How and Why to Sponsor an Email Newsletter

No, not that kind of letter.

You’re the head of marketing for a growing company that is just now coming out of the “early stage” startup phase and heading into the “now a well-known” startup phase. Your CEO tasks you with growing sales and engagement. Not just a little, but a lot. The CEO wants to see consistent growth, engagement, and sales. At this stage of the game, not knowing what kind of ROI you will get for different marketing and advertising campaigns, you can’t simply rely on throwing money against the wall and seeing what sticks.

You need something that will have a clear ROI, that will build rapport with new customers, and that you can rely on multiple times over. You could build your own content audience, but that takes time and energy better spent elsewhere. You could throw resources into an AdWords campaign targeting sites that your demographic frequents, but with the rise of Ad Blocker on 615 million+ devices and the market being flooded with web advertising, you’re better off lighting the money on fire.

You need to invest resources into something that comes with a few necessary stipulations:

  • This resource has its own trusted audience.
  • This resource has a high engagement.
  • Investments in this resource can be easily tracked.
  • You can build in direct response if necessary.
  • You can use this resource multiple times over without exhausting it.

Podcasts are one such resource. Email sponsorships are another. People choose to opt-into these channels and trust the content creators. They enter into a relationship with the platform, podcaster, or creator. This engenders an engaged, quality audience rather than an impersonal, transactional audience.

Unlike the podcast, the email sponsorship is not new to the advertising and marketing world. Email newsletters have been around as long as email (even back when it was called E-Mail) but unlike most traditional internet advertising, the strength and reliability of excellent email newsletters have only grown over time.

Email newsletter sponsorship can carry with it a much higher purchase rate than other marketing efforts. Image source: Elasticity.

What Makes an Excellent Email Newsletter

The reliability of mediocre email newsletters has decreased over time with open rates declining steadily since the mid-2000s. Just like internet advertising, users’ inboxes flood with newsletters every day, many of which they don’t remember signing up for or have long forgotten to unsubscribe from. This presents a unique opportunity for a well-crafted email newsletters. Readers are tired of impersonal email newsletters that extract more value than they deliver. Successful email newsletters are value-delivery mechanisms for their readers and garner an impressive open and click-through-rate as a testament to this ability. These are newsletters that are more than simply letters that contain news: they are invitations to join and be part of a community. When you sponsor these newsletters, your sponsorship is more than, “This newsletter is brought to you by so-and-so.” You are joining the community of readers on the invitation of their leader.

But how does one actually find a quality newsletter to sponsor? What separates the signal from the noise? Every newsletter is going to tell you that they are a community of like-minded people and is going to tell you that supporting their newsletter is like being welcomed into their community, but what are the quick and dirty indicators that this is really the case?

High Open Rate and Click Through Rate

A good chunk of newsletter subscriptions go unread. Nearly 70% of all email newsletters go unopened. People subscribe to newsletters for a number of reasons including to get one-off discounts, to learn more about a product launch, and to be informed of news. These are all well and good but don’t provide much value for those trying to sponsor newsletters.

Newsletters with a higher continual open rate are indicators of readers and users who are interested in the community and resources of the newsletter overall, not just getting a few resources out of the newsletter. The cross-industry average for open rates is about 32%. Anything higher than this 32% is going to be a good indicator, but you should investigate the averages for the specific industry into which you’re investing.

A high open rate alone won’t be enough to justify your expenses with the newsletter. You’ll also want to investigate the newsletter’s average click-through-rate. Some newsletters court excellent communities of readers who open the newsletter to skim its contents but rarely click through. This is the kind of newsletter you’ll want to avoid. Just like open rates, these numbers vary based on the industry, but a CTR higher than 7% should be your starting point.

We just got a letter! Image Source.

Specific Demographics

Request the demographic information from any newsletter you are considering sponsoring. That a newsletter has a good idea of what their demographics are is an indicator that they put out information that is tailored to and appreciated by their community. The more granular the better. This gives you a better idea of what your ROI will be before you put money into a test campaign. If you know you sell best with people over the age of 30 who have a graduate degree and a household income 200% the average household income in the United States, search for email newsletters with similar demographics.

Here are a few common demographics you should request from newsletters:

  • Education Status
  • Average Household Income
  • Gender Ratio
  • Age Windows
  • Influencers/Archetypes of the average reader of the newsletter
  • Race
  • Geography
  • Marital Status
  • Household Status (with or without children)

A Collection of Superfans

Quality newsletters track their engagement with readers and can tell you whether or not they have Superfans. Superfans are those people who regularly indulge in the company’s product and are more likely to speak about and share things from the newsletter. Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan are two prominent podcasters with large Superfan audiences. After a product is mentioned on the Tim Ferriss Show or the Joe Rogan Experience, it often rockets to the top of the Amazon sales charts. These fans are so committed that they will instantly go buy a product on recommendation from the head of the audience.

This is what you should look for.

