June 08, 2006
Case Study

How to Create Email Newsletters Busy Execs Will Consistently Open, Read & Click On (Year after Year)

SUMMARY: Are your customers the type of people who are constantly on the go -- with neither the time nor the inclination to sit at their computers reading email?

Want to create a newsletter so compelling they'll sit down eagerly (despite themselves) to read it for years to come? Steal some ideas from the team behind one of the largest circulation B-to-B newsletters in the world (677,712 recipients and counting):


With 1.3 million members, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) is the largest trade association in the world. 

However, just because a professional pays dues to belong to an organization, that doesn't mean he or she will open and click on its email newsletters. Especially Realtors. Like field sales professionals everywhere, Realtors are time-strapped, hustling to close the next deal. 

They're also the ultimate people-persons. They're far more likely to be talking on the phone than to be sitting down to read an article at a computer. 

Somehow NAR's email communications team led by Kristin Paxton Manager, REALTOR® Magazine Online, had to invent a newsletter that was so useful and engaging that members would open, read and click -- for all the years of their membership. 

What content and email style could beat the odds? 


Paxton's team followed the rule that people only respond to email on an ongoing basis when it's all about themselves (What's-In-It-For-Me Syndrome). How? 

"No association news, just business tips", she explains. "The purpose is a business support tool to help our members make more money." 

So, each issue of the monthly newsletter, aptly named "Business Tips", was packed with summaries and hotlinks for six to seven new pieces of business-advisory content that either: 

o solved a typical pain-point -- What to do when you get multiple offers for the same property? What if a prospect falls and hurts themselves when visiting a property?

o Or helped Realtors make more money -- How to close more listing appointments; how to sell your client list at retirement, etc. 

However, few businesspeople wake up in the morning thinking, "I want to read some articles today." Articles labeled as such wouldn't be compelling content. Therefore, with input from the membership, the team invented seven types of information offerings that weren't officially "articles." (Note: definitely swipe some of these ideas for your own newsletter.) 

#1. Quiz Yourself 

Designated Quiz Queen Kelly (a member of the newsletter staff), invents new online quizzes based on which topics on the site have gotten the most clicks in recent months. Example topic -- Home Staging Quiz. (See link below for sample.) 

"We typically have 8-12 questions," explains Paxton. "Most are multiple choice; some are true/false. At the end of the page the button says 'Submit your quiz for scoring'." Key: the scoring page also functions as a valuable tutorial. "The key to designing quizzes is that they are meant to be educational, not just to see how smart you are. So we add a lot of explanation about why each answer is correct or incorrect." 

The extra info was a Web design challenge. "There's a lot of text on the screen. It could be overwhelming. We worked to align all the text so it's scannable, clean, and manageable to the eye." 

#2. Coaching 

The team picked two topics -- sales training and architectural training -- and asked leading consultants in each to write columns. However, the columns were less opinion and more evergreen tutorial. 

Editorially, these regular features were labeled "Sales Coach" and "Architecture Coach" rather than by the individual author's name. That way several consultants could share the same beat, and when one consultant was tapped out of good ideas (or too busy to write), another could fill in. 

"We have about four different writers for Sales Coach this year," notes Paxton. "We ask them to pitch us 5-10 story ideas, and we'll pick the two we like the best and assign them to the editorial schedule. It's really nice having different voices and a variety of topics." 

#3. Ask the Expert 

Each month a columnist known as "Mr Internet" answers another common question in his regular feature 'Ask Mr Internet.' Topics are extremely tactical rather than strategic and always related to Realtors specifically. For example, how to send a series of automated "drip" email messages to prospects in your address book and what should be in them.

#4. Awards Nominations 

The team run announcements about upcoming awards nominations for Realtors along with hotlinks to the nominations form. 

#5. Tool Kit/How-to Guide 

"About a year and a half ago, we started hearing from our new members that we had mostly content directed toward Realtors who'd been in the business for a long time. The new agents were looking for a place to come to learn what to do. It's such a competitive industry, they can't rely on their co-workers to tell them what to do. And also their co-workers may be too busy." 

The content team created a how-to manual focused on a Realtor's first 30 days in the business. There was so much to cover that they sliced it into pieces for easy by-topic download, and began to promote a different slice in each issue as a handy 'Tool Kit.' 

#6. Handouts 

"We have around 50 handouts, such as listing presentations. All the members have to do is download it in a Word Doc. They can personalize it with their photo and contact info, and then hand out to consumers." 

Since 50 handout listings would be overwhelming, each issue of the newsletter focuses a spotlight on just one of them, along with a hotlink to the entire searchable library. 

#7. Checklists 

Again, these are formatted for easy print-outs for use on the job. 

The headlines in each issue -- generally no longer than a single three-six word line of copy -- use verbiage that reflects these content types. So, instead of just using a headline "How to Work With Personal Assistants" the team crafted a headline that read, "How to Guide: Working With Personal Assistants." 

The difference is subtle, but enormously powerful. Readers scan a list that starts out with terms: How-to Guide, Toolkit, Quiz Yourself, "Sales Coach," etc., rather than the actual topic of the article. The idea is, this content isn’t just "articles," it's useful. 

Plus, each article summary (roughly five lines of 60 characters each including spaces), is carefully copywritten to (a) show immediate value by giving a useful tidbit of information up front and (b) compel a click by sounding incredibly enticing. 

Loaded with the word "you", often summaries start with a head-nodding question (example: "Would you like to close more listing appointments?") Or they use action verbs, "Calculate what your time is worth per hour…" Sentences are kept short for easy scanning. 

The copywriters also avoid saying "article." Instead, content might be described as "Advice," "Ideas," "Tips," "Answers," "Steps," etc. 

Last but not least, as anyone writing a newsletter for a complex organization will understand, it's easy to be pulled off topic. 

The team launched two separate newsletters, the Daily News and the Weekly News, where they could put association news and Realtor-related news that didn't fit into the clearly defined monthly newsletter content model. 


"Our latest issue open rate was 29% and our clickthrough was 9% for 677,712 emails sent," says Paxton proudly. "We are pleased with the numbers considering the age of our list -- many subscribers have been receiving the newsletter for four years now." 

(Given the business niche and age of the list, MarketingSherpa is impressed as well.) 

The newsletter is one of the primary traffic drivers to the REALTOR® Magazine Online site, (a subsection of the main Realtor.org site for association members.) The magazine section's monthly page views are over 1.6 million; and unique visitors are almost 300,000. 

As for the content, the quizzes and sales coach columns are the most "wildly popular", although the team have found that aside from the top story (inevitably the most clicked), links throughout the issues are more evenly clicked on than one might expect, indicating a strong interest in all the content. 

Plus, the readership's interest in particular columns tends to remain steady with each issue -- the architectural coach nearly always gets the same number of clicks for instance. This means people habitually click to the feature *regardless* of what that month's topical headline is. (A great reason to create feature names rather than relying on headlines alone.) 

The team has been pleasantly surprised by the success of the other newer newsletters. "For the daily we receive between 2,000-4,000 new subscriptions per month. Our daily news list has 28,800 subscribers, and our weekly has over 77,000 subscribers. Our open rate is around 32%; click rate ranges between 10-20%." 

Obviously, the fact that the list is somewhat newer plays a role in these response rates. Also, the Daily and Weekly are opt-in only, unlike the monthly which is sent to members automatically as one of their membership benefits. 

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples of Business Tips newsletters, including the May 2006 edition with the Best Performing Ad ever: 


MarketingSherpa Blog on 'Best Performing Ad in History" 


(Open access)

eDialog - the email services provider Realtor Magazine Online relies on 


Realtor Magazine Online: 


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