about being smart with curating content,” said Client Success Manager Ryan Nolan, another Messages judge. “Latin School maximized the communication potential in an email designed with the idea of maximizing clickthrough rates and completely filled the email with content.”

Latin School of Chicago email with image and call-to-action

Ryan said the frequent use of student quotes adds another layer of communication in the email. Talking about how great your school is can only go so far, but multiple testimonials from current students reinforce those same points to prospective and current families. 

Lastly, Ryan said the bite-sized structure of the email makes it easy for readers to both read or quickly scan. And just as the bold header begins the email nicely, the simple and bold “We hope you chose Latin.” ending sends the reader away with an upbeat, optimistic message.

"It was an honor and a privilege to win the Finalsite Double Diamond award for Best Use of eNotify/Messages! It felt great to have our hard work acknowledged and rewarded," said Trisha Flassing, Assoc. Dir. of Communications for Web Development at Latin School of Chicago. "The Communications Department was thrilled to share the award with our Admissions team and celebrate them taking a risk and going a new direction with the upper school yield email."

 Download our Messages datasheet to learn how your school can create emails like these!


The Woods Academy (MD)

The Woods Academy went in a completely different direction with their eFolder newsletter. You won’t find gifs, photo collections, or flashy design choices on their newsletter. Instead, you’ll find a newsletter that is efficient and intelligent in its design and layout.

Web Solution Developer Kosha Burnett, the last Messages judge, said the use of Posts dynamic content to populate the newsletter was an excellent decision to both easily add content and save time. Why manually add content each time you create a newsletter when you can automate the process with dynamic content? As long as you keep your content updated in Posts, Athletics Manager, and Calendar Manager, you can populate each newsletter in seconds. 

The Woods Academy email with green icons and orange text

The newsletter also opens strongly with a personalized introduction that increases the chances that the reader will open and read the email. A two-column list of colorful icons and text follows the introduction with links to upcoming events and important information parents need to know.

Messages Best Practice 

The greatest strength of The Woods Academy’s newsletter is one the reader doesn’t see. Rather than a newsletter based on type of constituent (such as parent or alumni), The Woods Academy builds their mailing lists based on subject (type of content). Why is this important? 

Kosha said subject matter-based mailing lists saves you a significant amount of time by eliminating super long newsletters and duplicated content. Rather than building and sending a newsletter specific to each constituent group, subject-based newsletter can be sent to multiple groups interested in the same subject, especially useful for athletics events. There’s no need to send multiple versions of an athletic email with the same information to parents and alumni when a single email can be sent to both, Kosha said. 

Central Catholic High School (MA)

Central Catholic High School impressed our panel of judges with its use of big, bold calls-to-action to encourage readers to visit the website, a simple and efficient column layout, and personalization that all work together to increase the chances that the reader opens the email and takes action.

Central Catholic High School email with personalization, gif, and call-to-action

Messages Best Practice

Ryan loved the consistent use of personalization in Central Catholic’s and The Wood Academy’s emails as it increases the chances the reader will open the email and take action, aided by frequent use of bold calls-to-action, especially in Central Catholic’s case. 

Our 2019 Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report found that only 42% of school marketers personalize their emails with recipient information. Email personalization can significantly improve email open and click-through rates. One study found that emails with personalized subject lines have a 26% higher open rate than those without personalized subject lines.

Finalsite Inbound Marketing 2019 study results

Based on more than 500 million emails sent using Finalsite’s email marketing software, the average open rate of school emails is 49 percent, while the average click-through rate is 5.6 percent. Subject line and email content personalization can help push those numbers higher. 

Finalsite Messages allows for personalized first and last names in the subject lines, as well as up to ten personalized merge tags for the email content based on your data. However, we recommend not overly personalizing your emails. Too much personalization is easy to spot and eliminates the key benefit of perceived authenticity.

You should be seeing some similarities at this point: frequent use of bold calls-to-action, personalization, efficient layouts, and images or gifs to break up the amount of text. These shared characteristics between the Messages winner and runners-up all help boost email open and click-through rates. This particular new year email from Central Catholic sported an impressively-high open rate and click-through rate for a fundraising event email to current parents.

Messages Best Practice

Ryan recommends avoiding embedded video in emails as much as possible. Most email providers can’t play embedded videos, including the three most popular email providers: Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo. Instead, recipients will see a static image with a link to the video. 

That can certainly help breakup the text in an email, but it also defeats the purpose of embedding a video in an email if the recipient can’t play the video directly in the email. This is why gifs work so much better. They break up the text in an email with movement, and they usually feature a smaller file size, making it easier and faster for recipients to load emails on their phones.

Concordia International School Shanghai (China)

Last, but certainly not least, is Concordia International School Shanghai with their inspired approach to placing their weekly newsletter, The Concordia Focus, online. Built primarily through Posts, with some assistance through accordions, columns, and content elements, Concordia created a one-stop-shop for all things news for their constituents, smartly broken down into columns for each type of school and news type. 

The Concordia Focus newsletter page with images and news columns

The simple, clean, one-column aesthetic for each news segment creates an easily-digestible and readable format, while the high quality images creates a professional-looking page that matches the rest of the website for smart brand consistency. And by hiding each newsletter behind a popup “Read More” link, Concordia is able to fill each newsletter with a ton of information without flooding the page and creating an unreadable mess.

Concordia International School Shanghai newsletter page with images for headers and accordions

Each news column automatically pulls in content from a separate board created specifically for that category. For example, the “Community News & Opportunities” column automatically pulls in new news content from anything added to the corresponding “Community/Opportunities” Posts board. As long as everything is kept up-to-date, constituents can check back in every week for fresh content without the school’s webmaster having to manually update the page. Smart and efficient!


Key Takeaway

Our panel of Messages and eNotify judges were blown away by the sheer amount of creativity, ingenuity, and email marketing mastery we saw on display in the nominees and finalists. We cannot wait to see what schools submit next year for our second annual Double Diamond Awards Show during Finalsite University 2020 next March in Orlando, Florida.

Download Inbound Marketing Datasheet

As Finalsite’s Product Marketing Specialist, Andrew writes blogs and creates videos to share information about all the latest and greatest Finalsite products. Andrew has more than 10 years of video production experience and a journalism degree from the University of South Carolina. He has an incredible passion for movies, television, reading, and writing fantasy and science-fiction. 

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