When the Austin American-Statesman introduced a paid site in December 2012, we weren’t using e-mail marketing as a regular channel to communicate to our subscribers.

In 2013, we faced new engagement goals that included tracking subscriber logins to the paid site. We began using e-mail to promote important content plays to subscribers, which led to significant paid side engagement and subscriber logins. We quickly developed a plan to increase the number of content e-mails we sent to paid subscribers to encourage this growth.

However, in 2014, we realised sending more and more e-mail did not translate into more and more engagement. As digital engagement and logins began to plateau, we realised we needed to get smarter with our e-mail targeting.

While we were facing changes internally, so was our local city government. In 2013, the city of Austin voted to change its form of government. These changes meant the City Council grew from six members, all elected at-large, to 10 members, now elected from geographic districts.

In 2014, voters would take to the polls to elect City Council members by geographic districts for the first time. All 10 seats, plus the mayor, would need to be filled. As the year unfolded, more than 70 people launched campaigns for civic office.

This was a historic moment for the city and a great opportunity for the Statesman to market to our subscribers more effectively. We set about to increase digital engagement by targeting our readers with news based on their new geographic council district.

We could not use our internal databases for this project, though. The new geographic districts did not fall along ZIP code lines like our databases did. Instead, we were able to obtain the registered voter list by district from the county, which we used to find our subscribers by exact address.

In the end, we were able to match 20,584 subscribers to their district. Only 10,148 Austin subscribers were left unmatched.

We then created a series of mailings around key election dates to increase digital engagement:

  1. On Sunday, Oct. 19, the day before early voting began, we e-mailed subscribers a letter from our editor and included links to coverage for their respective district, for the mayor’s race, and for other general election races, such as governor.

  2. Since most election results were not called until after midnight election day, we e-mailed subscribers results for district races at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, November 5.

  3. In many races, a candidate did not receive the majority of the vote, so the top two candidates then entered into a December 16 run-off election. We continued e-mailing subscribers who lived in these districts.

The first round of e-mails increased subscriber logins by 2,296, or 6% – the highest jump we saw in 2014. Personalising our e-mail messages to subscribers increased our open rates by as much as 10% and increased our click-to-open rates by as much as 19%. Subsequent rounds of e-mails continued to increase subscriber logins by more than a 1,000, or 3%.

We adapted this geographic personalisation for post-election use. We continued to contact readers with information about their newly elected council members and also began targeting subscribers outside of Austin with news pertinent to their communities. Geographic targeting has been the best tool to smartly deliver news to our paid subscriber base.