Pick your cliche…
“The best ideas are often the simplest ones.”
“Sometimes it’s hardest to see things that are right in front of you.”
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”
All three and many more could be teased from advice shared October 10 by New England Newspaper Fall Conference keynote Nicco Mele.

The author, professor, publisher, political consultant, Harvard Business Review contributor, and alumni of an Esquire Magazine “Best and Brightest” in America designation promised a “super practical” dialog that appeared to resonate with the 100-plus attendees to last weeks conference.

While a LOT of ground around reader engagement was covered by Mele, the meat of his message centers on the great potential simple e-mails could play as print publications cast for and hope to re- engage their audiences and – dare we suggest – attract print subscribers.

Based on his fast-paced presentation, it may not be as much of an “old is new again” situation as it is using purposefully simple and well timed e-mail messages to slowly but surely establish or reestablish consumer relationships – with at least the added benefit of enticing significantly more web/social traffic.

Having admittedly spent “the last few years publishing research on monetizing news,” Mele arrived at the New England Newspaper Fall Conference held at the AC Hotel in Worcester, MA ready to share some of his most important findings.

Driving Eyes
Mele said the “single hardest thing in the news business is getting people to the website.” But at the same time, he was happy to report that local papers appear to have “a competitive advantage,” saying smaller regional and community publications already tend to possess the “original inbound internet marketing apparatus.”

He said unfortunately, most consumers and potential readers will not pay for locally generated news content “if they don’t build a habit around your paper.” Mele suggested papers might nudge local audiences to slowly modify news consumption habits by developing and serving audience around targeted content – and then funneling users into “habitual paying customers.”

Having accomplished it himself, Mele admitted the task remains “very difficult.” That’s why Mele said he loves e-mail. “Social audiences don’t belong to you – and don’t have a relationship to them,” Mele warned. “But if you capture e-mail, you have a connection forever. You can monetize their attention. You can assign lifetime value, and budget around that when you have e-mail addresses.”

When it comes to best utilizing and building your e-mail list Mele says:
? Encourage monthly reader panels that you pay to help build a “data model” of your consumers.
? With e-mail, you can track data and talk to your audience constantly. And metrics on habit are highly valuable – how often a recipient opens your emails can help you decide what kind of product to build.
? Surprisingly, e-mail outreach messages work best when they are simple – so they should mainly contain text, not images or a lot of ads.
? Production energy should be on the quality of writing
? It should be targeted for delivery the same time every day or week
? Strive for consistency over the long haul. “It’s not like selling an ad and you’re done,” he cautioned those eyeing an e-mail engagement launch.
? However, a successful e-mail product has great potential to help papers learn the numbers, specific interests, and passions of their audience – and to build on that data.

Beware The ‘Bounce’
When it comes to methods for acquiring e-mails, Mele finds events provide engagement opportunities – and a good source e-mail traffic capture. He said since e-mail bounce rates are very high and vary widely (50-90%) -obtaining e-mail addresses at every event is crucial.

Another key element: Mele says your e-mails need to have a human name in the delivery. “They want something that feels like a local columnist,” he said. “Mobile [users] are very intimate – so your e-mail needs to have a ‘dear mom’ quality to it.”

For those who can follow his advice, Mele insists that “e-mail is the best local strategy you can have.”

“Strong editorial products will have largest CPM, source of digital subscriptions, and driver of site traffic,” he added.

“Nothing else I’ve ever done on the internet has delivered like e-mail has,” Mele concluded, so “if you have them, engage them, and you will eventually convert them to subscribers.”

Attendee Reactions

Following the talk, Waterbury Republican-American Managing Editor Anne Karolyi said she found Mele’s professed love of e-mail outreach interesting because her publication recently launched a daily e-mail blast, and it is “one of the most common ways that people use to access our website.”

“People seem to like that,” Karioli said. She also agreed with Mele that complete separation between departments like advertising and editorial can be maintained while working together, sharing information and ideas..

“There are ways of dealing with the larger business issues involving your paper without completely breaking down that wall,” she said. “I’ve always believed that was possible – and I would rather protect our integrity while finding ways to make money because I need to make sure my reporters can eat.”

Peter Haggerty President and Publisher, Daily Times Chronicle, Inc. Woburn said he was receptive to Mele’s advice on how to help increase “digital side revenue.”

Haggerty said, “We’re losing so much revenue on the print side, that it’s important for us to learn how to replace some of it.” His company is already weighing a number of things that Mele suggested including e-mail outreach and events, as well as the right way to meter on-line readership.

“While we have our websites, the revenue stream from them has been stagnant,” he added. “As [Mele] said, we need to create some kind of customized product to hit that target audience by e-mail in the hope it will drive some to subscribe, or create more revenue.”

Closing Tip & Resources
Regarding email and other reader engagement tools, Mele suggested the site newsletterguide.org – aimed at building “quality newsletter products for those who know nothing about it.” He said the site offers everything from workflow tools for smaller publications, to free mobile-friendly templates. Check it out!


By John Voket eBulletin Contributor

John Voket is an Associate Editor at The Newtown Bee in Connecticut, Director of Public Affairs for Connecticut’s Connoisseur Media radio stations, and 2018-19 President of NENPA.