Who owns the production process of your email newsletter? : Associations now

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By Ernie Smith / Dec 3 2018
(cnythzl / DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images Plus)

The email newsletter is a centerpiece of the digital strategy for many organizations. With that in mind, perhaps its creation, whether in terms of strategy or execution, should not be compartmentalized within one part of the association.

Email communications touch many different parts of the organization chart at the same time. And that can make running your email newsletter tricky.

Emails tend to be more fragile than websites, which means you may need to involve your developers more than occasionally. Your marketing team might see their goal as largely promotional and would prefer to put their stamp on the subject. Then there’s your communications or editorial team, who may see email as a storytelling format, with links that support email goals rather than promotional goals. And, of course, volunteers may want to have a say in the content of your email newsletter. Their goal may be to inform the community about their activities.

And what about day to day? When there are so many players involved, who should sign a message – and how does the strategy change if it is a daily newsletter, rather than weekly or monthly?

Another key to consider: you may decide that for some newsletters you would prefer to work with a partner who can add benefits like automation and personalization.

There’s a lot to think about, in terms of ownership, structure, workflow, schedule, and the end result. But it’s a worthwhile discussion, as this ownership image can frame the way you communicate with members and potential members.

Vs day to day. Strategy

Recently, the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University examined these questions as part of its Single Topic News Project, a two-year effort that aims to track audience growth in highly targeted nonprofit editorial organizations such as The Marshall project, which covers criminal justice issues. The researchers found that, in the case of these editorial staff, the responsibility for the daily running of the newsletter rested primarily with the editorial team, but many other departments had their say on broader strategic issues.

James Burnett, Editorial Director and Managing Director of The trace (and a former editor of another outlet a few years ago), noted that his organization, which focuses on the impact of gun violence in the United States, told researchers that business needs and Editorials tend to operate independently of each other — one in a strategic role, the other on schedule.

“The metabolism and speed that goes into the editorial content of a great newsletter is separate from the business work of building your mailing list and increasing subscriber donations,” Burnett said, according to a. Average post summarizing research.

Outlets surveyed had many different processes for creating newsletters, spending between four and 58 hours producing newsletters each week. Forty hours was common for many outlets, and size was a factor in the operation of each outlet.

Let’s talk about execution (and strategy)

Now, single-topic nonprofit news organizations don’t work exactly like associations, but they have many important parallels. Typically, they are mission-oriented, they have a distinct advocacy voice, and they seek to generate income (although in their case this is usually through donations or subscriptions, rather than membership fees. ). These organizations even use developer resources against their newsletters: The Marshall Project built an internal tool called Pony to simplify the process of sending emails in MailChimp, then open-source.

And they think of their newsletters in terms both now and six months from now. That’s an important distinction, and it’s something that I think associations need to do more with their own newsletters.

There are quirks of producing an email that vary from strategic to technical. The layout of the message is important; the same is true of the way it is structured. If you create a simple link summary, it can probably be automated to some extent. If you follow the Mike Allen route and send a long message full of details like what you might see at Politics Where Axes, it can take a good part of the day.

If the post has a distinct voice, or if it contains a lot of images, this can have an impact on who opens the newsletter and how it is structured. And, of course, some marketing emails may not look like a newsletter at all.

When creating a new newsletter in your organization, these are the types of questions that should be discussed early in the process and revisited frequently. Execution will be informed by the strategy. Data needs to be involved, along with departmental feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Maybe this model needs a refresh; maybe the tools are slowing things down.

And maybe the ownership shouldn’t be so clear. As my colleague Tim Ebner wrote earlier this year, the revival of the email newsletter is well underway, but with its growing importance as a tool to reach your audience, it’s not. the moment to compartmentalize your newsletter in a single department. . Perhaps, like your website, it needs to be managed holistically, across the organization.

Maybe no one should “own” it. Then again, maybe everyone should.


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