Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
4 mins read

A major German media company grew its newsletter subscribers 5x in just a year: 5 insights for publishers

What we can learn from the Funke Mediengruppe newsletter transformation

Five-fold growth only happens with a plan

Newsletters have become even more important for news organizations, for a host of reasons:

  • The cookieless era is ahead and email addresses ensure publishers can still learn about their readers. This fundamental value drives advertising revenue growth. 
  • Emails work as an additional source of direct web traffic. 
  • Email is an effective tool for obtaining paid subscribers. 

By the end of 2020, Funke Mediengruppe — one of the largest German multimedia companies, with 13 regional daily titles —  reached 250,000 newsletter subscribers, an extraordinary five-fold increase in just one year. 

We spoke to Nadine Lange, who has managed the Digital Transformation Project at Funke Mediengruppe since 2019. Here are five insights she shared on the newsletter’s success:

(Ruth Betz, Head of Digital Transformation during the newsletter launch at Funke, spoke during the Media Revolutions Conference by The Fix and we have added some insights from her as well)

Takeaway #1: Consider the newsletter project as a constant transformation. It’s not going to drive paid subscriptions fast.

From December 2019 to December 2020 Funke increased the number of subscribers from 56,000 to 250,000. At the same time the newsletter open rate increased from  41 to 50%. These results couldn’t be achieved without a transformation approach, according to Nadine.

First, management focused on communication during the newsletter production. Funke set up roundtables between different media brands and an internal newsletter about newsletter development. There are separate workflows for collaboration between editorial teams, sales, tech, distribution and the newsletter unit. Funke‘s approach requires maintaining 2-3% monthly growth, with a focus on conversion and content quality improvement. As a regional publisher, Funke tests the best solutions across all departments.

According to Funke data, stable 5% growth of paid subscribers is expected every four to six months. 

Takeaway #2: To start a newsletter you don’t need to have a big team

A newsletter team should be interdisciplinary, but it does not need to be big.  Funke newsletter was launched by a group of five people, responsible for the following: editorial, marketing, tech, product and project management, and digital transformation management. 

Product management is focused on mobile optimization, data security and sales integration. For project management, the most important factors are tool support and training for employees, constant analysis of the customer’s lifetime subscriber journey and advertising performance inside the newsletter. Marketing is based on the forecasting and target achievement strategy , newsletter promotion, analysis and reporting of its performance. Editorial division is responsible for the editorial plan, conception of new newsletter formats and optimization of existing ones.

Takeaway #3: Find interactive elements to attract users

This should be consistent with the graphic design of the newsletter and the communication style. According to Nadine, Funke audiences respond well to tests and surveys. These elements also serve as additional measuring tools for audience engagement research. If you would like to experiment with formats, some software facilitates CSS animated buttons, star ratings, anchor links, image rollovers or embedded videos.

Takeaway #4: Priority metrics depend on your goals

Ruth Betz said the Funke newsletter customer funnel consists of the following metrics in order: 

  • Lead Management – provides quantitative growth and acquisition improvement
  • Open Rate – based on optimization of targeting, personalization, subject line and user experience
  • Click-to-open rate – impossible without improvement of content, design, internal linking and call-to-action elements
  • Conversion rate – use lookalikes of already paying audience and strong targeting
  • Return on investment – filtering the best performing implementations, additional focus on cancelled newsletter subscription recovery

On June 7th Apple began allowing Mail app users to block email tracking pixels, which tell the email service provider if an email was opened. Consequently, there are growing concerns about the credibility of open rate – one of the main newsletter performance metrics. Funke, whose top newsletter priority is to bring users to the other side of the paywall, is unlikely to be affected by the change. 

However Dan Oshinsky, the former Director of Newsletters at BuzzFeed and The New Yorkerpredicts that Apple’s update will hurt most organizations. The open rate is the only way to measure how frequently users read the newsletter and without this data selling advertising slots in the newsletter and cleaning recipients lists gets more complicated. 

Click rate is going to be more important for engagement tracking. For keeping a healthy recipients list, organizations may also start sending “are you still there?” emails to people who have been long-time subscribers. 

Takeaway #5:Promote your  newsletter

The newsletter should be presented on your website. Daily titles from Funke media group have separate tabs for the newsletter on the top of the landing pages (For example, Berliner Morgenpost , Westfalenpost or Harz Kurier_. 

Even more important than the website, says Nadine, is Facebook. She recommends detailed targeting, focused on searching for new people with declared interests, demographic and behavioral data similar to Facebook fan page subscribers.

By Sofiia Padalko

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission. The Fix is a solutions-oriented publication focusing on the European media scene. Subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.