99 Newsletter Project No. 2

Step-by-step: Kickstart your newsletter with a new Welcome Email

Building a relationship that moves readers to pay for your work starts at the beginning. Get off on the right foot with this guide.

I love newsletters because they’re great at turning casual readers into loyal readers. The very best newsletters are useful, relevant and anticipated. If you can do those three things, your readers are on the right path to building their habit.

Put readers first

Reader revenue is an important component to the complete story of your publication’s revenue. You can increase that component by focusing on your reader, and Welcome Emails are the first step to doing that.

The underlying strategy and tactics are easy to understand and in this post I’m going to walk you through the basics. After reading this, you should be able to write your own Welcome Email in less than an hour.

Download the template below, and try it out.

If you already have one, compare yours to the template. A few easy changes might give you some great benefits. What kind of benefits? Read on…


Download your Welcome Email template:

This template is a starting point. Will it be the first Welcome Email to win a Pulitzer? I sure hope so (but probably not).

What it will do is give your readers additional reasons to be interested in future issues of your newsletter. That’s going to help you build loyal readers and capture more of that reader revenue you need to build your full revenue story.

Send emails from a real person

Trust is an important topic in journalism. You’re going to have a hard time getting people to trust you if you don’t treat them like a person from the outset. An easy way to earn your reader’s trust from the beginning is to make sure your first contact with them is from a real person at a real email address.

This reader gave you their email address and that’s valuable because it’s personal. Using “no-reply@localgazette.com” doesn’t feel personal, and doesn’t invite reader engagement.

Important tip: Set up a brand new email address for sending your newsletter. If your main email is awashington@localgazette.com, set up alexwashington@localgazette.com. If you use the same primary email used for one-to-one emails and mass mailings, you risk your personal emails going to someone’s promotions folder.

If you don’t want to attach your newsletter to one person’s name, try options like:

Using the name of the newsletter as the sender email also works. Examples include the food newsletter from Berkeleyside coming from nosh@berkeleyside.com and thebrief@texastribune.org from Texas Tribune.

If you choose one of these options, make sure to introduce the author or sign-off with a real person’s name.

How many Welcome Emails were from a real person?


Encourage people to reply to your Welcome Email

Only 34.8% of these Welcome Emails encouraged people to reply directly to the email. I’m a proponent of encouraging people to reply, because it has 3 meaningful benefits:

  1. It proves there’s a real person on the other end of the email.
  2. When people reply, it’s a signal to mailbox providers that you are trustworthy. That gives you a better shot of sliding into that Primary inbox rather than Promotions.
  3. It conditions people to share feedback, because they know someone is listening.

You never know when someone on the other end has valuable insight to share. Give them the opportunity!

For your swipe file: Tyler Loop

This Welcome Email from The Tyler Loop is a great example of a Welcome Email that hits all the right notes. I didn’t write it, but I’d be proud if I had.

Let’s look at each piece:

Welcome email for Tyler Loop

For starters, it’s from (1) Tasneem at The Tyler Loop, a real person. Real name and real email.

Next, we have (2) a personalized greeting. Nothing fancy, but a great way to kick off a relationship.

After the brief intro, we have (3) information on a live storytelling event, “something bold and new for Tyler and East Texas.” If you have events, don’t forget to invite people!

Then, Tasneem shares (4) her favorite stories. Note the first one: “Readers asked, we answered.” This is an excellent way of putting the reader first.

Last but not least, the Tyler Loop will (5) “turn your dollars into journalism that drives positive change”. That’s something enticing to be a part of.

And maybe my favorite part, (6) in her signoff, Tasneem encourages readers to email: “drop me a line anytime – I love hearing from readers”.

That’s a great welcome email for new subscribers. Are you ready to write yours? You got this!

Write to a real person

Nobody likes to be treated like a chunk of data. An easy way to get around this is to write like you’re talking to one specific person.

