By Emilie LutostanskiLocal News Resource Center 

Since the end of May, the New York Amsterdam News has added 946 email newsletter subscribers and more than 200 newspaper subscribers, in large part through earnest email marketing — and the company is only mid-way through its targeted campaign.

New York Amsterdam News, founded in 1909, is among the most well-known and influential Black-owned media companies in the U.S. It is one of five participants in the LMA’s Digital Transformation Lab for publishers of color, designed to grow digital revenue and readership. The Amsterdam News and the four other publishers in the Lab are each using $5,000 from the Facebook Journalism Project’s Community Network grants to engage with untapped audiences via targeted marketing, offering valuable information about COVID-19 and other local community news.


Penda Howell, vice president of sales, advertising and partnerships for New York Amsterdam News, said he hired help to execute a targeted email campaign, including Site Impact, which enabled the publisher to reach thousands of new email addresses, and marketing agency Hook & Blade.

“I reached out to a digital marketing firm because we just didn’t have the time or talent in-house to help us with this,” Powell said. “It was important that I talk to somebody that had experience doing this sort of thing and that had done it before.”

Building the creative

Together, Howell and Andy Morris, co-founder of Hook and Blade, created six emails to be sent over eight weeks of the outreach campaign starting in June. Emails include brand messaging and stories from New York Amsterdam News, as well as calls to action to read more and subscribe.

New York Amsterdam News sent this email newsletter the first week of the email marketing campaign.

Morris said when creating the emails, he crafted simple messaging, used strong images, and incorporated red from the Amsterdam News’ logo as a guiding design element.

“We tend to see a lot of people want to put so much information in an email in terms of text, and sometimes it’s better to be simple. That’s why I try to make each email in the series about one particular thing,” Morris said. “With image selection, I try to be particular in thinking about the audience and how they will perceive it. And then in terms of how people browse email, I try to be eye-catching with how I use that red color, and make it easy to quickly digest what this is about and then make that subconscious decision to read a little bit more.

It was also important to set the stage and tone with a brand new audience, he said.

“For something like this, you’re starting with a pretty cold prospect — this isn’t going to people who are familiar with the brand,” Morris said. “What I tried to emphasize as a call-to-action was to not make it super-sales-y. I really wanted the content and the stature of the brand to sell it.”

The first email focused on the legacy and history of the New York Amsterdam News, plus community content about COVID-19 and health care in general — high-performing topics among current subscribers and site visitors to New York Amsterdam News. The following weeks of emails highlight local reporting on COVID-19, racial justice activism, general news, and also extend brand messaging.

“I knew the very first e-blast should be about the company since we’re reaching folks that may not necessarily know the publication, and we included a brief bio on the paper. I thought it was important to also include a small snippet of COVID news, to let folks know we are producing this content in the community and for the community, and we can be looked at as a resource for news, direction, and guidance for any and all COVID-related topics,” Howell said. “Then we had an emphasis on health care and local, because healthcare always performs well and, in this day and age, everybody is concerned with everything health-related.”

Sending to new prospects

Howell combined the creative with Site Impact’s extensive email database to reach about 170,000 people in the New York City area who did not have prior relationships with the publication. The goal was to garner new digital newsletter signups as well as enhance brand awareness, and so far the results have been impressive, ranging from 12.4 percent to 19.2 percent open rates, and hovering just under a 2 percent click-through rate.

Greg Heiman, business development manager for Site Impact, said the Amsterdam News has seen somewhat above-average results from targeting new potential subscribers. In total, the campaign so far has resulted in more than 3,000 clicks, and going on 1,000 new email signups.

“We dissected from his first-party data, who are the typical readers and subscribers to his database, and we utilize those same lifestyles and selects to target the same kinds of individuals who are in the Site Impact database,” Heiman said. “By partnering with us, Penda has had the opportunity to use our database of 115 million opted-in consumer records. We can hyper-target them by over 700 different lifestyles and selects. We have been able to apply that campaign through our servers and our IP to get the extended reach and exposure that he was seeking.”

Using Site Impact’s platform, Howell said he targeted email addresses by ZIP code, progressively expanding geographically from the physical location of Amsterdam News’ offices in Harlem into surrounding boroughs, as well as layering demographic elements including ethnicity and households with multiple children, teenagers, and/or a grandparent living at home.

“We’ve had some tremendous traction and folks are very interested in the paper and the digital newsletter in those areas,” he said. “It speaks to the fact that folks were interested in hearing from the paper.”

For subsequent emails in this campaign as well as potential future e-marketing efforts, Howell said the Amsterdam News has interest from advertisers to sponsor the emails, especially given the impressive reach and open rates.

“I can’t see why we won’t continue doing this,” Howell said. “I think it’s cost-effective enough that, if I manage it properly, we can afford to do it, as long as I have a small ad-buy to offset the cost — which is going to make a whole lot of sense for a whole lot of marketers that we work with.”