Innovator Insights: Andrew Mills on launching Connect the Gulf
Fathm’s Innovator Insights series explores the bold steps taken by individuals and organisations seeking to increase value and improve quality in journalism, communications, and information sharing and identifies what we can learn from them.
In this edition we hear from Fathm Associate Andrew Mills about his experiences with the recently established Connect the Gulf newsletter as he talks to us about his journey with a focus on how key decisions were made and what lessons he has learned from the experience.
Q. Can you briefly describe your newsletter?
A. Connect the Gulf is an email newsletter designed to inform, analyze, and explain the most important stories shaping the Gulf region — and to do so in about five minutes, saving readers time.
Q. Why did you decide to start this newsletter? What was your inspiration and motivation?
A. I have lived or worked in the Gulf for 15 years and know how frustrating it is to make sense of the rapidly transforming region. None of the existing news outlets covering this region adequately serve intelligent, busy professionals.
- Regional reporting is too ideological to trust, while international coverage is inconsistent and impossible to access in one place.
- Poor writing and bad design frustrate readers’ attempts to get to the point.
- Social platforms are abuzz with harmful misinformation and rumours that trustworthy journalists rarely tackle.
Q. Why did you decide to specifically create a travel product?
A. Under normal circumstances, this is a well-connected region where people are constantly travelling. Expatriates have relocated from elsewhere and are hard-wired to explore and nationals are frequent fliers. My sense was that once the pandemic lifts, the entire Gulf region will be itching to travel again and there may be an opportunity because there are few travel journalism organizations that serve this specific niche of travellers.
Q. Why did you choose a newsletter format (rather than blog or website or podcast)?
A. I am a frequent reader of newsletters because I like the direct email link between the audience and the journalist, which creates easy opportunities for engagement. It’s incredibly easy just to hit reply.
Email is a direct, uncluttered platform that allows Connect the Gulf to target its audience in ways that are free of the barriers imposed by algorithm-heavy social media platforms.
Q. Why the Gulf and not another geographical area and how did you define how far to extend or restrict your area of coverage?
A. From a personal standpoint, I have lived and worked as a journalist here for a long time and it has become the part of the world I know best. I also understand the audience I serve because they are my neighbours and friends.
Connect the Gulf focuses on news related to the six Gulf states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Each of these countries are incredibly different, but share similar culture, economies, and challenges that no other countries in the world face.
I also include Yemen in the region of coverage because six years of war have turned it into what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Several Gulf states are deeply involved in that war and it would be unconscionable to ignore what is unfolding in Yemen.
Q. How did you identify your audience and find out enough about them to be able to target your content? How will you keep getting to know your target audience better and why is it important to do this?
A. The initial demographic research and surveys I conducted helped me to define the niche audience Connect the Gulf is targeting.
However, it was not until the newsletter launched that I really began to understand how this audience behaves, what stories they consume and how they share the newsletter. Newsletter analytics help with this, but I keep a constant watch on the new subscribers who sign up.
Q. How do you decide what content to put in and what to leave out — what drives these decisions?
A. The newsletter aims to cover the most important and interesting stories shaping the Gulf region and it is important to have a mix of “need to know” stories and intriguing stories that generate conversation in each edition of the newsletter.
Getting this mix right is not a science, so I frequently bounce ideas off an informal focus group of friends and colleagues to gauge their reaction.
Q. How did you decide how often to publish the newsletter and what are the challenges of scaling it to 3 times a week?
A. In the launch phase, I have wanted to get the newsletter format more-or-less right. Publishing once a week seemed like a manageable timeframe for me to experiment with the workflow and reflect on the outcome, leaving time for my other responsibilities and commitments. Scaling up to 3 times a week will triple this workload, so I am trying to work out the best way to handle this. Is it possible to streamline the workflow and maintain the quality of the newsletter? Or do I need to take on another team member to help shoulder the workload?
Q. What do you think other people can learn from your experiences? Can you offer 3 top tips?
1. Launch before you think you are ready — what you learn once your newsletter is out in the world is more valuable than the time and effort you spend thinking about things in the abstract.
2. Hire a good sub-editor. We all need a second set of eyes on our copy.
3. Publishing a high-quality newsletter is way more work than you think it will be.