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What works in corona pop-up newsletters

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Hello newsletter authors,
This is Mark from Revue, with the second issue of The Week in Newsletters written since the coronavirus pushed us into crisis mode. I’m afraid last week’s issue wasn’t great. I got fewer replies than usual, had a lower open rate, and some readers wrote back letting me know that something was off.
I’m not sure exactly what it was but think it was just general lack of focus caused by me, like many others, struggling with the new reality, and being pre-occupied with thoughts of how bad it might get. A week later, I feel more upbeat. I’ve found somewhat of a new routine 🎧, and gained some confidence that the crisis measures are working. I hope that will give me enough focus for another great issue.
And just to be clear: I really appreciated the critical replies I received (you know who you are!). It’s not what you want to hear, but so helpful and so much better than silence. Thank you 🙏 and on to this week’s topic about what’s working for publishers doing corona pop-ups 💌.

Dissecting corona pop-up newsletters
Many publishers have started corona pop-up newsletters in the last days and weeks. That makes a lot of sense as publishers have figured out that pop-ups are an effective acquisition strategy, and that newsletters help turn visitors into loyal readers and loyal readers into subscribers.
It’s fascinating to see so many publishers doing the same thing at the same time, and a great opportunity to see what’s working. So I signed up for and read issues of some 15 corona newsletters the past week to find out.
What’s in a name?
First thing you need when starting a new newsletter is a name.
The fact that all publishers were starting pop-ups on the same topic at around the same time posed an interesting challenge here. How to come up with a name that has not been taken yet?
Publishers must have read the thesaurus several times over as every synonym for newsletter seems to have been used by one of them. We now have coronavirus alerts, briefings, bulletins, dailies, newsletters, reports, todays, updates, and watches.
I probably missed a few, but if you’re ever looking for a name for your newsletter, you can go with your topic plus any of the above 📛
Header design
Once you’ve settled on a name, you need a design.
Most of the corona pop-ups played it safely and went with a factual, text-based design, using a header image that is a combination of their logo and the newsletter name.
A few publishers, including the MIT Technology Review and Der Spiegel decided to add a visual, in both cases a simple illustration of a virus. Still not exactly daring.
The only publisher that got creative was Buzzfeed, who very much in line with their brand, went with the medical face mask emoji alongside the more sensational title “Outbreak Today”.
With naming and design out of the way, it’s time to work on the strategic objectives.
The first and foremost is acquisition. Publishers want to convert the newly acquired corona readers into regular readers they can retain beyond the lifetime of the pop-up. This is a tried and true strategy that we’ve discussed in the “Pop-up newsletters are an effective acquisition strategy” issue of this newsletter and now see put into practice by everyone.
Quite expectedly, the conversion to regular readers starts right after signing up. The page shown after successful email address capture is often about other newsletters. Axios, for example, shows a selection of similar newsletters. The Frankfurter Allgemeine shows a list of all their newsletters with an easy way to subscribe to several at once.
Publishers continue to pitch their newsletter portfolio inside the issues. Most pop-ups contain at least a link to pages with other newsletters. But I’ve also seen more advanced tactics. The Washington Post, for example, pitches free coronavirus coverage for newsletter subscribers, underlining the added value of their emails. And highlights a different issue from their portfolio in detail every day.
While acquisition is the first step, the ultimate goal is monetization.
This is another tried and true strategy. Publishers use newsletters to make readers come back frequently, which helps in converting them to subscribers, as we’ve also discussed in a previous issue on “Newsletters and subscription funnels”.
In the case of the corona pop-ups we expectedly see many calls to action selling subscriptions and also some ads. But with a twist. The messages are written very carefully because of the sensitivity of the subject. Journalism is presented as a public service. Ads and sponsored content are strictly on topic.
El Diario, for example, uses the term “public service” in its copy and presents a subscription as a “partnership”. WBUR asks for “support” of independent journalism. And ads in USA Today and the Philly Inquirer are for supporting local businesses and a health insurer that can help in the current situation.
An important factor to succeed with acquisition and monetization objectives is engagement.
Many of the corona pop-ups do a nice job here. Some of the tactics I’ve seen were:
  • Your questions, answered: Readers are encouraged to send in their questions. And experts answer those questions inside the newsletter.
  • How are you doing? A simple question to emphasize that readers are welcome to reply.
  • What you’re doing: Readers are asked to share anecdotes about their personal situation, which are shared with the other readers to create a sense of community.
  • A personal note: The newsletters are signed by an individual author, with email address, Twitter handle and other contact details to encourage readers to give feedback.
Live coverage
An interesting element used in many of the coronavirus pop-ups was a link with the publishers’ live coverage page.
I like that strategy because the live page and newsletter are 100% aligned on topic, but with a very different cadence. The newsletter is sent once a day, whereas the live coverage is updated many times per day.
This is a great opportunity to serve readers just right. The live coverage page promotes the newsletter as a respite for readers who do not want to stayed glued to the latest news updates. The newsletter promotes the live updates for readers who want to stay informed in between issues.
Fun fact: The WHO recommends to “try not to read or watch too much news if it makes you anxious and get your information from reliable sources once or twice a day.”
End on a lighter note
We’re in a situation of crisis and there is a lot of bad news like fatality counts, problems with the economy, and restrictions imposed on everyone’s personal lives.
While the pop-ups deal with the sensitive topic in a factual way, many of them also add a section to make readers smile, or at least allow them to take their minds off all the depressing content. Usually at the end.
I’ve seen funny tweets and videos shared by Buzzfeed but also the Washington Post, and images that illustrate the current situation included in the pop-ups of The New York Times and Frankfurter Allgemeine.
The week in newsletters
Yes, yes, I did read a LOT of new newsletters last week, but also kept an eye the newsletter news. So here are the most important articles of the week 📬
Why list hygiene is a must
Q&A with Deez Links newsletter author
Q&A with The Lead newsletter author
Consumer research corona crisis
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