‘You have to build communities’: Inside The Telegraph’s newsletter strategy

As the pivot to paid gathers pace, publishers like The Telegraph are refining their newsletter strategies to help drive registrations, and eventually, subscribers.

The Telegraph, which plans to surpass 3 million registered users this year, has launched or redesigned six editorial newsletters in the past two months. The Telegraph has roughly 25 email newsletters, some covering editorial topics, others for marketing purposes and those specifically for premium subscribers.

By building up a large pool of registered users, the publisher can learn more about its audience in order to then convert them into paying subscribers to its premium subscription, where readers have access to roughly 20 percent of The Telegraph’s best content.

In January, before the 6 Nations Championship rugby competition, The Telegraph launched three weekly rugby newsletters — Rugby Nerd, Rugby Reader and Geech — written by former player Sir Ian Robert McGeechan and sponsored by NatWest, title sponsor of the tournament. It also redesigned its political Brexit Bulletin email and technology-focused Tech Intelligence email, along with launching political daily email Front Bench. Dan Silver, head of digital publishing at The Telegraph, said Tech Intelligence is its most popular editorial newsletter, but that it was too soon to share exact figures. The Telegraph is in the process of understanding how newsletters convert subscribers, but said it was too soon to share conversion data.

The Telegraph’s newsletters are personality-driven, fronted by Telegraph reporters or notable figures like McGeechan, and link to other stories around the web. Because of this, open rates are as important a metric as click-through rates, which more effectively monetize traffic sent back to publishers’ sites. The Telegraph said open rates and click-through rates are above industry averages. The average open rate for media and publishing newsletters is 22 percent, according to email marketing company MailChimp.

Silver said The Telegraph’s newsletters can be read as standalone editorial products, as the publisher adds the context of why stories are important, what Silver calls “authored analysis.” “The best newsletters take you behind the headlines and give context to the stories,” he said during an interview with Journalism.co.uk.

The Telegraph uses newsletters to get readers involved, too, through interactive polls and reader submissions. The publisher will ask readers to vote on a poll on-site in the morning and then share the results in the Brexit Bulletin, which is sent in the afternoon, including comments from readers explaining their votes. Rugby Reader, meanwhile, is more of a recommended guide from its readers about what to read from the world of rugby, as 50 percent of its content is user-generated, like picturesque rugby grounds or photos of rugby teams, rather than editorial content written by The Telegraph. “Making it more conversational with readers was important to us,” said Silver. “We’re bringing users into the newsletter and bouncing them backward and forward between them.”

The Telegraph plans to launch more newsletters this year across content verticals like news, business, technology, sports, lifestyle and personal finance. Silver said the newsroom wants to create more newsletters, but needs to refine the process of choosing which ones to launch. “The enthusiasm is great, but we need to make sure they are viable,” he said. “Newsletters are time-consuming and a big commitment, and you can have too many.”

Finding the most effective software and technology platform to produce and send newsletters is equally important: For The Telegraph, newsletters were originally more of a promotional tool, so the tech platform was designed with marketing rather than editorial needs in mind.

“You have to build communities over time rather than overnight,” he said. “You need patience and willingness to experiment.”


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