With helpful tips from Inbox Collective founder and email expert Dan Oshinsky, more than two dozen media companies participating in Solving for Chicago and the Oklahoma Media Center recently learned about transforming business strategies around email.


These two journalism collaboratives managed by Local Media Foundation also focus on business transformation. Solving for Chicago, funded by the Google News Initiative, is reporting on the impact of COVID-19 on essential workers, while the Oklahoma Media Center, with support from The Inasmuch Foundation, has honed in on K-12 education.

As one way to support business transformation in addition to reporting collaboration, Oshinsky was invited to share best practices around email for media companies.

Oshinsky considers email one of the most significant opportunities in the digital space and an undervalued resource in many newsrooms today.

Here are five takeaways from the working sessions:

1. Pick the right newsletters for your newsroom

Courtesy Dan Oshinsky / Inbox Collective

There are five main types of emails being created today, and it’s essential to pick the right kind of newsletters for your newsroom and audience to make sure you get the most out of them.

  • Traffic driving newsletters bring readers to your site.
  • Destination newsletters are designed to read in the inbox; they might get a click, but web traffic is not the primary goal.
  • Alerts deliver breaking news or information about specific types of content.
  • Courses are automated emails that are triggered after a particular action, designed to teach.
  • Pop-up products are time-limited newsletters with a particular focus, such as Coronavirus, Olympics, and so on.

2. Personality

Oshinsky says it’s ‘super encouraging’ to see more newsrooms invest in personality-driven newsletters.

“Even the New York Times daily newsletter is anchored by a specific person (David Leonhardt), which is awesome..think of it as a podcast but in newsletter form, we can really build relationships and showcase unique voices and ideas using a personality-driven product.”

Oshinsky encourages newsrooms to find people in the newsroom with unique perspectives and build email brands around them.

3. Onboarding

Courtesy Dan Oshinsky / Inbox Collective

One thing media companies have traditionally struggled with is onboarding new users.

Oshinsky says onboarding is ‘critical for new users’ and that ‘a welcome note in the first 30 days is crucial.’

The good news is ‘welcome emails’ are opened at a much higher rate than regular newsletters, and the engagement generated by that high open rate helps your brands standing with inbox providers such as Google. Emails that are opened regularly are less likely to be flagged as spam or marked as unimportant.

4. Use the preheader

Oshinsky explained a feature many in attendance had not heard of before, known as the ‘preheader,’ and encouraged everyone to pay attention to this, saying ‘If you don’t know what this is or how to use it don’t feel bad, but listen up.’

The preheader is one of 3 things a reader sees before they open an email;  there is a subject line, a preheader, and the sender’s email address and it’s essential to use all 3 in the following way:

  • The subject line should be under 45 characters.
  • Preheader should be around 100 characters.
  • Use the subject line and preheader calculator to test your work.

Oshinsky says organizations using this strategy see a dramatic increase in open rates.

5. Engage with your readers

Email is a powerful way to talk to your audience; Oshinsky implored editors to ‘make sure when you ask something from your audience that you really want the answer’ saying this as well.

“Imagine if you were to run into a reader on the street and had to ask them the one thing they care about today – what would that question be? Whatever that is, that thing should go into the newsletter today for sure.”

Oshinsky then led the audience through a series of exercises to help develop or refine their email strategies.

Learn more about Dan Oshinsky’s Inbox Collective here.