Take a minute to visualize them. Why are they reading this? What gets them excited when they see your newsletter in their inbox?

Now, what’s a good greeting? Be friendly, but not too familiar. Hi. Hello. Thanks for subscribing. Welcome!

10 of the Welcome Emails (21.7%) I saw in the 99 newsletters started off with “Welcome new subscriber” or “Dear Reader”. That’s worse than no greeting at all, because it feels like junk mail.

“Hey there” may be casual, but it’s not clunky and weird like “Dear Customer”. If “Hi there” is too casual for your tastes, try “Thank you for subscribing” or “Welcome”. Eleven newsletters used these greetings and they’re still a lot better than “Dear Reader”

If you can’t execute personalization, skip it.

Personalization is a great way to connect with your newsletter subscribers, but it’s harder to pull off than throwing merge fields in an email.

Lack of personalization is better than bad personalization, so if you can’t nail it, skip it. Broken personalization like “Dear *|FNAME|*” is the worst.

Shoutout to Chicago Reporter, Oklahoma Watch, Tyler Loop and Wyofile! They each used personalization in their Welcome Emails.

A final tip about personalization: If you’re going to use use it, test it first to avoid the dreaded broken personalization. Thankfully, only 1 of the 99 Newsletters had broken personalization in the Welcome Email.

Keep it simple.

Start with a quick intro, but no more than a sentence or two. Keep your focus on the reader.

Here are some examples:
“I’m Scott Lewis, editor in chief and CEO of Voice of San Diego.”

“Welcome to the Forward. We are delighted that you’re making the Forward a daily habit.”

“Welcome to The Incline, a news organization for Pittsburghers who want to understand today’s issues to make tomorrow better.”

Put the important points at the top

This should be information like:

  1. How often you are going to email. Day & time is even better, especially if it isn’t daily. (54.3% of Welcome Emails did this)
  2. How to update subscription preferences. (13%)
  3. Whitelist instructions.  (13%)
How do you make sure you get the most useful points first? Start with those three, but ask around for any recurring problems you’ve had. If you can address those before they become problems, your new subscriber will thank you.

First things first

The Marshall Project does a great job of hitting three important points in five sentences:

  1. How often you are going to email.
  2. How to update subscription preferences.
  3. Whitelist instructions.

Wrap it up (in a delightful bow)

Use the last paragraph to surprise or delight your new subscriber. To make this work, you must present benefits rather than features.

Here are a few examples. Pick one, or write your own:

Let 'em know if you're a nonprofit

If you are a nonprofit newsroom, let people know. You don’t need a lengthy explanation, but people are still becoming aware of nonprofit newsrooms so help them identify yours.

It’s also a great time to mention donations are tax deductible or that your site has no advertising. These are both huge benefits to people!

Take this from Patti Epler of Honolulu Civil Beat: “Our nonprofit newsroom is powered by over 3,000 active grassroots donors.” She goes on to mention the average gift, and that gifts are tax deductible.

If you have an established donor base, sharing your numbers is a nice way to show people they can be a part of something bigger.

Introduce your membership program

If you have a membership program, let people know. A lot of people out there aren’t familiar with membership programs run by newsrooms.

Denverite Welcome Email

Ashley at Denverite lets new readers know that membership gets you access to “special events, early story releases and more”. This is a deeper, more rewarding subscriber relationship that many people realize is possible.

Promote your other newsletters!

It’s 2019, we can’t afford to silo some products off from others. We’re in this together, so give people the opportunity to explore your other offerings.

If you don’t have other newsletters, maybe share some links to recent top stories. Think about these though and don’t just grab the Top 5 with the most page views. What stories got the most feedback, or led to a big change in your community? Use this to demonstrate your impact.

Sign off

Thank you for reading, 
Cory Brown
The 99 Newsletter Project

Something that easy.  

Well, how did it go? Did you walk through the template and the examples? If you would like to share, I’ll take a look –> get in touch.


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