Funke Mediengruppe shares 9 tips for hitting newsletter goals

By Ruth Betz

Blue Engine Collaborative

Hamburg, Germany


When we first looked at newsletters at Funke Mediengruppe, the result was quite sobering.

In May 2019, we had 26,000 newsletter subscribers across all newsletters from Funke’s main local newspaper brands: WAZ, Hamburger Abendblatt, Berliner Morgenpost, Thüringer Allgemeine, and Braunschweiger Zeitung.

At that time, we sent our readers partly automatically generated, partly laboriously hand-knitted newsletters that could not be adapted due to cumbersome tools. There were committed lone fighters and colleagues with minimal resources who also sent out newsletters. Our newsletter registration forms were hidden on our Web sites and no one really cared because there was no strategic importance to newsletters.

Funke Mediengruppe grew its newsletter subscriber base by 150,000 readers in a single year.
Funke Mediengruppe grew its newsletter subscriber base by 150,000 readers in a single year.

Yet we learned at the Facebook Accelerator that newsletters have decisive potential. The News York Times, New Yorker, Condé Nast, NZZ, Seattle Times, USA Today — they all gave us insights into the importance of newsletters and the impact of growing their newsletter lists on paid subscriptions.

So, at the end of 2019 (with 50,000 newsletter subscribers), we decided to set up a newsletter unit at Funke Mediengruppe to strengthen, support, and streamline all newsletter efforts from our brands.

After 12 months of intensive work with newsletter topics, here are our nine tips on how to hit and surpass every newsletter goal:

1. Standardise everything. Tools, templates, mobile forms — check them all and make sure everyone uses the same newsletter tool with the same templates. If you need to adapt a template, combine more than one change in one rollout, and include all templates. And make sure that all forms are mobile-optimised.

2. Let people know. First, optimise your own on-site touchpoints. Where do users get in touch with your newsletter offerings? Is there a clearly visible menu item in the navigation? Are your landing pages appetising?

After you have done your homework, you may start marketing — but be careful with your budget. A/B test your campaigns to find the perfect visual. We learned the more regional the focus, the better. Check your campaigns daily: What started great on Monday may be utterly expensive on Tuesday. Quick decisions are necessary!

3. Think big … and small. Flagships like newsletters written by editor-in-chiefs are essential, but newsletters for top target groups or with remarkable topics may grow slower but convert better. Set up personas and carve out the right offer for important target groups based on their needs.

Additionally, get feedback. Surveys in newsletters are a great way to understand users’ needs and keep track of the effects changes may have.

4. Be obsessed about delivery rates. Spam prevention, deliverability, bouncing, and opt-in rates may add up over a long time and result in a sudden crash. If you invest time every week into delivery rates, you may not see any big leaps as a result, but the maintenance work pays off in the long term.

5. Communicate respectfully and transparently with internal teams. Respect all your editorial teams and sales colleagues, and set up clear communication paths. Establish a recurring roundtable, send feedback, and support operational tasks — whatever is needed to get going.

6. Stay flexible. Make a plan, love your plan, and let go of your plan if needed. We wanted to set up a pop-up newsletter that highlights a project with regard to 30 years of reunification in Germany. A pop-up newsletter did not work out, but we ended up sending a special newsletter with a preview of this project as a “birthday present” on the day of reunification. And isn’t it beautiful?

7. Use your own resources. Of course, you want to implement touchpoints on your brand’s Web site and use marketing budget not only to fish in your own fish pond. But also have a look around. Are there other Web sites, projects, or partners willing to cooperate?

At Funke, our colleagues from TV Digital, Hörzu, TV direkt,, wmn, and Bild der Frau offered ad positions for promotion. Also, our brands supported experiments like print ads for newsletters. It’s worth asking!

8. Know your data. It takes a long time and skilled data experts, but once you know the traffic quality, potential number of paid customers, and conversion probability of your newsletter subscribers, things get easier. We now know that after six months, newsletter subscribers switch to the paid digital subscription with a conversion rate of 4% to 6%. Investing in newsletters makes sense.

9. Think ahead. Quarterly planning, annual goals, north star, and target communications are essential for alignment and engagement.

Reading this list, you may be disappointed. This is no silver bullet but hard work.

However, the newsletter product is worth the effort. At Funke, we just reached the 200,000 mark, quadrupling our number of newsletter recipients within a year. Two-hundred thousand newsletter subscribers open our e-mails, engage with our content, and trust our messages. We want to live up to this responsibility and so will continue and expand our commitment to high-quality newsletters that highlight the best parts of our Funke brands.

About Ruth Betz

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