Ask for numbers about newsletter engagement going beyond open rates and CTR. Ask for how much time people regularly spend on the newsletter or how much time they spend in the website or examples of past sponsorships driving immediate sales and engagements.

You want fans to be this invested. Photo by Twenty20.

Clear Narratives for the Newsletter

A quality newsletter has a clear narrative. The audience subscribes to the newsletter because they know what it is about and can expect a certain type of content from the newsletter. A newsletter that just sends out “this is what we thought was cool this week” will perform worse than a newsletter that is catered to a handful of specific, interrelated content.

If your company focuses on system optimization, or internet marketing, or you sell a specific ecommerce product, find other websites and companies that have written about related content. If you already have a content marketing strategy, looking at your inbound content is a fantastic way to build this list. If you get heavy traffic from a specific website, visit that site to see if they do a regular newsletter. If they do, consider sponsoring that newsletter. You’ll already have an audience interested in your kind of content and won’t have to do the work of building this audience out or researching other newsletters for yourself.

HOW TO SPONSOR A NEWSLETTER

Once you have an idea of what your demographic is and the numbers you’ll want to see from a newsletter campaign, reach out to newsletters you’d like to sponsor. When approaching these newsletters be transparent about what you are trying to get out of the sponsorship and what you are willing to put in.

  • Do you want to repurpose existing content on their site?
  • Do you want them to set up a direct response campaign via their newsletter?
  • Do you want to direct the audience to your site to purchase a product?
  • Do you want to grow your own newsletter reach?

Be transparent with the newsletter organizers about your budget and the ROI you are looking for. For novice-newsletters, you can often strike a good deal on the basis that they will lack more examples of successful advertising campaigns. For more experienced newsletters, you’ll be able to track a quicker ROI onto their existing record.

To keep your expenses low and avoid having to pull in an entire agency for newsletter sponsorships, there are a few things you should have on hand when approaching a newsletter sponsorship:

  1. Budget: How much are you willing to spend to get results? Remember that this is an experiment. You are spending money to learn and test a new channel while reaching new customers. Be more liberal than you expect.
  2. Are you willing to provide commission for sales or engagements based off of the newsletter?
  3. Your Content: If you are asking them to repurpose your content, have a few pieces in the stable you can send over. Have example content if you want them to craft an original piece around your product.
  4. Any Relevant Videos: You may want to demo the product in a video.
  5. What You’re Looking to Gain: Have clear goals and communicate these goals. It may turn out that they can craft something different than what you were planning on putting together.
  6. A Webpage for the Campaign: Craft an original page to which you can direct the audience to sign up for your own newsletter, buy your product, or generally learn more. This will help you measure the effectiveness of the campaign without having to rely on stats sent to you by the newsletter proprietor.

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…

Different audiences react to different things. Some audiences aren’t used to being sold through their favorite newsletter and will react poorly to the idea while others will be excited about the opportunity to buy something on the recommendation of one of their media icons. Take a scattershot approach and target a number of related newsletters with slightly different demographics and see where your sponsorship performs best.

The newsletter sponsorship can be a powerful and underutilized tool in the CMO’s bat-belt. Leveraging existing networks of readers and listeners sidesteps the problems associated with building your own content funnel and comes at a lower price-point than that of a podcast.

Be the CMO your company deserves… Photo by Twenty20.

Some Questions

What kind of CPM am I going to be looking at for a newsletter?

It depends on the type of sponsorship that you are looking at doing and the quality of the newsletter. For high quality, premium newsletters (those that meet the standards above), the price point will be between $50-$200 CPM. The most important factor isn’t the size of the audience but the quality of the audience. Quality of audience is harder to track but looking at clear, granular demographics and a collection of superfans is a great start.

If you are doing an exclusive newsletter sponsorship in which you are the only sponsor of a newsletter, the range will sit on the higher end. These are the newsletters in which you are the recommended product for the consumers.

For newsletters in which there are multiple sponsors, CPM can sit as low as $5, but don’t expect to be building the relationship that you would with an exclusive sponsorship.

What are the major objections to newsletters?

Like any form of advertising, newsletters bring with them their share of common objections. The biggest objections revolve around information overload, lack of evergreen content, and poor copy and positioning.

The best-performing newsletters don’t engage in information overload. They provide enough info to drive readers to open the newsletter and then cut off the information right at the point at which to encourage click throughs. A major advantage of an exclusive newsletter sponsorship is that you don’t run as high a risk of being below the fold.

Is there a way that email newsletters can be evergreen content? Some newsletters have each issue posted online, sending permanent links and content back to your site. Ask if this is possible when searching for newsletter sponsorships.


Did you know that you can sponsor The Mission’s Newsletter? It reaches 224,000 subscribers, and we only include sponsorships from companies whose products we use, love and trust. Interested? Connect with The Mission’s Creative Team today!


Want to receive interesting stories and news straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Mission’s newsletter here.