Email Newsletters: The New Frontier

by

Rachel Rockwell

November 6, 2019

Opinion: Newspapers, You Got This

This morning, like any other Monday through Friday, I got to my desk and eased myself into the workday with a lukewarm cup of coffee and checked my email. There, in the metaphorical driveway that is my inbox, sat my “Daily Skimm” and “Morning Briefing” newsletters, courtesy of TheSkimm and The New York Times, respectively.

Reading the news has been a morning ritual for ages. Understandably, as newspapers have been around for the better part of 300 years. While the format has changed, though, the desire to be informed hasn’t. Just ask TheSkimm’s 7 million-plus subscribers or the New York Times’s nearly 5 million.

If you haven’t jumped on the email newsletter train yet, do so immediately. If you have, excellent! Let’s dive into the ways newsletters can help your publication soar.

Why email?

Think about your inbox right now. For the most part, you’ve elected for everything that’s in it to be there. With an email newsletter, you completely own your audience and have a direct line of communication to each subscriber. Per Second Street, 91% of the 2.6 billion people using email check their inboxes at least once a day. Fifty-eight percent of those 2.6 billion reportedly check email before social media. That sounds like an abundance of subscriber potential if you ask me.

Who can benefit from email newsletters?

Everyone. Many brands have already seized upon email marketing as a stream of B2C revenue. However, I find that I’m most inclined to read content from magazines and newspapers. The newsletter in my inbox is the digital equivalent of a paper on my doorstep or a magazine in my mailbox. Online retail marketing campaigns are easily hit or miss, where as newsletters are here to stay.

Building readership

Newsletters provide an opportunity to freshly tell your stories, but if you don’t have an audience to share it all with, then what’s the point? Meaningful subscriber acquisition should be your first goal. To do this, start by implementing recurring revenue campaigns.

Sweepstakes and giveaways

I use these terms interchangeably because of their similarities. Partner with a brand, restaurant, theater, store, hotel, event or any other business/venue to give away a nice prize to one lucky winner. Maybe it’s an all-expense-paid weekend stay at a new hotel opening soon or free tickets for a sold-out concert. Most people would be willing to share their email addresses in exchange for the chance to win something free, and most brands and businesses would embrace the opportunity to promote their offerings while gathering potential new clientele in the process.

Recently, Country Living partnered with clothing brand Draper James to giveaway a coat from the latter’s fall collection. It’s likely that most of those entries now receive Country Living and Draper James newsletters. (Side note: a blatant call-out to your newsletter in the navigation bar, à la Country Living, can ensure a constant stream of subscribers.)
Ballots and contests

These are great, especially at the local level. Provide a ballot asking your community to vote for the best restaurant in your area. People will drop those email addresses like an unsolicited opinion just to vote and support their favorite dining spots. Not to mention,the restaurants involved will promote your ballot to encourage voting, which means more publicity for you!

Keys Weekly, a newspaper based in the Florida Keys, holds an annual people’s choice awards, the Bubbas, to get community input on a variety of categories, from Best Key Lime Pie to Best Bank and Best Place to Take the Kids. Each ballot requires an email address to vote, and because of the Bubbas’ popularity, you can be sure Keys Weekly’s email list experiences a growth spurt.

Contests, particularly those sponsored by outside partners so you’re not responsible for the prize, encourage newsletter sign-ups and wholesome community engagement. Just think about how much buzz you could garner with a “Best Halloween Costumes: Pet Edition” contest.

Star Tribune received hundreds of entries for last year’s pet costume contest, even some from outside of the U.S.

Contests have the added value of bringing out the best in communities and making you seem authentic. This subsequently lends credibility to your news reporting.

Pop-up series and specific topics

You can also get a fresh wave of subscribers via pop-up series and specific topic coverage. If you’re just entering the newsletter game, these can be the keys to a home run, touchdown or any sports achievement you’d like to use. They’re excellent for testing out the murky newsletter waters, and specifically, pop-up series--as the name implies--only need to exist for a limited time. Upland Software points out that a limited-time commitment fosters higher open rates, as subscribers are genuinely interested in what each newsletter will discuss. High open rates are likely with topic-specific newsletters, too, because subscribers will have signed up for content they care about. The New York Times offers an abundance of newsletters on various topics, from politics to love to running.

Should your series turn out to be a huge success,take advantage and make it a permanent fixture. In advance of Game of Thrones’s final season, The New York Times created a pop-up series detailing its editorial team’s rewatch of the previous seven seasons, as well as weekly recaps for each new episode. While the show ended, the newsletter endures as “Watching,” now a twice-weekly mainstay in my inbox covering a variety of TV shows.

