Newsela uses Workato to automate a daily product email and empower creativity

Newsela case study

The following article was taken from an ebook that Ferrer co-wrote with Amanda Giacobassi, Sr. Consultant at Perkuto, and Justin Norris, Sr. Director, Solutions Architecture at Perkuto.

When we talk about automation, there’s a tendency to focus on how it can replace human labor entirely. It creates a vision of automation as something to “set and forget” — autonomous, running in the background, and needing human input only in case of error.

For many use cases, this type of automation is exactly what businesses need. But there are also scenarios where automation requires regular human inputs in order to, ultimately, extend human capabilities at scale.  

These scenarios require solutions more resembling a hybrid between automation and internal-facing “products”—solutions that need to continually respond to human inputs throughout the process and not just at inception. While they do fulfill the job of automating tedious, repetitive, and manual labor, they also provide conveniences that enable human creativity and performance. The value of this effort is greater than the simple efficiency gains that automation provides. 

This article is a deep dive into one of these scenarios and examines how the Perkuto team helped Newsela solve one of their toughest business challenges using Workato.

Origin story: Newsela’s email initiative

Newsela is an instructional content platform that takes authentic content from the world’s most trusted providers and turns it into learning materials that are classroom-ready. 

In 2015, Newsela created a daily email to bring newly-published content to teachers’ inboxes. The objective was to drive engagement to the platform by delivering a sample of its product: timely and relevant content ready for classroom use. 

Daily Product Email V1: a custom connector

Newsela first launched this initiative by coding a custom connector between their content management system and email service provider. The custom connector used simple logic to query the CMS for the 5 most recently published articles. The connector then inserted images, titles, and URLs into a hardcoded HTML template, and pushed that, along with the user list, into the ESP. 

The custom connector met business requirements at the onset, but over the years business needs evolved. Logic for audience identification, content querying, subscription management, UTM parameter appending, and HTML compilation were all tied together in one script. The process did not account for human review or asset QA. Because engineering resources were required to make changes, the connector did not adapt as the business grew.

This daily email over time contributed to a significant portion of daily platform traffic, but because of the rigidity in original build, the marketing team was unable to understand granular user engagement, update to revised brand guidelines, or make needed revisions like updating an unsubscribe link or the reply-to address. Newsela developed automation that successfully brought their content into teachers’ inboxes, and successfully drove substantial traffic from teachers to their site, but were unable to take ownership of what needed to change. 

Alternative option: using Workato

In 2020, Newsela decided to invest in reimagining this daily email. They assembled a team mobilized to gather requirements and deliver on a totally reimagined process. Equipped with the successes and learnings of the last five years, they selected Workato, the leading integration-led automation platform, as their tool of choice. As a Workato Partner, Perkuto was a fast follow to design and implement a modular solution that would be fully owned and maintained by Marketing.

You can learn how Perkuto used Workato to create a lean and scalable process that fulfilled all of Newsela’s main requirements, while also reducing their team’s level of effort, by downloading the ebook.