The insights shared below come from participation in the GNI Subscriptions Lab and were presented at the Elevate! event in Chicago in September. Through Accelerate Local, we invite expert practitioners from among the 10 GNI Subscriptions Lab participants, or from other organizations, to share key important topics relevant to subscriptions success

A small newsletter initiative is yielding big results at The Buffalo News.

And now it’s doubling down.

Brian Connolly

“There was always a push to emphasize newsletters,” said Brian Connolly, vice president at The Buffalo News. “But now, we want (newsletters) to be a cornerstone of our digital subscriber base.”

The Buffalo News’ newsletter push went into overdrive as a result of its involvement in the Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab. In partnership with Local Media Association and FTI Consulting, the lab is an ambitious program focused on finding a path forward for reader revenue strategies.

“We knew that we had a lot of work to do,” Connolly said. “But it’s sometimes difficult to know what to tackle next.”

FTI provided a menu of things for The News to attack and helped guide and steer the publication in the right direction.

“There’s a tendency to get caught up in major projects or dramatic changes. Through the lab, we’ve gotten clarity on what our priorities should be.”

When The Buffalo News began the Lab, it was several months into a push to capitalize on the potential of email newsletters, but FTI benchmarking showed that the company was lagging in some key metrics for newsletters.

“We gained clear insight into where we should be,” Connolly said. “This spurred us to focus efforts across teams – editorial, technology and consumer revenue – to drive those (newsletter) numbers.”

The focus landed on “Good Morning, Buffalo,” a weekday, morning briefing-style newsletter.

The newsletter is curated and written by staff reporters and it has become the company’s flagship newsletter product. It’s a mix of concise, informative content that looks at the top headlines and must-read stories every weekday, but also provides interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits and narrative from the reporters producing the newsletter.

To promote newsletter sign-ups, FTI recommended a modal window that prompts all visitors to to sign up for its “Good Morning, Buffalo” newsletter.

The modal window is an example of getting big results from a simple initiative.

Since launching the modal, The Buffalo News has more than tripled its “Good Morning, Buffalo” list and has helped lift the size of its entire email database.

“At the same time, we’ve gotten more aggressive about keeping our email database healthy, removing unengaged and undeliverable contacts.” Connolly said. “This has boosted our deliverability and open rates.”

“Over time, these smaller changes add up – and you build the momentum necessary to take on the big things,” Connolly added.

Since its involvement in the program in September 2018, digital-only subscriptions have risen over 30% and Connolly attributes must of that growth to the “Good Morning, Buffalo” newsletter.

The challenge of building digital subscriptions into a meaningful revenue stream is daunting but starting small and creating specific tactics helped align focus across the company.

“We were, in a lot of ways, starting from scratch,” Connolly said. “So, you don’t always quite know where to begin.”

“But today, we’re measuring and monitoring our progress more closely than ever before.”