When I worked at SF Media Co as an Online Assistant Editor, I had the incredible job of managing every asset that was online. Social media? Check. Managing online ads through DFP? Check. Email Marketing? Now, that’s a good story.
SF Media Co was made up of three papers: SF Examiner, a daily newspaper, SF Weekly, an alt-weekly, and SF Evergreen, a monthly marijuana-themed publication. Each had a number of newsletters: Examiner had 3, Evergreen had 1 and SF Weekly had a whopping 10 newsletters across 7 email lists. When SF Weekly changed its logo, I was tasked with switching out the newsletter banners to ones with an updated logo. I took it a step further: I was going to bring them into the modern age of email marketing.
First, I looked at the problems. There weren’t enough new subscribers to overtake or even negate the amount of unsubscribers. The CTR was lower than the industry average. The newsletters looked dated, jumbled and made it hard to distinguish content from ads. In addition to that, the salespeople would get all the newsletters mixed up because they all looked the same, which probably meant that the paying advertisers were even more confused when looking through the media kit.
So I knew what I had to change, but I had to go deeper. I did a SWOT analysis to see how to make impactful changes that could benefit the company in the long run, while hedging potential market risks.
Strength: more content and higher frequency than other alt-weekly publications
Weakness: outdated design, sales unfamiliar with newsletters and the complicated send schedules and don’t end up selling any ads, not enough new sign-ups
Opportunities: can sell more ads if sales gets proper training
Threats: open rates are falling for promotional newsletters as more people opt in for tailored deals
Then, the solutions.
Internally: redesign newsletters to encourage interaction, produce internal training materials for sales, simplify reservation schedule to avoid confusion and delays
Externally: advertise newsletters to acquire new signees
First Internal Solution: Redesigning the Newsletters
Improve the look of the newsletters to match the SF Weekly brand while being mindful of paying advertisers.
- color code each newsletter to make it easier to distinguish for clients who send to multiple lists
- showcase cohesive but distinctive branded look
- ensure that the newsletter is responsive and mobile-friendly
- make design simple to create a focus on the ad and ad copy (located below the image)
- removing unnecessary sections, dead links and adding clear distinction between ad and content
A simplification and reorganization of the production pipeline allows for
- improved communication between paying advertiser (client), sales representative and online assistant editor
- elimination of double bookings
- setting clear deadlines for clients
- speeding up workflow
Second Internal Solution: Training Materials
Create internal document that aids sales reps in quickly relaying accurate information to clients.
This step involved making an accessible, mobile friendly Google Doc that shows what day of the week newsletters go out, hard deadlines, drop dates, ad type availability, client requirements and subscriber numbers. Tabs were colored same as the newsletters to help salespeople make a quicker association when working out in the field.
A reservation calendar was also created that allowed sales reps to reserve newsletters and ad spots, eliminated the problem of double bookings. Making the calendar open for editing only to the coordinators made sure that only ads that were paid for were written in. Previously, salespeople would just reserve days, regardless of how close they were to a contract. If the deal fell through, usually no one would remember to erase the reservation, which meant that other salespeople assumed the day was taken regardless. Paying clients would then have to work around an obsolete reservation. Stopping this practice created a first-come-first-serve mentality that helped ramp up competition for premium ad spots and allowed sales to play up on the idea exclusivity for newsletters for clients. Lastly, in order to hold salespeople accountable for missing or late assets, their initials would be added to every reservation, which meant less rustling through stacks of insertion orders for me during a deadline, trying to find out who’s account was running behind schedule. The result was a well-oiled mechanism that saved everyone time and stress.
External Solution: Advertising
Design and implement interstitial house ads to allow people to sign up for newsletters.
I created desktop and mobile interstitials that drew attention to the newsletter sign up page. The desktop interstitial, pictured above, ran from 11/1 to 12/31 and garnered 261,792 impressions, 6,018 clicks. It had a 2.3% CTR. The mobile interstitial started 11/1 ran for even longer, even after I left the company. By 2/1, it stood at 585,015 impressions, 15,015 clicks, with a CTR of 1.57%.
Which brings me to…
- net total of 15,389 new subscribers
- open rate up on every list by an average of 3%
- CTR up on every list by an average of 37%
What I Learned
Making something successful takes time. You cannot tweak a few variables and suddenly have tons of new subscriptions. It’s a process that needs to be addressed on all fronts, over a certain growth period, with changes made to many different variables. Consistency in presentation is easier said then done, especially when editorial, creative services and executives have differing priorities and, thus, a heterogeneous vision.
What I Wish I Done
On my to-do list was to create small banner ads that we could Tweet out, a la Time and other major publications.
SF Weekly hosts many events throughout the year, be in Best of SF or Drink. At all events, there should be a giveaway booth. In turn for signing up for a newsletter, a person would be entered into a contest to win, say, an iPad or Fitbit. Each person could increase their chances of winning by signing up for multiple newsletters, thus submitting their name multiple times. People love free stuff.
Want to Read More About Me?
My portfolio is available to view in full here.