local media insider

Email marketing Best-ever New Revenue Generator for D.C.-based WSPN

$45k monthly comes from new advertisers

Alisa Cromer

Association: Washington Suburban Press Network, a network of 104 community newspapers with print distribution of more than one million
Markets: Metro Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland
Contributors to this report: Richard Whippen, WSPN president and CEO

Initiative: Email list rental and marketing campaign services

Challenge:   WSPN's early research showed that most area providers were selling with "false promises" and bad data to many customers, leaving a gap in the market. Executives also felt that email was universal, mobile, and largely overlooked by many media company in favor of social media options.  The company decided to create a separately branded digital agency focused on becoming the best-of-breed  provider of email marketing services in the area.  Goals included: 

a.Gaining partnerships to acquire good data both locally and, since the DMA includes a number of national companies, nationally as well

b. Scrubbing the data to maintain quality  

c. Creating an intelligent rate structure that ROI'd for clients

d. Learning when to sell alone and how to augment print


In 2007, the Washington Suburban Press Network created a new division called Media Prowler, with its  own site  and separate sales team. While the group does sell some existing products such as SEO, SEM and internet advertising, the most profitable initiative are email marketing services for medium to large sized companies based in the area. 

The e-marketing services required some initial investment and tactics to secure a winning value proposition in a competitive market:

• Gathering the best opt-in,  or "permission-based,"  marketing database.

Friends and acquaintances - and people who have opted-in to recieve information - are not considered spam and have much higher open rates, so a database focused on permission-based marketing was key. MediaProwler grew the database via a variety of purchases of opted-in quality email lists  and partnerships. These included:  Partnerships with  retailers and web sites that allow opt-ins for specific kinds of information, directly from companies from surveys and phone calls, alliances with marketing agencies and research companies, and magazine subscription lists. These were combined with addresses gathered from SEC filings, public information and, of course, WSPN subscriber list. 

Today, data is both local and national, with 200  attributes, so that clients can find "Spanish-American credit card users in Atlanta" or "High-income females age 50 plus in Hawaii."

• Putting together "permission-based" campaigns for customers.  Services include the ability for  customers to  select from opt-in email lists. However, the MediaProwler team creates the email ads and offerings for the  campaigns, the landing pages, and send the email campaigns out. Benefits to customers include a larger, more targeted list. But also , a third party sender also reduces client's risk as being black-listed as spam. And the expertise in creative adds to success rates. If customer's also want to use their own lists, they can be merged into the mailing.

Here's an example of an "email ad" delivered on behalf of Skagit Ford/Subaru. While this is a visual ad, most campaigns use a text/html mix. Note that the company uses a "Click to open" rate of 5.2%, rather than the CTR, which would have been much lower, to show real ROI. 

• Customers have limited access to the database prior to purchase; howeever, they can see the number of email addresses that meet their targets, and make selections without accessing the names, prior to payment. 

MediaProwler uses 110% delivery to cover the typical 10 percent bounce rate. The is, the company delivers to 110% of addresses purchased. 

•Web-accessible training for customers helps keep the process well-oiled. Customers are trained online to create effective email campaigns:

Also important is setting expectatiosn. Here's a report from MarketingSherpa that informs expectations:

“Doing it right is vital, and we put that in our training slides,” he said. “There are so many key components. You must make sure it’s not too ‘salesy’, that you don’t use words that will be picked up as spam, that the mix of text and HTML is just right. We also want to make sure that people direct the email to the right landing pages as well.”

•Web accessible back-end reporting. Like standard email services, customers can log-in to see their own reports for campaigns, including bounces, opens, and clicks with names and emails.  A pending upgrade will allow the client to set up the count, deploy the email, and track live results on their own. This initiative should launch by the end of November, 2012.

•Combining email marketing sales with traditional advertising, also sold by the newspapers' advertising sales teams. 

“One big component that we have found successful with a few other publishers is a combination of insert delivered or ROP ad dedicated to specific zip codes followed by email blasts to the same zip code,”  Whippen said. 

Pricing, packaging and selling

E-mail lists to clients range in price from $25/M to $55/M depending on size and scope of list choices.  While WSPN newspaper ad reps often offer email marketing as an upsell, email lists are not discounted as a result of combined advertising buys. 

MediaProwler has its own dedicated advertising sales staff but  advertising reps of WSPN newspapers can sell email marketing services and all sellers also sell ad campaigns on the newspaper's own e-newsletters. 


• After four years, the division generates $150,000  in monthly profits, including $45,000 a month from new customers that were not newspaper advertisers.

MediaProwler saw 600% year-over-year revenue growth in 2011.

• Thirty percent of advertisers who purchased the email marketing services had never advertised with WSPN before. These include Aer Lingus, Bloomingdales and George Washington University. 

“This has been a great way to open advertiser doors that have been closed or shut down to us at some point, with a product that most people are aware of:  email,” Whippen said. 

• Case study successes include Skagit Ford Subaru, who counted the campaign as the "Best off site sale ever;" Olympia sports which had used another provider without success and reported that sales tripled the day after the e-blast; Mainvue Homes reported one sale, one pending for $500,000 houses after a $500 eblast for an open house; YMCA and Bloomingdale's also gave testimonials. 

• The company is now inviting other media companies to partner, on a revenue-share basis.

“We’re not looking for someone to invest,” Whippen said. “And, we’re not able to sell our email database. We just ask them to roll their email list into our product line. We’ll give them training. Newspapers have been our low-hanging fruit, though we also have a couple of advertising agencies and other media outlets as partners.” 

MediaProwler was named one of the Fastest Growing Private Companies by Inc. Magazine in 2011. 

Lessons learned

1.Email marketing is immensely popular with advertisers who don’t traditionally buy newspaper advertising

2.Fresh opted-in email lists are crucial – over-delivering by the percent in which emails generally bounce is a strategy that saves your reputation as quality list provider

3.Client training is vital – advertisers must know the best way to craft an offer and a message that gets opened

4.Advertisers need detailed reporting

5.Schools and auto dealers realize especially high response to their email campaigns.

Many thanks to Richard Whippen, WSPN president and CEO for sharing his experiences with us. 

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.

WSPN , MediaProwler, email lists , email marketing