Archived Webinar

Creating Must-Read Emails for Your Newspaper


Presented by Tim D'avis, director of email success, and Julie Foley, director of affiliate success, Second Street

In trust we trust. Email is not broadcast. Your audience has opted-in, and they can opt out at any time. So the relationship must be based on trust, which can be fragile.

Survey says! To correctly identify the job that needs to be done, you must know your audience better: what they want, how often they want to get it and whether you can provide it. A simple way is through a survey. Survey them at the beginning, and periodically through the newsletter’s distribution.

A good fit. Be sure your newsletter writer has some expertise on the subject, and has his ear on the community’s needs.

Put the time in. Are the folks you choose to head up newsletters willing to commit up to five to six months of their time to see if an initiative will bear fruit — because that’s about as long as it will take to see if a new newsletter, or a reconfigured newsletter, is working.

A daily habit. Daily headline newsletters have two big advantages: The frequency is great for building a habit, and they drive high-quality subscribers. To improve engagement, consider a narrative intro, breaks, and include polls and responses. Subject lines are critical here: Don’t regurgitate a dull headline.

This just in. Breaking news newsletters use a very straight-forward format. Not as many newspapers as TV stations use this, but it is critically important. Remember, that your audience’s tolerance for breaking news is probably higher than yours. You needn’t wait for something to blow up. Bonus: Breaking news newsletters have greater open rates.

Next stop … Destination newsletters are great for engagement. Go all in on the voice and personality of the editor or journalist in charge of the newsletter. The goal here is not as much to link to the website, but to get opens for the newsletter itself. Therefore, don’t worry so much about linking to sources outside your newspaper.

Pop goes the newsletter! Pop-up newsletters are focused around a temporary event — think the Iditarod in Alaska — or even ongoing news such as the COVID-19 pandemic. These are a great way for audiences to get good information, and for you to test out formats and angles on a short-term way.

Welcome aboard! Welcome emails for those who have just signed up for a newsletter is your first job. The best way to get an open is to hit them back immediately with a welcome newsletter. Follow up on days 1 or 5 and 7, and expose them to other newsletters they may be interested in. You’re deepening the subscriber’s engagement.

You asked. With the pandemic, our audience is getting more email than ever. How do you avoid email overload? Tim D’Avis responded: Ask yourself if I were a customer what would I want to know? Make sure you are giving the right information to the right segment of your audience. That’s where surveys come in. You have amassed data on what your audience and audience segments want.

Return to sender ... Make sure your emails don’t go back to “no-reply” messages. If you get a message from a real person, be sure a real person will respond. It deepens engagement and creates a “feedback loop” so you get more information about what your audience wants.

Speaking of … Sender email addresses matter. Sender names are the number one driver of opens. “From” names also save precious subject line space. For instance, don’t put “Breaking News” in the subject line. Put it in the From line.

Promote, promote, promote. Build your sponsorships along with your newsletter audience list. Some newspapers actually start with the sponsor and then start the newsletter. A great way to subsidize your list growth.

Take a break. You can’t just send the same old same old all the time. You have to break the pattern. Send out occasional — and very short — surveys about your content. Create exclusive quizzes for readers. Send newsletter subscribers special messages on their birthdays. Celebrate individuals in your audience at least once a year.

“Best of” is the best. Best for growing your lists, and, not so incidentally, engagement. Your audience will comment on each other’s choices. Consider the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. A Best of Lawrence promotion garnered nearly 30,000 registrants, with 21,000 email opt-ins. Best of all: Fully 76% were from non-subscribers — a font of future growth.

More questions? Just head over to to talk to a real person 9 to 5 CT.

Bonus engagement from you: Here’s some of what happened after the main presentation was completed.

Julie Foley said it: Anything that your local audience is passionate about makes for a good bracket. It could be pizza, or tattoos in Austin, Texas, or donuts in New England.

The subject was subject lines. You have about 30 to 40 characters. Be sure the most important words are upfront. What words to avoid? It’s not much of a problem these days, and media has a lot of latitude on this. Key word spam filters are becoming a thing of the past. 

You asked. How do we quantify the value of newsletters, especially in driving subscriptions? Second Street knows newsletters lead to subscribers. To prove it to your newspaper’s leadership — or yourself — try experiments with pop-up newsletters and A-B testing on newsletters.

Do images matter? Maybe not as much as you think. Many, many text-heavy newsletters perform at very high level.

Tim D’Avis said it: “Packing your newsletter with content — and by content, I mean text — is the best strategy.”

After all this email discussion, want to email Tim D’Avis? Contact him at


Additional resources referenced by presenters during the webinar:

Tim D'Avis, Julie Foley, Second Street