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Janet Roberts

Publisher Interview, Part Two: John Pearson, MPR
By Janet Roberts

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Today, we conclude our interview with John Pearson, New Media manager for Minnesota Public Radio, which uses email newsletters as one way to extend MPR's contact with its listeners, members and shoppers.

You can review Part One here:
"Publisher Interview: John Pearson, Minnesota Public Radio"

Janet Roberts: What's your publication structure?

John Pearson: Our newsletters are all created internally by people close to the content source. It is up to the production group to decide just who will do the work and whether freelance support may be needed.

The New Media area provides the training and back-up for creating the emails as well as standards and occasional comments and suggestions. Show hosts are involved in the development process and sometimes write for the newsletters, but not usually on a week- after-week basis. In the case of Garrison Keillor, his messages are often adapted from materials he prepares to distribute to the program's live audience.

Expenses for the email-newsletter creative production are borne within the participating departments. Our IT area bears the expense for email newsletter distribution through an external service provider. Our IT group also manages the subscriber database with the service provider. This management varies depending on the list.

We are only offering HTML in very limited ways with our newsletters, but expect to move in that direction in coming months. New Media will provide HTML templates created by our Web designer to the various newsletter writers. We expect our newsletter writers to be able to do basic HTML tagging using Homesite or simple text editors.

JR: In addition to Web sign-ups, how do you promote newsletter subscribership?

JP: The newsletters are promoted within the actual radio programs. In some cases, this is very regular and planned, in others it is much more ad hoc.

JR: Do you do anything with your subscriber database beside send newsletters?

JP: We are very careful with how we manage our subscriber database and try to maintain our promise to our audience to only contact them in the way they've requested and for the purposes they've indicated are acceptable.

We would not, for example, send a membership solicitation to every subscriber to News. Instead we might incorporate a membership "ask" into the body of a regular News email.

JR: Which is the most popular newsletter in subscriber numbers?

JP: Our E-commerce and Membership email subscriber lists are in the tens of thousands. Our editorial newsletters subscriber lists when added together are also of that magnitude.

Of the editorial newsletters, A Prairie Home Companion is most popular in subscriber numbers but Writer's Almanac, because it is sent daily, leads in sheer email volume.

Aggregated, e-commerce and membership and editorial, we have something well in excess of 100,000 subscribers, but less than 150,000. Our editorial email volume alone is around 40,000 subscribers.

JR: Do you measure how effective your newsletter publishing is?

JP: We presently evaluate only on quantity of subscribers and numbers of emails sent. E-commerce does track the click-throughs for their emails. (John noted separately that MPR is planning to begin analyzing its click traffic better later this year.)

JR: Describe a particular challenge your newsletter faced and how you overcame it.

JP: Regarding the editorial newsletters only, here are some of the challenges, most of which have been overcome by plain old persistence - or which are yet-to-be-overcome!:

  • Establishing email as a valid platform, not just a marketing tool.
  • Balancing central production controls with distributed creative production.
  • Subscriber services: We are lucky to have a first-rate membership service group who helps us with all the issues surrounding screwed-up subscriptions.

John also outlined a new online strategy that adds to MPR's news- reporting effort:

"One thing we've tried that I find interesting is a short-term newsletter. It was created by our online news editor, and its focus is JUST the Minnesota legislative session currently underway. It began around the first of the year and will end, presumably (unless it morphs into a general politics newsletter) when the session is over in late spring. I think there's a great deal of opportunity around such hit-and-run specialty interest and shorter-term ventures that merit further exploration."

Ezine-Tips for April 21, 2003

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