Maintaining readership

I’ll keep this short and sweet, as should your newsletters. Present all your content as concisely as possible, but with fresh framing and a conversational tone. Try to drive traffic to your website when you can, as this is how you’ll get eyes on other stories. Make sure the content you do include is curated, not simply thrown into an email for the sake of visibility. Lastly, ensure that curated content is displayed neatly in a layout consistent with previous newsletters and compatible on mobile devices.

Whew, that’s a lot. So, how does one achieve all that, you ask? Hire someone or a team specifically devoted to email newsletters. I just wrote the job description for you; you’re welcome. Email marketing has an ROI of 3,800% ($38 return for every $1 spent), and for all intents and purposes, your newsletter functions as a huge marketing campaign. So really, bringing on a dedicated email marketer is worth it. Your newsletter needs TLC to thrive (don’t we all?), and its success can open new doors (read: revenue streams) for your publication. Brands will want to advertise with you as:

  • Good ol’ embedded banner ads    
Bon Appétit’s daily newsletter always embeds an advertisement after its featured stories section.
  • Native ads
Looks like all the other content pieces, but this “story” from Refinery29’s daily newsletter is actually an advertisement for a specific fabric brand used in some of the featured jeans.
  • Affiliates
In every “Daily Skimm,” TheSkimm features its “Skimm Picks” section, which provides exclusive offers on products from brands the media company partners with. Readers get a nice discount, TheSkimm makes a little extra cash and partners get new clients. It’s a win-win-win situation.

Expanding readership

Now that you’ve cultivated an audience for your emails, it’s time to build your print and web readership.

Drip campaigns

Follow each email opt-in with drip campaigns offering exclusive subscription promos. Despite being a highly effective marketing tactic for a variety of industries and products, drip campaigns always have the same purpose: maintaining your engagement. Got an email with 10% off those items you left in your shopping cart? Drip campaign. Got a brand telling you it misses you with 20% off any of its products? Drip campaign.

This drip campaign from Hello Fresh is offering me $80 (or $20 off my next 4 meal boxes) to use its service again.

Drip campaigns are automated and follow an individual’s actions. Subscribers who open your welcome letter should receive a different follow-up email from those who don’t. Keep in mind: you’ve only got a 48-hour window after someone enters a giveaway, votes on a ballot or simply opts in to your newsletter to follow up with a subscription offer. This is the time-frame in which people are most engaged with your publication.

Media partnerships

By this I mean partnering with another publication and incorporating content from both in each other’s newsletters. TheSkimm’s newsletters do just that: skim the most pressing world events so you know what’s going on. Should a specific headline pique your interest, TheSkimm provides external links to a newspaper or magazine’s in-depth coverage of that subject. This means a fresh wave of exposure to your site, which could then convert to subscribers. I promise this blog isn’t an affiliate marketing campaign for TheSkimm, those gals just really know how to do an email newsletter.

Shameless plug, but our weekly "Media Minute" newsletter shares the latest happenings in the publishing world, carefully curated from reputable publishing resources, partners and our own blog.

Paywalls

The jury is still out on whether paywalls work. As a voracious media consumer, I detest them. As someone working in the publishing industry, I understand why they exist. People have to pay to read print magazines and newspapers, why shouldn’t they have to pay to read that same content online? Unfortunately, with so many free media alternatives out there, paywalls can deter a reader from subscribing. This means fewer site visits, and subsequently, less revenue from digital ads.

If you’re a niche or local publication, or a more general publication but with topic-specific newsletters, ignore every thing I just said. Paywalls could be for you. Why? Because readers want to know what’s going on in their communities. They can get a free tease via local TV stations, but nosy people like me want the juicy details, which only a thoroughly reported story can provide. With niche publications and topic-specific newsletters, readers have deliberately come to you because they trust and rely on your coverage of a certain subject. They’re much more inclined to pay for your content in order to continue hearing what you have to say.

Wrapping this all up

So, the moral of this very long story? Implement an email newsletter or focus your efforts on improving what you already have. You now know how to get folks to opt-in, stay for a while and eventually give you money. Consider adding a dedicated email department within your team to ensure newsletters get the attention they deserve. See what content sticks and move on from what doesn’t. That’s the beauty of the digital world; results are almost instantaneous and edits can be made quickly. Most of all, just be open to embracing the ever-changing world of digital media and you’ll be golden.