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Newsletters win over readers and increase engagement

London-based publisher Reach PLC launches a new email newsletter strategy across the UK, giving popular writers a key role in attracting subscribers.

Building on demand for local news

Headquartered in London, Reach PLC is the UK and Ireland’s largest commercial news publisher, with 130+ print and online brands, including the Daily Mirror, Daily Record, and Daily Star. Publications cover regional and national news, sports, and entertainment, with 12.3 million registered users and a monthly audience of 47 million.

In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted lives around the world, Reach saw a significant increase in demand for local news. “In a time of crisis, people turn to brands they trust to get information,” says Reach PLC’s Audience Transformation Director Martin Little. “People were locked to their devices, which meant our digital brands were even more relevant to them.”

To build on that demand, Reach partnered with the Google News Initiative (GNI), Little says, “to continue to find new ways to build relationships with readers.”

From 2021 to 2022, the Reach team engaged in trainings via the Google News Lab and the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) – hoping to engage audiences hungry for local coverage. Newsletters, they realized, were an untapped source of greater audience engagement.

Rethinking newsletters as a destination

“Content is a dynamic beast,” Little says. “It’s constantly moving. Demands are moving. Delivery methods are moving. We had newsletters in our titles, but they weren’t loved and cared for, and we weren’t getting the best we could out of them.” Newsrooms viewed them more as gateways to click through to publication websites – not as news products in and of themselves.

“We had a lot of newsletters just focused on distributing content,” Little explains. “We wanted to make the newsletter a destination for people to consume in their inboxes. We ended up trying a lot of different routes to market and propositions to see what would cut through.”

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“We’ve been able to capture a relevant and sustainable audience around our newsletter base.”
Martin Little
Audience Transformation Director, Reach PLC

Bringing writer personalities into the mix

Reach researched customer behavior and analyzed data to learn how to drive deeper engagement and brand loyalty. They discovered users were more likely to subscribe to and engage with newsletter content that was branded under their favorite authors’ bylines.

“Personalities cut through in a big way,” Little says. “Our journalists have authority in different areas, whether it’s football, baking, war, or the environment. Writers build up a following. Readers trust them and know they’re going to have an opinion.”

Little says the digital growth initiative with GNI, called “Project Stamp,” required a cultural shift in the newsroom to elevate newsletters beyond click-through vehicles.

The first step was creating quality mailing lists of users who consented to receive specific content. They experimented with email newsletter formats – including the use of animated gifs to bring content to life – promoted newsletters on social media, and repackaged them as video content. They also created custom HTML templates to ensure content rendered properly across email platforms.

Reach then asked its popular writers to create dynamic newsletters geared to their loyal readers’ interests, with the goal of increasing subscriptions and reducing churn rates.

Google News Initiative — News Ideas

All around the world, news publishers are innovating ways to engage their audiences. From digital distribution and subscriptions to real-time analytics and AI, to delivering what readers want and giving readers a voice, they are using technology to reimagine the news — growing revenue and keeping journalism going strong. Their insights might inspire your own next big News Idea.

  • 2 million newsletter page views a day
  • 2.7 million additional newsletter subscribers
  • 36% average open rates, up from 27%

Winning over readers with engaging newsletters

Project Stamp launched its first newsletter in February 2022 with the Manchester Evening News called The Mancunian Way — “a daily digest of news, views and opinions” named for the city’s elevated “highway in the sky.” Several other specialty newsletters launched across Reach UK publications during 2022.

The newsletters include long-form features, such as an interview with a Holocaust survivor and a story about a British man who went missing in Ukraine. Reach is also creating content focused on under-represented communities: For example, the LancsLive newsletter, MyBlackburn, covers topics important to Lancashire’s multicultural communities, such as this story on Islamophobia.

“Newsletters written by the same author each edition tend to retain subscribers,” says Reach PLC’s Digital Innovations Editor Paul Gallagher. “We promote the authors using bylines and images prominently.”

Six months after launch, Project Stamp newsletters saw open rates on popular issues often exceeding 50 or 60 percent. In total, Reach publication newsletters grew from 1.8 million subscribers before Project Stamp to 4.5 million subscribers at the end of 2023.

“Our newsletter page views have grown from 400,000 to up to 2 million a day,” Little says. “We get a lot more page views from newsletters than any other publisher I'm aware of in the UK.”

Screenshot 2024-05-01 11.24.54 AM
Screenshot 2024-05-01 11.24.54 AM
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