Working the Email Newsletter Renaissance

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As email resurges in popularity, we take a look at why it works, where it went, one excellent example and what you can do to make it work for you.


With publishers like NextDraft and Ann Friedman enjoying phenomenal success in the medium, we’re beginning to wonder how the email newsletter ever fell out of favour.

Previously considered terminally uncool, the email newsletter seems to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance. The question is, why now?

Back in the noughties when social media was all bright, shiny and new, email seemed dry and stuffy by comparison. At the same time, inboxes started filling up faster than we could clear them. Eventually, people stopped reading.

Today marketers are dealing with a highly selective audience who rarely have the time to open their emails, much less time to read them and become invested as loyal followers.

Besides, for the most part, we’ve been getting our content elsewhere.


Blurred lines and blogging

All fulfilling the same audience needs, the last ten years have seen a softening of the lines between email, blogs and social. Having shared a similar trajectory, blogging and email have essentially become two sides of the same coin – supported by social channels to deliver one unified message.

The arrival of social media meant that suddenly everyone was technically a blogger. There was too much content. Too much competition. In typical fashion, the internet pundits started to look for their watches to call the blog’s time of death.

But we all kept on blogging regardless. We had to. Our business blogs are there to facilitate movement between our site and its social channels. On a good day this equals traffic.

The trick now lies in really knowing your audience and pinpointing the best way to reach them. What do they respond to best? As marketers we subscribe to sites like The Drum, Contently, Business Insider and PR Daily. All excel in curating and delivering relevant snippets of daily content. To find out what is going on in the industry, we need look no further than our inbox. Whether you’re a freelancer or a Fortune 500 company, emails – particularly newsletters – remain one of the best ways to build a loyal audienceAccording to Stylist, lots of people are swapping social media for email newsletters – particularly women. There are many possible reasons for this – but to explain more, here’s a look at one publisher getting it right.


Lenny Letter

Launched by Girls co-creators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, Lenny Letter is a feminist newsletter with a loyal readership of 600,000 subscribers and a sky-high 70% open rate. To date it has featured contributions from the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and even Hillary Clinton.

It’s content, while high-quality, is nothing new – sites like Jezebel and Bustle have long been exploring the same material. What makes it stand out is its use of the medium. The fact that it is a newsletter is celebrated in its name.

By capturing the right tone and delivering the right content, the Lenny Letter team have managed to make the often-impersonal email incredibly intimate.

There is a lot of noise on social media – with Dunham herself a troll’s dream. With its feeling of inclusiveness Lenny Letter strips away the ugliness and delivers what Dunham and Konner call a “snark-free space” – no comments allowed.

According to Dunham, the idea for Lenny Letter was born on her tour for her 2014 book Not That Kind of Girl. Looking around at the women at each event, it dawned on her that they weren’t there simply to meet her, or talk about the book. They were there to connect with other women who shared their values. From the political and the professional to the deeply personal, Lenny Letter provides a free, safe space for women to exchange ideas.

It has a traditional website that complements the newsletter and is the perfect spot for native and display ads as well as its largely evergreen content. The team also get creative with branded content. One short sci-fi story by Alice Sola Kim was sponsored by General Electric – the Lenny team worked with GE to bring its research into the final version.


Making email work for you

Know your audience

The Lenny Letter team knows that its audience are sick of the conversation that surrounds feminist content on social media. It reaches out to its followers directly, and privately, delivering well-chosen content with no distractions.

Consider how your audience benefit from email? Are they working in a busy industry where they need their information in bite-sized chunks? Are they artistic and possibly receptive to daily visual inspiration? Are they likely to respond well to some light entertainment?

According to the CMI, providing valuable, insightful content to the right people at the right time can help you “convert casual readers into engaged brand fans.”


Build a strategy

When starting out you’ll be faced with some key questions. What format will my newsletter take? What is its goal? How reliant will it be on the content on my blog?

Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to give your existing newsletter a facelift, a successful email newsletter depends on a solid strategy. Think not only about what your readers would like to receive but when they would like to receive it.

Write up the steps of your strategy to remind yourself why you’ve made the decisions you have for your organisation.



if you’re lucky lots of people will be reading your email on the go. Make sure everything is responsive and mobile-ready,


Play fair

How many annoying emails do we get every day? Emailing your list every day isn’t necessarily a bad thing, provided you’re giving them good, strong content and not just trying to sell them something. Don’t spam your readers and always give them the option to opt in or out.



Collect customer preferences from other platforms and really study the data. Track data points like location, industry, job title and anything else that will help you deliver the best content to your readership. Running mini campaigns for different segments works really well.


Find the right tools

The fact that the tools have got better has played no small part in the renaissance of the email newsletter. Free services like MailChimp and Tinyletter help you keep your lists clean and provide detailed metrics to help you with testing and revising your strategy .


Once you’ve nailed down your strategy, all that’s left is to keep it up. Have the discipline to maintain quality-control, keep clean lists and incorporate new technology and techniques. The email newsletter is your most personal and direct line to customers and potential customers. Keep their trust and use the medium to its full advantage.