How to build a better newsletter

Two months ago – just before the national party conventions in July – Bloomberg Politics quietly launched a revamped daily newsletter, The Brief. Readers have noticed: since then, open rates have risen by 59% and monthly sign-ups have more than tripled. Below, Bloomberg Politics Senior Producer and newsletter maestro Rob Gifford distills why newsletters make sense for today’s media landscape, why timing is everything and how he puts it all together every day.

Q: So, you’re a newsletter junkie? 

A: I read a lot of newsletters – partly for my job producing Bloomberg TV’s With All Due Respect and partly because I really like getting news from a lot of different outlets. I think I subscribe to 15 to 20 of them!

Q: You’re not alone – there’s been a proliferation of newsletters, especially in the political space this election year. What’s behind the phenomenon?

A: Newsletters are a delivery device at a certain time of day where you get a lot of information. Twitter’s valuable for seeing how something happens in real time, but you don’t really get a lot of context. And people don’t digest the web in the way they used to – they don’t go surfing around the web all day for stories. Newsletters are invaluable in the age of information overload.

Q: What’s different about the Bloomberg Politics newsletter?

A: Most newsletters – the majority – come out in the morning; a few come late in the afternoon or evening. And that’s great. But the lunchtime part of the day gets overlooked because even though a lot of events are happening at that time of day, nobody really takes a step back and tries to put it into perspective.

My thought for The Brief was: that time of day would be perfect for us, because we have we have a lot of great, exclusive stuff that comes out from our writers in the morning, and we have the show at 5 – so we can really synthesize that and bring it together in one note, and move the conversation forward. There’s really nothing else that’s making that bridge.

Q: And that helps audiences be smart about what’s going on, and why. How do you make those connections every day?

A: It’s totally incorporated into the job I do on With All Due Respect. We have a meeting every morning – everyone’s read the news, we have a lot of our guests booked, we’re thinking about what we want to put on the show – and Mark and John [Halperin and Heilemann, hosts of With All Due Respect And Managing Editors of Bloomberg Politics] download us all on what they’re thinking, and what questions they want to ask and answer on the show that night.

All day I’m thinking about, what are the events today that we need to watch, follow, cut sound bites from. Who’s conducting the important polls? What should people be reading – it’s not always exclusively Bloomberg content.

All those things are relevant, and I put most of them in the newsletter. I take it and put it in a form people can read. It has a point of view, in the sense that this is what we’re interested in – but we’re not dictating “this is what you have to think.” It’s dual purpose – it works for the team, and for me, as we get ready for that day’s show; and it works for people who subscribe to it, the audience who reads it.

Q: What have you learned so far – and what’s next?

A: We launched the week before the Republican convention in Cleveland. I was on-site both convention weeks, so I was writing the newsletter wherever I was, it was kind of crazy! It’s still really new, and we just got our first numbers – we got more clarity as to who was actually reading it and signing up for it. And it’s been really good to hear that it’s moving in a positive direction.

I want to take it to the next level – do more social, get it into the conversation more. For example on the show recently, Griffin Hammond, who is our uber talented filmmaker, made a brilliant explainer on voter math in battle ground states in the rust belt (based on a series from Bloomberg Politics electoral gurus Steve Yaccino and Sasha Issenberg). That’s the kind of thing very few people can do, and that’s what we want to include more of in The Brief as it grows and evolves.

Watch: With All Due Respect

Read: Bloomberg Politics

Bloomberg Politics @bpolitics
Rob Gifford @giff18

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– Jen Robinson | September 22, 2016