Nine finds success approaching newsletters as journalism, not marketing

By Mex Cooper

Nine Metro Publishing

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


By Joe Fenton

Nine Metro Publishing

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


By Saloni Desai

Nine Metro Publishing (formerly)


Our newsrooms are constantly seeking new opportunities to encourage readers to remain or become subscribers. In 2020, we identified quality newsletters as one such opportunity.

Other publishers had proven that newsletters could:

  • Build better relationships with readers.
  • Offer a curated reading experience.
  • Surface a broad range of content.
  • Increase reader loyalty.

Our own audience research showed that one in three of our subscribers wanted to receive newsletters from us on a wide range of topics.

We developed an ambitious newsletter strategy that aimed to promote e-mail as a key distribution channel for our journalism and build richer reading habits for our existing and potential subscribers.

This meant upgrading our newsletters from basic lists of story links to well-written, expertly curated briefings from our trusted journalists and asking our newsrooms to allocate more time and resources to them.

As with any new initiative, it was imperative that we were able to measure the success of newsletters to prove the effort was worth it.

Built by us, for us

Initially, we only had access to third-party dashboards that treated our newsletters like marketing material by focusing only on clicks, opens, and the list sizes of single sends.

We wanted to be able to: 

  • Track short- and long-term trends.
  • Compare the performances of newsletter products against each other.
  • Measure the success of a single send or a newsletter overall.
  • Better understand the behaviour of our newsletter readers in relation to our e-mails but also their wider consumption habits.

Our data and editorial teams worked together to create two dashboards that could be used to inform decisions about the content, structure, frequency, and longevity of our newsletters.

The first dashboard focuses on newsletters signups and shows:

  • Signups by member type and engagement.
  • Trends in both signups and cancellations for a period of time or individual day.
  • Audience overlap between newsletter products.

The second dashboard measures newsletter performance and shows:

  • Performance metrics, including send count, open rate, click rate, and cancel rate for any selected period of time.
  • Trends over time.
  • The recency and frequency of a newsletter audience.
  • The reading journey of newsletter users within an e-mail and in subsequent Web sessions.

Vivid visualisations  

The data team used creative visualisations to convey trends in a snapshot that also encourages users to dive deeper.

For example, coloured heat maps for key performance metrics — click rate, open rate, sent count, cancel rate — provide an easy visual guide.

Each block on the dashboard can be clicked to further explore the performance of that newsletter edition. Trends across months as well as over days of the week can easily be seen.
Each block on the dashboard can be clicked to further explore the performance of that newsletter edition. Trends across months as well as over days of the week can easily be seen.

Audience overlap allows us to see which newsletter lists have crossover readers and has influenced content and decisions on when to send newsletters. For example, how many readers who receive our morning edition also get the evening edition? Is it worth repeating stories?

Each bar in the chart can be selected to highlight the combination of signups. (Figures have been removed.)
Each bar in the chart can be selected to highlight the combination of signups. (Figures have been removed.)

Throughout the dashboards, novel visualisations convey rich data simply, encouraging widespread and repeated use by stakeholders.

Build it, and they will come

It was important that the dashboards could be used by anyone involved or interested in the success of our newsletters. In the newsroom, that means the journalists who write them, editors who curate and manage them, and production staff that finesse them. However, they are also now used by our subscription and commercial teams as well.

Our newsrooms check on individual sends to see what resonated with an audience as well as longer-term trends to judge how a newsletter is tracking. Our subscriber team can see which newsletters are being read by different subscriber types; for example, what kind of content is attracting low-engaged subscribers or would be best to be promoted in their own communications. Our commercial team is able to check metrics to promote the benefits of advertising in our email products.

In the newsrooms alone, more than 100 distinct users access our newsletter dashboards.

Our outcomes

The Newsletter Signups and Performance dashboards have allowed us to test and prove the impact of our newsletter strategy.

We have been able to:

  •      Show the worth of individual newsletters.
  •      Scrap underperforming products.
  •      Maximise engagement.

Our newsletter sign-ups have grown by 60% in two years. Even more pleasing, at the same time our audience increased, so too did our open and click rates — meaning a larger proportion of sign-ups are engaging with our newsletters than ever before.

The dashboards have detailed the contribution of not just each newsletter, but each newsletter added to this success and convinced the newsrooms to not only continue their investment in newsletters but deepen their commitment.

About the Authors

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