Long Live the Newsletter: Why Bloomberg Is Bullish on Newsletters
The Bloomberg Brief newsletter group was launched with a very simple goal: to make clients' lives easier. They wanted summary news, analysis, and data to stay informed when away from their Bloomberg Terminal. No passwords, no websites. Just something simple.
Bloomberg listened and in 2010, headed up by news content manager Ted Merz, we started hiring editors, production staff, even building our own production and email distribution system from scratch. Fast forward almost four years and we've achieved some impressive statistics.
A team of over 50 people work around the world and around the clock across 20 daily or weekly B2B newsletter titles, also producing 45-plus annual supplements, weekly TV segments, daily radio hits and sending out over 40 million emails per year to more than 285,000 readers. The advertising, subscription, and other revenues generate millions of dollars for the firm. Yet most people called us crazy.
It's Ok to Be Crazy
When Bloomberg launched, others were closing, cost-cutting, or dealing with online migration headaches. More than once, as the group's global business manager and torchbearer at industry conferences and events, I was told our business model was "crazy" or "the newsletter is dead." But we had faith in the content and that there was demand for short-form, high-quality data, especially in such an oversaturated market.
Hiring top talent was crucial. If Bloomberg were to compete against publishers who had over 100 years head start in some markets, we had to get the very best editors with 10- or 20-plus years of experience. Extensive beta versions were tested, sometimes for months to ensure the data and the product were as good as they could be before launch. Client feedback also played a major role in shaping the newsletters, and that ethos of consultation and continued development persists to this day. No market stays the same for long and no newsletter should either.
Design-wise, we sought to reinvent the newsletter layout, making greater use of bold graphics and charts to tell a story and live up to the name "Brief." The existing newsletters out there were tired and stale and so we wanted to come up with something new to help people fall back in love with the genre again.
Our business model is very simple: If you are a client and paying $20,000-plus a year for a terminal, all of the newsletters are free to opt in. The adoption rate far exceeded initial expectations however, with topics such as economics and hedge funds gathering thousands of subscribers within weeks and many titles exceeded 10,000 within three months. The off-terminal business was a little more challenging though.
Don't Be Afraid to Partner
In the first year our marketing budget was zero dollars. That forced us to be extremely creative and is something that continues to be one of the cornerstones of marketing to this day. The rest of the team and myself (in the early days, it was actually just me to be fair!) reached out to all the major associations the newsletters covered and managed to work together, striking deals wherever we could. The deals took months, in some cases years. The same went for conference companies. (We now partner at over 500 major conferences globally). The Briefs partnered with bloggers, websites, and other publishers (some of whom ended up selling titles to us). LinkedIn groups were also added to the mix. We had so many agreements I honestly lost track of quite a few of them! But it worked. The trials started coming in, as did the conversions. In just a few years Bloomberg Briefs became the dominant newsletter in many of the sectors we covered. It's not about big budgets -- just clever, targeted marketing and developing good relationships that can produce results for years.
Developing the 'New' in Newsletters
Our team has employed some clever conversion tactics including the use of videos. Our marketers use videos to convert trialists or generate trials. (The videos highlight why users should subscribe, show interactive graphics, and the video opens up to a webpage to subscribe/trial at the end). We have even tested personalized videos for marketing: making a short video for a specific person. The test is ongoing so the jury is still out. Twitter is also a big test area for us, using their new one button sign up technology.
Briefs also produce weekly "best of" video clips that are utilized in sales and marketing campaigns. Some editors produce regular videos, from weekly updates that can be sponsored to special video introductions about the content you are about to read. It provides a much higher engagement and enables clients to access content through different layers.
Even though the Briefs were born digitally, the group now prints more copies than ever. More than 50,000 pieces are produced every year for conferences and other events to ensure our brand and products are in the hands of the people who matter. Briefs have also pioneered a new technology platform called StoryCharts -- interactive graphs that bring cutting edge new features to the news-driven data displays at the heart of the publications.
Failure Is an Option
As much as Bloomberg Briefs pushes to launch more titles, and improve editorial technologies and marketing, we accept and embrace the occasional failure too. Over the past three years three titles were closed: Risk was too broad and Islamic Finance and Healthcare Finance too narrow. Telemarketing was initially outsourced to an older gentleman living on a boat on the West Coast to follow up on trials but we quickly learned nothing beats having someone embedded in the team who can live and breathe the products. Annie Gustavson joined the group after a year and helped transform its subscription business, which grew over 1,000 paid subscribers within just 18 months.
Custom is King
In 2014 our team will produce around 44 specials. The supplements are used extensively by the sales force to sell terminals, to enter new markets, to help sell newsletter subscriptions, and to generate advertising revenue. Increasingly clients and advertisers are requesting more custom content to help meet their own marketing goals as well. Customized newsletters have become a big business for us and enable the Briefs team to provide tailored solutions for clients who struggle to put together their own newsletters. We have the expertise, the news, and the data. We can do in a day what it would take our clients to do in weeks. Plus they benefit from having an independent and respected brand like Bloomberg associated with the content.
Challenging the Business Model
Despite being just four years old, we continue to look at how we can evolve every aspect of the business. "London" is a new free model newsletter launched a few months ago, designed for anyone working in the City of London, and which has generated over 12,000 subscribers already. "Reserve" was also launched two months ago -- a specialist luxury food and wine newsletter. Next in the pipeline is a new responsive design platform that takes PDFs to the next level and produces HTML5 web versions that change dependent on your viewing platform -- plus you can select to create a PDF version and essentially print out your own newsletter (we all know printing online newsletters is always messy). For 2015, Briefs plans on launching even more titles, testing video newsletters, and new format lengths.
I'm very bullish about the future of newsletters. It's never been a better time to innovate, to develop, and to embrace the technologies around us to create exciting new products and readership engagement. The newsletter is far from dead. It's just coming alive.
Nick Ferris is the global business manager at Bloomberg Brief Newsletter Division, which publishes twenty daily or weekly financial titles to a global audience of 285,000.