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Janet Roberts

Publisher Interview: John Pearson, Minnesota Public Radio
By Janet Roberts

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In this Ezine-Tip, we begin Part One of a two-part interview with John Pearson, New Media manager for Minnesota Public Radio, which maintains a vigorous email publishing program in addition to a full schedule of radio-program production.

I introduced the MPR newsletter program in the previous Ezine-Tip. You can review it here: "Ezines for Nonprofits the MPR Way"

On to the interview:

Janet Roberts: How did MPR get into the email-newsletter business, and how long have you been publishing? What's the goal for your newsletter program?

John Pearson: A group representing Minnesota Public Radio's Marketing, Membership, New Media and E-commerce interests began planning an email-newsletter program in early 2001. The plan was comprehensive in addressing editorial, distribution, technical/ delivery and expense concerns.

The plan was advanced through management but could not be fully resourced; so, execution has been much slower than originally envisioned. Our first editorial newsletter was initiated in fall 2001. Membership and E-commerce newsletters had started earlier in the year.

Specific newsletter goals vary by area of the company. Within the content area, our goal is to utilize email as another content- delivery platform. As such, our success is measured in usage (number of subscribers, number of responses to calls-to-action, etc.).

Our Membership area uses the newsletters to communicate membership information, generate loyalty, and provide convenient links for membership transactions. E-commerce uses the newsletters to promote products - mostly CDs for and new catalog items.

MPR distinguishes between its editorial newsletters and its e-commerce efforts. The editorial email newsletters are "Opt-in:" the user must sign up to receive one. The Membership and E-commerce newsletters are "Opt-out:" the user is automatically put on the email list for the newsletter when they provide an email address and must opt out of receiving them.

I might also point out that MPR has an over-arching desire to get to know its audience members individually - a goal that stems from our strong audience-supported culture. Further, our New Media group is charged with extending our radio programs into new spaces, both in time frames and new platforms. Email newsletters fit nicely with these objectives.

JR: MPR has an extensive list of email newsletters, some of which appear to be designed to stand on their own, such as the Writers Almanac. Others support programming, such as APHC, the MPR news reports and The Splendid Table. It's so extensive it's almost like a stand-alone publishing business under the MPR umbrella. Was this what programming people envisioned, or did the direction change?

JP: Our vision is that email is its own unique platform for content delivery with its own production values, business needs, and audiences. Our general philosophy is to get our content to our audiences in whatever form they wish to receive it. Radio? Web? We try to let the audience decide.

Responsibility for newsletter content resides within each particular editorial production group but following centralized standards and distribution technologies.

For example, the Splendid Table newsletter is produced by the same group of people who produce the Splendid Table radio program and Web site. The range of styles you've observed is the outcome of this distributed production approach and the diversity of content and styles of the radio programs themselves.

We try to encourage rich editorial content that is additive to what audiences may find on the air or Web site, but we don't always reach that ideal.

Some of the producers are quite comfortable doing more with their newsletters while others, often pressed for time, make do with a re-versioning of Web or promotional materials.

JR: Do the newsletters also have a role in fund-raising?

JP: Definitely. The editorial newsletters provide real estate for underwriters as well as space to promote CDs and catalog items. Membership promotions are also occasionally incorporated into those emails.

We also recognize the value in contacting our audiences on a regular basis to deepen loyalty, understanding that those in the audience with the most frequent and the most long-term relationships with us are most likely to become members.

It goes without saying that our Membership and E-commerce newsletters have very specific fund-raising roles.

Editor's interjection: As an example, today's mailing of "A Prairie Home Companion This Week" includes a section titled "Why I Contribute," which features a contributor's comment, with name and city, and a link to the show's individual contribution page within the MPR site.

Part Two of our interview, in which John discusses production, promotion and the value of short-term newsletters to the total program will appear in the next Ezine-Tip.

Ezine-Tips for April 18, 2003

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