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Leveraging e-mail to convert readers to contributors

Village Media balanced their mission to keep news free while using e-mail to convert readers to contributors

When the COVID-19 lockdown started in Canada, traditional advertising revenue was at great risk of being seriously impacted by the pandemic and ensuing economic shutdown. With that in mind, Village Media decided to launch a multi-wave email campaign for reader contribution to help subsidize the potential loss of advertising revenue.

Prior to launching this campaign, we rolled out a new, streamlined onboarding process for contributors. We had previously launched contribution in a handful of markets and used those markets as an opportunity to test and learn our messaging and onboarding process. Our new process included a clear call-to-action button on the homepage, a new contribution landing page, clearly defined tiers of contribution, a thorough FAQ, and fresh contribution verification email copy. As we set this up, we worked with Google's News Consumer Insights team to ensure we followed best practices (newsletter best practices here, contribution landing page best practices here).

The contribution messaging, which stressed the importance of up-to-the-minute local news during the health crisis, was distributed through email. We also stressed our mission to keep news free and accessible to everyone in the community by stating variations of the following: "As always, our coverage will remain free to the public with unrestricted access to help you cope as the situation changes by the second. We are dedicated to continuing that coverage despite what may lie ahead." In our messaging, we also highlighted what we were doing to keep the community safe and informed. For example: "In an effort to keep you informed, we have introduced a new section on our site dedicated to the latest local news headlines about COVID-19, as well as a resource guide for finding more information and a guide to practical precautions you can take in your daily life." The messaging also stated that all contributions would help us to continue our ongoing coverage of the news that matters most to the community.

Our distribution strategy was to send the emails to our existing Daily Headlines Email newsletter (an email product we send every afternoon recapping the latest local headlines) subscribers in each market. We sent two rounds of emails and followed up with a second email to subscribers who hadn't opened the initial email in each round. We also varied the subject line to see if there were any noticeable differences in open rates and conversion. Overall, the first rounds of emails with the subject lines: "We are working hard to inform you during this crisis" and "A heartfelt thank you for your ongoing support" delivered the highest open rates, though this may have been due to the copy, or since it was the first email sent in each campaign. On top of email, the contribution call to action was also delivered through a new CTA on the header of each site, in-article messaging, house display ads and Facebook ads.

By far, email was the biggest and best converter of the above tactics for contribution. Email performed extremely well, generating over 80% of our total contributions across our markets. Emailing our existing subscriber base was also the most cost-effective external approach to contribution outreach.

We are continuing to improve how we recognize our supporters, including a new email campaign with a thank you note from the community editors, a supporter recognition page, and feature articles on select supporters sharing who they are and their reason for supporting.