As news publishers look for ways to attract and retain audiences in an increasingly fragmented world, newsletters have emerged as a surprising unsung hero. In fact, according to INMA Researcher-in-Residence Greg Piechota, e-mail newsletters are the single most effective tool to get people to subscribe and prevent churn.
At Nordwest Mediengruppe (NWZ) in Germany, 2019 was a turning point as it formed a small multidisciplinary task force to work together on ways to increase online subscriptions.
The newsletter team consisted only of two editorial staffers, and NWZ was publishing a partially automated newsletter with only a few hundred subscribers.
When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in 2020, the task force identified missed opportunities with the newsletter and formed a new cross-functional project team to launch a new newsletter that provided daily COVID-19 updates for the region. Launched in just a few days, the newsletter was enormously successful and enjoyed thousands of subscribers during the first week.
Keep going — and growing
Based on the newsletter’s success, NWZ decided to scale and expand the newsletter to include other topics and involve more departments in the process. That also became the touchpoint for NWZ to share its digital products throughout the company; until then, many departments were not working with digital.
To make the transition faster and easier for those departments, NWZ’s task force improved processes, structures, and workflows. It created a new position of newsletter coordinator that merged marketing and editorial expertise and provided specific guidelines for quality, standards, and innovation.
By the end of 2022, the newsletter department had grown to include more than 50 people, and NWZ’s single newsletter had expanded to more than 20 newsletters on different topics. Those topics were targeted to appeal to specific niches, and the coverage included families, regional soccer, hyperlocal news, sustainability, and more.
Newsletter subscriptions grew from 1,500 to more than 75,000.
Newsletters as a retention tool
NWZ’s analytics show a strong correlation between newsletter subscriptions and retention: A reader who subscribes to one or more newsletter is significantly more likely to stay.
The enthusiasm of subscribers is matched by the enthusiasm of the teams putting the newsletters together. Every team member — who works on the newsletter in addition to their daily duties — is interested in their topic and largely self-motivated.
They have embraced newsletters and digital as effective ways to extend their reach to the audience and now work to meet the performance numbers and KPIs outlined by the heads of marketing and editorial. Overall, it has increased the acceptance of digital journalism within NWZ.
Although the teams work in their individual niche, the company holds a newsletter summit every two or three months that brings all the teams together to share their latest success stories, best practices, and what they are planning next. NWZ also brings in an outside expert to offer new insight or inspire the teams.