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#HowToTucson shows the power of a newsletter course

What’s the weather like? Where are the best places to eat? How do I choose the ideal neighborhood to live in?

These are all questions people ask when moving someplace new. And #ThisIsTucson is ready to answer them. With the help of the News Revenue Hub, the Arizona-based newsroom recently launched a newsletter series aimed at Tucson’s newcomers.

“#HowToTucson is an eight-part newsletter course for newcomers to the Tucson area and anyone who wants to know our city better,” explained online producer Samantha Munsey. The series—written by #ThisIsTucson reporter Johanna Willett and illustrated by Arizona Daily Star graphic artist Chiara Bautista—is broken down into topics including weather; food; arts and culture; the economy; and schools and neighborhoods. Newsletter courses are limited-run, educational series, designed to provide more actionable advice for readers than traditional daily or weekly newsletters.

Editor Irene McKisson said that the five-person #ThisIsTucson team took about three months to launch the series. “We had never created a newsletter course before so some of that time was figuring out the email campaign technology and the actual writing of the newsletters,” she explained. During that period, they worked closely with the News Revenue Hub to ensure success.

From idea to reality

“When we started, our only goal was to launch a new email product. The Hub really helped us think through how to narrow that down to the newcomer’s newsletter course,” McKisson said.

The Hub offered weekly accountability check-ins, a Trello board to organize tasks, an audience survey, and feedback about design and implementation of the final product. The process made a big difference, said McKisson. “Without that, this might still be just an idea on our roadmap.”

Munsey agreed. “The quick weekly check-ins with the Hub help keep the project moving and on our radar,” she said. “I left each meeting feeling motivated to keep researching and trying new things.”

The weekly check-ins were inspired by the Agile sprint framework, said Evan Mackinder, the Hub’s vice president of member development. “First, we have our organizations fill out a product design worksheet to determine everything from vision to resource capacity and goals. Then, they will fill out a timetable that chunks out each to-do on a weekly basis—that’s the sprint, or really, a series of weekly sprints,” Mackinder explained.

The Hub also pairs each newsroom with a coach, who meets with them weekly for 20 minutes, to check-in, answer questions, and create accountability. “And therein lies the effectiveness,” he said. “This process is designed to help newsrooms plan, think through resource allocation, and keep them accountable to their initial timeline and goals.”

Creating #HowToTucson allowed the Hub to effectively test their sprint methodology. “I’m glad that it worked so well for them. It worked beautifully for us, too,” shared Mackinder. “We’re now even more confident that we can deliver a range of expertise for product development—from surveys and audience, to research and design, and analytics and goal-setting,” he added. “We’re excited to roll this process out to the entire Hub.”

Just the beginning

#HowToTucson launched on December 4, 2020, and is off to a strong start. More than 3,500 people have signed up for the newsletter so far, 18 of which have become paying members. And the reader response has been overly enthusiastic. “Absolutely love these emails. Read every single one thoroughly. It’s my guide,” said one subscriber.

“The early engagement is incredibly promising,” remarked Mackinder. “It speaks to how well the team at #ThisIsTucson assessed and executed this project. They performed audience surveys, interviews, and then incorporated all that information into a streamlined product that delivers exactly what the audience asked for.” He gave the #ThisIsTuscon team an enthusiastic rating: “10/10!”

This is an ideal time to introduce a newsletter aimed at Tucson novices, explained McKisson. “Right now we’re seeing a huge spike in newcomers and real estate because of the pandemic,” she said. “It’s warm here, there’s low cost of living, and many people can now work remotely.”

Now that the product has launched, Munsey, McKisson, and team are fine-tuning the course based on metrics and reader feedback. They’ve also begun brainstorming other evergreen topics that could be translated into a similar newsletter format. “Would people pay $9.99 for a series of emails that teaches them something?” wondered McKisson.

The best part about the newsletter is that it squarely fits into #ThisIsTucson’s mission to create a more engaged, more informed community, said Munsey. “I’d like to see more #HowToTucson offerings in the future that focus on community building, including meetups when we’re all able to do so safely.”

The News Revenue Hub is now offering product development sprints to newsroom clients. Looking to build a newsletter course? Overhaul your on-site calls-to-action or build your dream analytics report? The Hub’s product team is ready to help. You can get in touch with Christina Shih at [email protected] to learn more.


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