Boost Your Department’s Visibility, Value and Productivity With an Email Newsletter
There’s a tendency for senior management to view fleet as a cost center and “necessary evil,” with little appreciation for the value the department brings to the business as a whole. So, when it’s time to cut spending, the fleet budget becomes a primary target, putting greater pressure on the fleet manager to do more with less.
How do you counter this impulse at your company? How can you bolster your department’s standing with management to garner the resources you need to do your job well?
Try starting a monthly email newsletter that keeps management and end users in the loop about the department’s latest news, vehicle order status and performance.
It’s a communication tool that has worked effectively for Matt Gilliland, fleet services manager at Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), which operates over 1,100 fleet assets.
Since Gilliland and his team launched their department’s email newsletter about seven years ago, it has not only helped them expand fleet’s influence with management, but it has also enabled the department to operate more efficiently, increasing its value throughout the organization.
“At the time, no one in the district really knew what fleet was doing,” Gilliland said. “We just weren’t that visible. We were tucked away in the corner, and that was it. The newsletter has given us an opportunity to communicate our work – and value – within the organization because, as I tell my guys, our blue stripes and orange bumpers on our vehicles are by far the best advertising we do as a district. And how we manage those vehicles is vital to how the public perceives us – and how much confidence they have in us.”
NPPD’s fleet newsletter is sent around the 25th of each month to anyone who is assigned a fleet asset or who directly supervises somebody who is assigned a fleet asset.
When Gilliland and his team launched the newsletter, their initial aim was to create a more efficient way to communicate with stakeholders.
“We were bombarded with calls about vehicle replacements and order status, like, ‘Hey, when do I get my truck?’ ‘When is the new one coming here?’ ‘I need new tires – should I wait?’ The newsletter keeps end users informed, helping them get those answers on their own. And this has saved our staff a ton of time from having to handle all those calls,” Gilliland said.
The fleet team was also looking for a more effective system to broadcast important safety information to all stakeholders throughout the company. “Before the newsletter, we didn’t have a good way of communicating anything in a broadcast-type fashion,” Gilliland explained. “If there was a recall, or say we wanted to do an upgrade or an enhancement on a certain group of trucks – like relocating fire extinguishers or upgrading steps or installing better grab handles and other things along those lines – we didn’t really have a good way of communicating that.”
It’s one thing to send out an email newsletter, but it’s entirely another thing to get people to actually read it.
Gilliland said his department’s monthly newsletter has, on average, about a 75 percent open rate, a number that would make many marketing professionals jealous. He attributes the high readership rate to three factors: format, content and interactivity.
1. Easy-to-Read Format
The newsletter is designed in Microsoft Publisher as a one-page document, with a maximum of four headlines. A few sentences under each headline serve to motivate recipients to click to read more.
“We think of it as front-page news to get people to click the link that takes them to a Word document, PDF, Excel, PowerPoint or whatever it is we’re trying to communicate that offers a deeper dive into the information,” Gilliland said. “We may have five headlines if we have a really heavy month, but if we get more than four, it just gets a little too busy, and we’re trying to keep that from happening. We want it to be crisp, so it’s as easy as possible for people to find and access the information they need.”
2. Compelling Content
Study your audience and learn what interests them. For example, at NPPD, Gilliland noticed that sharing auction results not only keeps management informed of sales performance but also helps create higher anticipation among most recipients to read the newsletter.
“We have auctions about every six months, where we remarket our old assets. So, in our newsletter, we include what we sold and how much money it brought, which is extremely popular with end users. They’re curious and love to see how much their old trucks sold for,” Gilliland said.
Another important component of the newsletter is fleet performance data, which is especially valuable to senior management. “We benchmark fleets and compare how we perform as a fleet to those benchmarks,” Gilliland said. “The newsletter links to our performance dashboards to show where we are doing well and where we’re not as a company – such as idle time, cost per mile, cost per hour and all that type of stuff.”
And from time to time, change things up to keep it interesting, Gilliland advised. “About every year or two, we like to change the top portion of the newsletter just to mix it up so that people aren’t looking at the same thing all the time. We move around the different icons and different things like that.”
How do you know if email recipients are really consuming the content? One tip that has worked well for NPPD is to include trivia.
“Occasionally we’ll put an interactive trivia question in one of the documents that is linked within the newsletter. Then we know, based on how many responses to that question, how our readership is. Then we do a drawing based on the respondents. Those who answered correctly will be put into a drawing. We draw their name out of a hat, and they can win some prizes,” Gilliland said.
Another idea for driving high reader engagement is to periodically include a survey with the newsletter. “About every third month, we’ll include a survey where we ask a variety of questions,” Gilliland said. “Anytime that we want to do a change in practice or vehicle specifications, we’ll take the temperature of our customers with that survey.”
Putting together a monthly email newsletter that people want to read can take a lot of thought and time to successfully execute. So, how can you do it in a way that doesn’t overburden you and your staff?
“As far as implementation, first of all, my advice would be to research what is already out there so you’re not reinventing the wheel,” Gilliland said. “Look at a lot of different options, a lot of different communication techniques, and then find what is not only best for your company, but what fits your business unit the best. You’ve got to have the personnel that can support this. And you have to match the media to their skill set. You certainly don’t want to take this on in some sort of PowerPoint if you don’t have anybody that knows how to do PowerPoint.”
How does NPPD do it?
“My leadership team will draft the articles, which are then sent to my assistant who assembles the newsletter,” Gilliland said. “She makes sure the tone is right – that the content doesn’t come across as inflammatory or accusatory, especially if we’re dealing with safety issues where somebody might have goofed up. And then I serve as the editor. I will pick some articles, shuffle them around in order, change some of the verbiage, language, syntax, and then it gets sent out.”
Gilliland stresses that teamwork is essential to successful execution. “I think that our team’s influence, impact and position within the company are largely attributed to this communication tool. Yet it wouldn’t be possible without the team. There is no doubt that we are where we are due to the team that I have.”