The Royal Agricultural Society of NSW takes to the cloud to showcase best food and wine

Cale Maxwell, Senior Manager Digital, PR and Content, Royal Agricultural Society of NSW

When you have two centuries worth of information about the best food, wine and fresh produce in Australia, what do you do with it? As Senior Manager of the Digital, PR and Content team at the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS), I wanted to use our digital platforms to transform how we connected with our consumers.

The RAS has been supporting Australian agriculture since 1822. The Society’s mission is to ensure our agricultural industry is innovative, thriving and sustainable. Along with the iconic annual Sydney Royal Easter Show (SRES), the RAS runs competitions to unearth the country’s best produce under the Sydney Royal banner and programs that engage the community such as RAS Foundation Scholarships as well as youth education initiatives.

Communication is at the heart of what my team and I do. We connect with many different audiences including RAS members, competition exhibitors, the public and the media to inform them about events, inviting them to participate and raise awareness of the great work the RAS does.

The farmers and producers supported by the RAS continually demonstrate their ability to adapt to modern markets and industry trends. However, the RAS was behind the times. Two years ago, the Society still relied on posting letters or sending bulk emails to communicate with members and invite people to enter competitions. This prevented a personal, meaningful experience. The Society’s multiple websites and five email platforms were uncoordinated and created confusion, not only for members and the public, but also internally. Further, while the RAS had acquired a wealth of insights into the agricultural industry and its consumer base, they were hidden in a complex, disorganised database that was as hard to access as it was to understand.

In addition, the RAS’s ability to communicate during major events was significantly limited by its antiquated technology. For example, the static RAS website couldn’t provide an effortless user experience during the SRES when the site grows from zero to 20 million page views over a three week period. The Society needed infrastructure that could scale to those numbers.

In September 2014, we commenced our journey with Microsoft, which offered an opportunity to transform how we communicated. For the first time, we had the freedom to build our platforms based on the needs of our consumers – not by what our infrastructure was able to do.

Once we reviewed Microsoft Azure and Episerver, we jumped at the solution. Our decision was based on price, simplicity and set of features. It could also scale to cater for the millions of users we attract. The Episerver cloud management tool runs on Microsoft Azure, building web platforms to suit customer behaviour and displaying customer and marketing analytics in a visually accessible way. Microsoft Azure has made it possible for us to integrate the RAS websites, so when one updates the others do too. We also have a dynamic, personalised SRES website, where people can use single sign-on to easily access their account, whatever device they’re using.

We also implemented Microsoft Power BI to enable us to see activity from online users in real time, such as what they’re adding to their wish lists on the SRES website. This information is used inform our marketing activity. For example, if it shows us a large number of people are looking at the same showbag, that item can be used in promotions for a similar audience. We can also ask people questions like what time they wish to visit the show and whether they’re interested in family events, using Power BI’s analytics to plan their ideal day at the SRES. In addition, we’re using Power BI to develop a new competition system that can generate reports whenever we choose, track our records and compare results year-to-year, all in easy to see dashboards.

Email communication is now the norm, so we have consolidated all RAS email platforms and use Salesforce Marketing Cloud with Microsoft Azure to provide sophisticated customer relationship management. This solution enables us to tailor emails to different audiences. For example, if a person has recently stopped entering competitions, we can remind them about the benefits of participating and encourage them to reconnect.

We’re also enabling our consumers to access our competition records. We know where the best Chardonnay in the Hunter Valley is – why shouldn’t you? We are currently developing a tool around this data that will guide people to awarding winning produce across Australia.

Change is never easy, especially when you work within an organisation as large and multifaceted as the RAS. However, our workforce has embraced this new journey. My team receive innovative ideas every day from across the business challenging us to develop new things that are only achievable with this technology.

With Microsoft Azure, Episerver and Power BI, we have finally been able to put our data to good use. We have effectively transformed our organisation to better support Australian farmers, rural communities and our consumers.

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