Strategies for newsletter sponsorships

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By Karen J. Bannan

E-mail newsletters are perfect vehicles for brand building and direct promotions. They can also generate income when you carefully place sponsorships. In fact, sponsorships can give your newsletter instant credibility, especially if you’re entering a new vertical market.

But as with every advertising effort, there’s a right way and a wrong way to sell space in your newsletter. Lana McGilvray, VP of marketing and sales for e-mail service provider SKYLIST, based in Austin, Texas, and Ravi Starzl, CTO of E-mail Dynamics, based in Boulder, Colo., offer suggestions for both sponsors and e-mail newsletter publishers.

  • Choose sponsors that make sense. The majority of e-mail newsletter subscribers will accept and even welcome an e-mail sponsor as long as it’s relevant to them. It provides products or services they can take advantage of, McGilvray said. "Before you seek sponsorships, you should really understand the values and preferences of your customer base. We’ve found contextual sponsorships—sponsors that relate directly to the content you’re providing—work best."
  • Create a slot; the sponsors will come. Want a sponsor but not sure where you’d find one? Starzl suggested tapping companies you know. "Look at partners, customers and the people who you work with already," he said. "They know you, and chances are your customers know them, too."
  • Warn your readers. Although you don’t need permission to add a sponsor, you’ll get fewer opt-outs if you announce a new sponsor several issues before it launches, Starzl said. "Keep sponsor links simple and inconspicuous, especially in the beginning, so you can ease readers into it."
  • Go for mind share, not market share. Readers want relevancy, but most prickle when sponsor ads read like Sunday circulars. Avoid sponsorship ads that mention a product or service directly. "You’ll want ads that are informational rather than sales-focused," McGilvray said.
  • Make opt-out links numerous and obvious. This is especially important, because although some e-newsletters fall into the gray area—they aren’t considered commercial unless they have visible advertising—there’s no ambiguity once that sponsor’s ad starts showing up. "As soon as you add a sponsor link, you need to pay attention to your unsubscribe requests and process them within 10 days," Starzl said. "And make sure your subject line matches the content exactly. If your commercial e-mail is deemed false or misleading, you can be sued."
  • Insist on creative control. Magazines and TV networks do it all the time: They refuse ads that are deemed in conflict with their editorial mission. "You always want to be able to say no," Starzl said. "People won’t complain about a newsletter with a good sponsorship. They will when they see something as an ad with content. Retain control so you’re always giving them the former and not the latter."
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