A 30 year love affair with newsletters started at Eagle Hills Elementary

I think I have loved newsletters my entire life. I published my first newsletter back in fifth grade. I wrote some small articles, arranged them on paper and made copies for everyone in my Eagle Hills Elementary class.

Today, they are a vital part of our business. They drive a ton of revenue and serve as a powerful way to connect with our customers. It keeps them informed, confident and loyal.

The AH-HA moment

My first successful experience with a newsletter was with the Idaho Stampede in 2005 (the basketball team, not the rodeo). They hired me a month before to be their Public Relations Director. One of my jobs was communicating with our season ticket holders.

To me, a newsletter was an obvious way to communicate with them. But as a small budget team, there was no budget for printing and mailing on a regular basis. But an electronic version would take care of that.

I signed up for a free trial account with Constant Contact, one of the first mass email clients. My account could have up to 100 email subscribers for 30 days. After that, it was $25 per month.

Using a basic template, I started sending email to a random group of 100 of our season ticket holders. It included headlines and announcements. This group of 100 got the full-blown HTML version. To the remaining season ticket holders, I cut and pasted the text into a regular email. Just text. No pictures.

I called the newsletter a creative “The Stampede Newsletter” and sent it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The response was awesome. I knew we had a winner.

Finally, something just for us

Our season ticket holders had never received this kind of information before. Sure, email was was already popular. But to get a hand-selected buffet of information on a topic they liked and sent directly to their inbox? This was completely new.

The local newspapers had very little coverage of the team. Facebook was still for college students and MySpace was about to become irrelevant. For hardcore Stampede fans, this was their only real source. The information you got that day was going to apply to the game that night or that weekend.

I benefited too. As the PR Director, it was important for me to be on top of everything we were doing. The newsletter required me to have at least 2-3 interesting articles I could include. That meant tracking team’s info, following our players, community appearances, etc. It definitely made me better at my job.

Things were great…until they weren’t

Of course, as the newsletter became more popular, more and more people wanted to get the full HTML version. I had created some great momentum. But then the trial ran out. And so did the newsletter.

Why? I couldn’t get the $25 per month fee approved by upper management. We were a minor league team and struggling just to break even each year. Money was tight.

So, I did the next best thing. I created my own version.

Back up a little bit. I had a hunch that our newsletter would not be approved for funding when the trial period ended. Knowing this, I started testing a text-only version of the newsletter to see if it worked. It was kind of a dirty A/B test. The results were ok. Not as good as the HTML version. But good enough to continue.

Following the trial, I moved our database to a spreadsheet. And added email addresses by hand when someone new wanted to receive it.

Additionally, I had to get much better at describing the article and why people would want to read it. I no longer had the ability to include images in the email. HTML in regular email was still clunky and rarely looked good. Headlines were the most important thing.

I was also noticing some correlation to our website’s landing pages from an email link. When I pointed people to an article on the idahostampede.com website, it had to be worth their time. Again, websites for minor league teams were not advanced back then so I had one image and a lot of text. If I was fortunate enough to get people to link over to the website, the landing page needed to present itself well.

Things are still working out

Season ticket holders were happy. I was learning a lot.

And damn it was fun! I know not everyone is into headline searching. But I loved trying to find the articles that our season ticket holders would enjoy. Our website tracking was minimal and pretty uninformative back then. And without the paid newsletter I could not tell who was clicking on what. But even though I couldn’t tell how many people the newsletter was impacting the feedback was energizing. I’m certain our newsletter had a big impact on our season ticket holders.

Fast forward to today. It is 12 years later and I’m still utilizing newsletters to connect with our customers. The companies I own currently have two newsletters and we are about to launch a third. The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to engagement and growth. Our email database is our biggest asset. Newsletters are one of the ways we can enhance their experience.

Today, there are a lot of new ways to get your “newsletter” information in front of people. That includes things like Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, Linked In and more. Regardless of the channel, it is about the content and how you present it.

Twelve years later and we are still utilizing the same principals of a newsletter. Give them great content in a timely manner on a topic they care about.

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