Success stories

How the Bureau of Health Workforce used an Internal Newsletter to Unite their Agency and Consolidate Communications

Average weekly newsletter open rate
Scholarship participant email open rate
Application launch email blast distribution
Typical open rate for massive application launch email campaign
The Bureau of Health Workforce (BHW) is an office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that administers programs that to strengthen the health workforce and connect skilled medical professionals to underserved people in rural, urban, and tribal communities across the United States. The Division of External Affairs was tasked with overhauling and consolidating communications within the bureau and stepped up to create an e-newsletter called BHW Vitals that did that, and much more.

Siloed and Scattered

BHW is comprised of more than 450 staff members. An internal survey in 2020 revealed that many felt siloed and poorly informed of what was happening beyond the programs they were working on directly; this issue was exacerbated by the pandemic and remote work. Focus groups also showed employees felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails they received. At the time, BHW used a bare-bones mass internal email system devoid of any tracking mechanisms, with a distribution schedule that was random and haphazard.

When the Division of External Affairs took over the internal communications role in 2021, their challenge was clear: inform the BHW workforce about things that matter to them; reduce the volume of email; and create timely, consistent communications.


Consolidated and Scannable

The internal communications team decided an email newsletter was the best way to consolidate the volume of messages sent. Hosted by govDelivery — our digital marketing platform for government — BHW Vitals was born. A clever play on words to emphasize the organization’s most important source of internal communication, BHW Vitals is a weekly email publication with a consolidated, scannable format. With it, employees not only get fewer emails, they also get structured content that’s easy to consume on a delightfully predictable schedule.

The communications team tested early issues of the e-newsletter to shape the overall direction, and evolved as they learned more about their colleague’s interests. They monitored click-through rates (and other metrics) to determine the types of content their audience was most interested in — even the layout. The team also implemented new best practices like testing subject lines and distribution times, as well as reviewing analytics to streamline efforts. At one point, the newsletter included a summary of their monthly all-hands meeting — a webinar for staff members. But even after a few iterations, the summary wasn’t getting enough engagement. Instead of taking it personally, they decided to summarize the meeting within BHW Vitals and include a link to a site with the recording on demand instead. The team aimed to ensure content was applicable to at least 80% of their staff members by using an objective checklist to determine when (and what) to include in each issue. The content proven to be most compelling (based on data like click-through rates) was placed at the top in the initial preview to draw the reader in.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many people consistently engaged with it and opened it week after week, clicking through links for additional information on a subject. We tried to highlight the right mix of information, but also include items that are more personal for fun.
Melissa LaCombe
Branch Chief, Division of External Affairs

The communications team takes on an investigative air to find relevant content for the newsletter each week. They work with their colleagues across the bureau and with external federal sources to develop content that meets their editorial standards to be included in the e-newsletter. This often means including short snippets of information with a link to a website for additional information.

“Don’t be afraid to cut things,” said Angela Hirsch, director of the Division of External Affairs, when asked if she had any advice for other government entities embarking on an internal newsletter. “People tend to provide more information that we need. The goal of the newsletter is to be skimmable. We really thought through who our audience is and what they’re looking for. They want something short and they want to know when it’s coming, so we really wanted to stay true to that approach.”


Conversational and Culture-Shaping

Using an intentionally conversational, employee-focused tone, the newsletter has helped to minimize the number of emails sent, but it has also had an effect the communications team didn’t expect: it has become a of part of the organization’s culture. When the newsletter was first published, BHW had hired roughly 100 new people since the start of the pandemic, and nearly all staff were working remotely. For those new hires in particular, the newsletter was one of their primary means of connection.

Connection was one of our goals from the very beginning, and part of that is having fun. We work in public health, a very serious topic area. Our people are working really hard, so we wanted this to be something to look forward to. Our April Fools issue is a great example of that, but we work fun into every week’s issue.
Angela Hirsch
HRSA/BHW, Director, Division of External Affairs

Particularly popular aspects of the newsletter vary from week to week. Sometimes it’s a reminder of upcoming events, often it’s personal profiles of bureau staff members that resonate most. Each issue features an #IAmBHW feature article on a BHW staff member. The profiles are a mix of professional and personal information and allows others to learn more about their colleagues. The e-newsletter also provides an opportunity to share small victories among colleagues like industry awards.

The bureau uses govDelivery to support BHW Vitals as well as all their programs designed to strengthen the health workforce. They send messages to prospective and current program participants, grantees, stakeholders, and other important external audiences. Their email subscribers opt-in to receive messages about topics they’re interested in. Messages developed for application launches may be sent to as many as 300,000 people, with open rates typically around 25% or higher. More targeted messages, like those created for scholarship participants, consistently achieve open rates as high as 60-75%.

BHW was able to award funding to a record number of new and existing healthcare professionals in underserved communities due — in part — to their ability to get the word out using govDelivery. Informational eblasts were a key aspect of their marketing and communications efforts that allowed them to communicate broadly about the programs, eligibility requirements, application assistance events, FAQs, and much more. They were even able to target applicants based on how far they were in the application process and usher them along to completion with the use of helpful tips.

[On-Demand Webinar] Learn more about how BHW streamlines vital internal communications and measures success.

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