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Newsletters: What Publishers Can Learn from Vox Media and The Telegraph

Publisher newsletters are back in vogue, driven by commercial considerations, improvements in newsletter tech and not least audiences’ desire for razor-sharp curated content they can regularly rely on.

Writing for WNIP earlier this month, Chris Sutcliffe looked at how fashion and lifestyle site Refinery29, the business site Quartz, and the New York Times found enhanced ways to deepen engagement with audiences through the clever use of email newsletters. Now Vox Media has taken it one step forward, or more accurately, 400 steps forward.

Last autumn, the publisher hired Annemarie Dooling who was tasked with revitalising the publisher’s newsletters. Before that time, as Dooling explained to Explore Really Good Emails, newsletters at Vox were simply, “sort of a tertiary project to work on when you had extra time. And every brand in the company was figuring it out on their own“.

But after Annemarie and her team’s aggressive reader acquisition tactics for Racked grew their list to over 230,000 subscribers, Vox asked her to apply similar strategies to all their brands – including EaterCurbedRackedRecodePolygonthe and SB Nation. The result? A renaissance in Vox’s newsletters (now totalling 400+ monthly newsletters across 8 brands) and a reinvigorated and more engaged readership.

How did Dooling and her team achieve it? What are the chief takeaways?

  1. They changed their newsletter completely — first from an RSS feed to a curated newsletter, then from a curated, handwritten newsletter to something that was more ecommerce focused.
  2. They included affiliate links, discount codes, shopping recommendations, product reviews, and that’s when Racked’s newsletter hit its stride –  soon its list ballooned to 230,000 subscribers.
  3. They put newsletter sign-ups across every single post on the site.
  4. They saw they were getting a lot of traffic through Google AMP. So they had their product team  create a newsletter sign-up that would work on Google AMP. Ditto Apple News.
  5. They created a Facebook group for readers to discuss things with each other, and they made money off the affiliate links as well.
  6. They are aggressive and smart about strategy but do not nitpick about content, as important as it is.
  7. They use LiveIntent to integrate advertising into their newsletter designs.
  8. They include branded content but use it in an unobtrusive way.
  9. Open rates and click-through rates are important but other ‘out of the box’ metrics such as personal replies to newsletters are also important to determine engagement and KPIs.
  10. Readers come mostly from mobile and the newsletters reflect this in terms of format.
  11. Their newsletter readers are highly engaged and spend significantly more time on-site than readers from any other platform (one minute, fifty seconds). By contrast, Facebook readers spend 40 seconds on-site.

Dooling refers to the Recode Daily newsletter as a best-in-class example of a Vox email newsletter. She describes it as, “short, and the editor who writes it does it severely early in the morning because he’s up with a baby. And it’s like five links, and then something that he thinks is cool. But he writes it from his own voice, and it’s genuinely Peter Kafka, you can hear him in it. And it’s very good content as well. There’s just something about it that’s very special, and they have a really great readership.

For Telegraph Media, email newsletters are also increasingly an important part of its audience development strategy, as it focuses on increasing the number of registered users on its website.

The news publisher has already launched several new daily newsletters and updated existing ones, with a strategy centred around drawing clear lines between editorial newsletters and the commercial ones.

With a conversational tone and a personality-driven approach, The Telegraph’s editorial newsletters focus on authored analysis, sharing both stories written by Telegraph journalists and by competitors. Indeed, they will link back to rival publications but not before adding their own unique take on events.

Speaking to, Dan Silver, head of digital publishing at The Telegraph, says that newsletters, “allow us to speak directly to our most engaged audience…and our newsletters are mainly authored around known journalist personalities to create a conversational, informal tone of voice but which still keeps the editorial authority of the Telegraph.”

The Telegraph is also trying to use two way conversations to deepen engagement and much of their newsletter output includes interactive elements such as polls and a selection of reader comments.

Regarding technology, Silver says that a challenge has been to do this “from scratch and we’ve certainly had challenges around the (Telegraph’s) CMS“. His key advice? Be patient and be willing to experiment.

Further reading:

What’s New in PublishingLessons from three publishers in effective use of newsletters

Explore Really Good Emails: Lessons Learned from Vox Media’s Newsletter Growth Lead newsletters in six weeks: How The Telegraph is building a new strategy