Considering starting an email newsletter? Start here!

September 5, 2019

Email newsletters are a great way to engage your audience via channels outside of the traditional print and digital. It can be intimidating to get started, but most student media offices find that it’s worth the effort. Growing the audience can be a pain, but e-mail newsletters have consistently high open rates (students really love reading them), and quickly it can become an entirely new revenue stream as advertisers clamor for a spot!

The only requirement to get started is to make sure your team can produce at least one piece of new content once per day. Anything less, and you really won’t have enough material for even a once weekly e-newsletter. Even a tiny team can produce daily content with the right structure and attitude!

Here’s what you need to know to start your own newsletter:

  • What you need: someone to write and curate it
  • How to send: MailChimp is the easiest to get started, as you grow, you may consider other options like Constant Contact
  • How to make money: Once your subscriber list hits about 5% of your student population, you can start to experiment with ads. Start by including them as added value or charging just $25. As your list grows, so should your prices. Start by including a banner at the top or a rectangle in the middle of the content.

Make sure you track how the ads perform so you can tell future advertisers how well it works (you can measure what percent of subscribers saw the ad, and what percent of viewers clicked on an ad using the tracking features in MailChimp.)

  • When to send: decide a frequency that you can commit to given your resources. At least once per week, but many student media offices send out e-newsletters Monday-Friday.
  • Who to send to: build your list. You can partner with your university to get student email addresses or you can start from scratch. (Hint: the effort to get ALL student emails imported from the start is well worth it. Starting from scratch will be a slow process to start, so get creative with how you drive sign ups if you have to go that route!)
  • How to grow: make sure it's easy to subscribe from your website, promote it on social channels, and in print. You can even send out a street team with iPads who trade students candy or donuts in exchange for subscribing.

Pro tips to make more money

Once your newsletter is launched, you can optimize in the following ways:

Use MailChimp analytic features. You can A/B test subject lines, meaning that half your subscribers get one subject line and the other half get another. You can test which subject line gets more opens to optimize your newsletter.

Collect audience demographics when they subscribe. Ask them tell you a little bit about themselves (nothing invasive)

  • Ex: are they in Greek life? A freshmen? Living on campus?
  • As your list grows, this will allow you to tell advertisers about your audience and you could even consider charging a premium for targeting certain segments of your list
  • Keep this to just a few key questions that are relevant to your campus

Feature sponsored content. If your team is already creating sponsored content for clients, charge a premium to host the sponsored content in your newsletter as well.

Consider multiple newsletters. Again, by segmenting your audience, you can also drill down on what interests them most, and curate content accordingly. Potential topics include: basketball, art, freshmen guide, etc. (For inspiration, see Buzzfeed.)

With a little bit of grit and some determination, your team can start up an email newsletter this semester. E-newsletters are the latest trend in student media that are showing really promising results. The more publishers that produce them, the easier it is for us to sell them to national brands too. So what are you waiting for?

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