How CSM's Monitor Daily Reached 10,000 Paid Subscribers in a Year

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A year ago I wrote the following:

"On Monday, the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) launched Monitor Daily, a daily news digest of five pieces of content (stories, videos, graphics), plus one editorial and 'one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight often related to the news.' It's emailed to subscribers each weekday at 6 p.m. 'Enjoy a thoughtful evening read,' the website says. The Daily is free for a month. Then it will cost $11 per month or $110 a year, or $9 a month/$90 a year for subscribers to the print weekly."

Their goal was to reach 10,000 paying subscribers in the first year.

They made it. How?

To no big surprise, much of the success has come from email marketing. "It's very straightforward and unsexy, but we begin our relationship with all our subscribers by talking to them about the work we do," David Grant, the Monitor's associate publisher, told NiemanLab. So that means few special discounts or offers get emailed.  "I think we sent two like that over the past year, [compared to] 40 to 50 op-ed-style, this-is-why-you-should-subscribe emails.

"All of our most effective [email promotions] were driven by things that were repurposed from editorial work," Grant said, such as a reworked section of the daily email with a new intro or links to all the parts of a series. "These emails are very personal," Swan said. "They come from an individual, not the organization itself, and sometimes from individuals on editorial."

When readers respond, actual editors personally write back. Green and [editor] Mark Sappenfield "have sent thousands of emails to subscribers this year," Grant said. "That may not be sustainable over the long term, but if we transition it to the customer service team, they will be encouraged to pass it on."

Their commitment to email makes sense. A new study shows that email open and click-through rates are on a three-year high (with average open rates approaching 28%), mostly because of better targeting. According to an article in MediaPost, the study attributes much of this success to "senders executing more highly targeted and relevant campaigns," but adds that a "big opportunity exists to driving even higher engagement."

In a session at BIMS last year, Luis Hernandez, director of content and marketing for FDAnews, said he adheres to the email-is-best edict. "We're big believers at FDAnews that you should be sending emails regularly to your prospects—show how much you now," he said. "Nurtured leads produce, on average, a 20% increase in sales opportunities vs. non-nurtured leads."

While most of the emails that OPIS sent out as part of their winning 2017 SIPAward entry in Best Conference Marketing offered a discount—and each netted conversions—the email that got the most conversions (28 out of the 173 attendees) was more content-focused. It was sent less than a month before the conference, when any special discounts had expired. The subject line and headline were straightforward. What stands out is a different font—a classier but still easy-to-read serif font—five paragraphs about the event that are short and to the point, and a very clean chart listing 26 of the speakers.

The heading reads: "Gain insight and perspective from over 25 outstanding speakers." And then this sentence: "Nowhere else can you access, in person, this many experts and ask them your toughest questions." So it seems that people liked seeing the speakers listed in one place without having to click further. It might have been the last convincing factor.

One more effective element for OPIS—similar to the "very personal" emails being sent by the CSM—was that they also used a real person to send many of the high-performing emails, leveraging their extremely well-known and popular conference chair

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…