by Joseph Lichterman
June 5, 2017
So you heard that email newsletters are the hot new trend for news organizations looking to reach highly engaged audiences and now you’re thinking of starting one in your newsroom. But where should you start? A new tool out Monday from the Seattle-based Crosscut Public Media and Reynolds Journalism Institute hopes to help answer newsroom’s newsletter questions.
The guide, called Opt In, offers a best-practice guide to starting and optimizing email newsletters with tips for design, revenue generation, content suggestions, metrics to follow, and more depending on what you want to accomplish with your newsletter.
“If someone opens up an email and it’s not relevant or it’s not useful once or twice, they’re not going to send feedback or help improve it. They’re just going to unsubscribe, or they’re going to blacklist it, or they’re going to spam-filter it. You then burn that relationship for the longer term,” said Tamara Power-Drutis, Crosscut’s former executive director who led the project as a 2016-2017 RJI fellow. “What we realized is that there’s a cost to sending poorly curated newsletters. If you send an email that isn’t relevant to someone, it actually has a potential harm on your brand or a potential negative impact on your revenue stream.”
She said they wanted to “look at what it looks like for newsrooms, specifically in the journalism field, to design effective emails for delivering the exactly right content and the branding they want to exactly the right people they want it delivered to. Email remains a really prime opportunity for engagement, for informing, for driving traffic, and for driving revenue.”
Opt In is free to use. Once users create an account, they’re asked to fill out a diagnostic form that asks about the reasons why the user is starting a newsletter and what they want to accomplish with it. The on-boarding process was designed to take an hour, and once it’s complete, users are emailed a PDF document with their full report.
The Crosscut team has spent the past year researching and developing the product. It surveyed more than 30 different newsrooms and individual journalists about their newsletter strategies, including The New York Times, Mic, and Ann Friedman, among others. Crosscut has also been regularly publishing updates about its research on the RJI site.
Lessons that the Crosscut team learned during this research — such as that the Times found that newsletter subscribers are 50 percent more likely to buy a digital subscription, or that Mic was able to drive three times more traffic to its site from its Mic Check newsletter after it was redesigned — have been applied to the Opt In tool, said Crosscut editorial and research assistant Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz.
“Once people decide why they want a newsletter, they need to design a specific newsletter to feed into that purpose,” she said. “With our research we found that we could create something that helped people include those elements into their newsletters to help better achieve their goals.”