Getting your foot in the electronic door: E-Mail

September 29, 2015

By Ken Blum

Soliciting for new subscribers is more difficult than ever. Why? Because it’s so darn hard to get hold of anyone.

Telephone solicitation—to home phones listed in a phone directory—used to be a great way to sell subs.

No mas.

Most people have signed up for federal or state do-not-call lists. Accidentally call a number on the list to sell something to somebody and risk a fine of $16,000.

Per call!

Yes you are permitted to call a former subscriber on the DNC lists for up to 18 months after his subscription expired. But you’re still dealing with caller ID or an answering machine.

And many people are using cellphones and smartphones rather than landlines. To get the phone number, you need to be a blood relative, close friend or the NIS. And if you do get the number and make a call, be prepared for some salty language.

Knocking on doors was another effective way to sell lots of subscriptions in a short time. For example, the high school band would go door-to-door to sell subscriptions, earning a share of the price for each sold.

No mas.

Young people are not inclined to walk any more. They prefer to be hauled—to band practice, or even to a soccer match where they scurry back and forth like houseflies for six or seven miles, but woe are they to walk a quarter mile from home to the field of play.

And a more serious issue in this sad age of predators is the danger unaccompanied children face if they knock on strangers’ doors.

So how do we contact people in order to sell a subscription? Smoke signals? Mental telepathy?

One way many newspapers embrace is social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter). These are great communication tools, but better as friendly interaction and entertainment than vehicles for selling a product, though some may disagree.

No, the best option is the invention borne of the Internet’s Stone Age in the early 1990s.

It may be a relic, but it is one used by nearly all of America’s homo sapiens.

It’s called e-mail. Just about everybody reads it, every day. Just about everybody sends it, every day.

For a newspaper, a volunteered e-mail address can be a powerful way to keep in touch with a subscriber, develop a relationship with and, sooner or later, sell a subscription to a non-subscriber.

Unfortunately, not many newspapers are using it effectively, except to notify e-edition subscribers that the latest issue is available.

So let’s take a look at an e-mail strategy newspapers could use to promote their product, be it print or e-edition.


An e-mail Strategy

Step 1—Put someone in charge of the e-mail blasts. If it’s not part of someone’s job, it won’t get done. Or, set up a committee and develop strategy and assignments.

For smaller newspapers without sufficient staff, consider hiring an outsider to take on the task from his or her home.

Step 2—Purchase software or subscribe to a service (typically not that expensive) to effectively handle the e-mail lists. A good service will provide good information, such as the number of e-mails that were opened.

Step 3—Create three lists.

• One for subscribers.

• One for nonsubscribers (periodically you may want to contact nonsubscribers only—say with a special news subscription offer.)

• One for advertisers.

Step 4—Now the hard part. Gathering the e-mail addresses.

• For subscribers—request e-mail addresses via renewal invoices, to be filled out and returned with payment. Request e-mail addresses for all print and e-edition subscriptions sold online.

Include a note, for example: “Thank you so much for renewing your subscription to the Gazette. We would like to send you periodic e-mails that feature the latest news happenings in and around Millville, and money-saving coupons from local merchants. To receive all this for free, please fill out the line below with your e-mail address.”

• For nonsubscribers—gather the e-mail addresses in a variety of ways. Insert a slip-sheet promoting the option in all newsstand copies. (All they need to do in this case is e-mail you the info.) Set up a booth at an event like the county fair to sell subscriptions and gather e-mail addresses. Ask all visitors to the booth to fill out a small form including name, address, phone number and e-mail address and a line to check “subscriber” or “nonsubscriber.” Put the slips in a container and hold a drawing for prizes.

If you publish a TMC product, run ads requesting e-mail addresses.

Again, a contest will multiply the replies.

• Include—visibly—a link to subscribe to the e-mails at your newspaper’s website.

• For advertisers—advertising sales representatives gather the addresses. Note—more newspapers are sending invoices to advertisers via e-mail, saving labor time and postal costs.

Eventually, circulation renewal notices are likely to be handled the same way.

Step 5—Compelling content.

• Two e-mails per week should be plenty. We don’t want to be a nuisance.

• Compelling content is key, so be willing to give away a complete news story for free (if the rest of your online news content is behind a paywall.) A partial story will only irritate the reader.

• Spot news is always best. Again, provide the entire story.

• The compelling story needs a compelling subject line. Don’t write a subject line reading, “News from the Gazette.” Do write, “Gazette Flash

—Orrville Mayor Hall suffers heart attack.” Also, add a summary of other key stories that will appear in the next issue. One sentence for each story.

• A content suggestion: most small towners love their high school sports teams. Send out an e-mail with the score as soon as possible after the game. If possible, a brief summary of the game or box score will increase readership.

• Include a big fat promo link to purchase a subscription to the print or e-editions, or both. Run a special offer for new subscribers.

• If the paper has a Facebook page or uses other social media, include instructions on how to find them.

• Include a coupon ad from a local advertiser. i.e 20 percent off any item at a gift shop. Charge for the ad.

Step 6—Miscellaneous.

• Be sure to run an “unsubscribe” option.

• Cross your heart and hope to die that you will not share your e-mail lists with any other person or business. People are justifiably concerned about signing up for bucketsful of unwanted e-mails.

Are you using e-mail to promote your newspaper? If so, send along your strategies to and I’ll pass them along in a future column. In the meantime, have an e-mail blast. © Ken Blum 2015


Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a monthly free e-mail newsletter titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail him at; or phone to 330-682-3416.


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