Production departments find ways to adapt to rigors of daily electronic news distribution
By Mark J. Miller
E-newsletters are, like online banner ads, one of the original methods publishers used to generate digital revenue, particularly in b-to-b media. Despite their longevity, e-newsletters are still seen as a high-growth area for some b-to-b publishers.
Last year, 61% of b-to-b marketers in North America used e-newsletters as a content marketing tactic, according to data compiled by MarketingProfs and Forrester Research and reported by eMarketer.
With their continued proliferation in some sectors, e-newsletters have turned many b-to-b publishers, which once published nothing but monthly magazines, into purveyors of daily journalism. How have production departments that were originally designed to produce monthlies been keeping pace with this expanded responsibility?
UBM Electronics, which publishes EE Times, uses a homegrown CMS in the production of its e-newsletters. Amandeep Sandhu, director-audience engagement and analytics at UBM Electronics, said functionality was added to the system to automate the generation of newsletters.
When UBM was looking for options to accomplish this task, it didn't find any it felt were suitable. “We went the route of developing this functionality in-house,” Sandhu said. “Publishers should be looking for ways to automate this process but also increased functionality of user behavior targeting for content in these newsletters.
“Our newsletters contain various types of content specific to the newsletter topics but also related articles in other sections of the website, like tech papers, webinars, etc.,” he said. “As the system is automated and driven by taxonomy of the website, these related pieces of content are brought in automatically without any human intervention.”
The only content that is manually inserted are some of the advertisements, but that process is handled by the audience development department at UBM Electronics. The current plan is to automate that task as well.
Meanwhile, Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week, also has e-newsletter templates built into its CMS. However the company also sends out many e-newsletters that are created with hand-coded templates, said Stacey Hollenbeck, online news production manager at EPE. “We're chugging out a lot of e-newsletters, and we need to have an easy way to produce them.”
EPE similarly found it difficult to locate software to deal with its e-newsletter needs. “The features of email marketing programs are becoming more and more elaborate,” Hollenbeck said. “Because of that, finding an email marketing software that fits your needs might be harder and/or costlier than designing an e-newsletter.”
Software vendors are working to streamline the production of e-newsletters for publishers. For example, two vendors—mail service provider Contactology and CMS creator Metro Publisher—formed a partnership this summer designed to help publishers automate the creation of e-newsletters.
The central idea behind the affiliation is to bring together Contactology's technical know-how (gleaned from working on Salon.com's email newsletters) with Metro Publisher's editorial experience (which can ease the creation of newsletters by automating the selection of editorial by category, time published, author or content tags).
“Automation not only saves time but also allows publishers to push out more content that's also relevant,” said Will Elliott, VP-marketing and sales at Contactology. “A publication that was struggling to get out a monthly newsletter can now automatically send out email newsletters broken down by topic, blogger, etc. The more relevant content, the better engaged the subscribers and increased opportunities for in-email sponsorship and ad revenue.”
Costs for the service are based on the number of audience members. For 500 subscribers, it runs $13.00 monthly; the service is free for publishers with 100 or fewer recipients.
“It's amazing to me how many business owners cling to this notion of "building' their website and somehow take pride in managing teams of developers and designers,” said Mark Pratt, VP-business development at Metro Publisher. “That's an incredible waste of capital and time.”