Nordwest-Zeitung attracts new subscribers with a newsletter aimed at families

To support its ambitious goal for increasing digital subscriptions, the publisher, as you might expect, based in the far north-west of Germany, launched a newsletter in June targeted at families. Over 3000 people have subscribed to the newsletter since then, and it is also driving digital subscriptions on

Interview with Christian Schwarz, Online Editor, and Max Holscher, Member of the Chief Editorial Team. Other members of the Table Stakes team were Daniel Schütte from Product Management, Fabian Rosekeit from the CRM team and Andreas Ahlden from Readership.

Which topics did you focus on within the framework of Table Stakes?

Christian Schwarz: We are a Digital Task Force within the company…

Max Holscher: …who are considering how to achieve the ambitious digital subscription objectives we set ourselves. We defined two target groups for Table Stakes: Families and Local business. For these two target groups we formed two teams, Christian heads the Families Team.

Schwarz: Where the topic of family is concerned, we see greater potential in taking a coordinated approach towards our content. We already have a business news desk that has always focused on local businesses. Likewise, we’ve always paid due attention to families. But we are now raising this topic to a new level with its own team with a view to bring it forward in a coordinated way. The team consists mainly of members of our local news desks who wish to use the enhanced content for local editions as well.

Families are a target group that now tend to be younger than typical newspaper readers. Are you doing this in the hope of reaching new readers, or because you know that they continue to constitute a large share of your existing readers?

Schwarz: Of course, we want to get young people who are not yet readers to become readers – paying readers.

Holscher: The “Familienzeit” (Family Time) newsletter is our new main offering for this target group. With the newsletter we aim above all to reach new readers who previously had nothing to do with NWZ or the printed product, but now come into contact with us through radio advertising, competitions or surveys. The newsletter is designed in such a way that it is not absolutely essential to take out a subscription. You get all the information without that. The hope is that this will build up our reach and that this will lead people to subscribe.

Our focus is not exclusively on father-mother-children families. We aim also to address a range of different topics or two-father or two-mother-and-child family units. Right now we are preparing a topic “Children in the Community”. And we have something also in the pipeline for grannies and grandads.

Is the Familienzeit newsletter the only new activity that relates to the "families" target group?

Schwarz: As a product, yes. But we use the topics covered in the newsletter also to steer our other products, the printed newspaper and the website, even more in the direction of families. Our Families Team draws up proposals for family-oriented topics that are initially of a nationwide nature, and rework them with a view to local aspects. For example, we focused on the topic of “swimming lessons”, something that was of major interest in the pandemic. We spoke to someone from the DLRG (German Lifesaving Association) who described the general situation. And then we investigated locally “Where are swimming lessons on offer in our region?” Together that produced a package that could be used also for the newspaper and online.

What distinguishes the Familienzeit newsletter from your other newsletters?

Holscher: We began by carrying out a survey and developed a concept for our newsletter. We polled younger people especially, also via social media, as to how such an offering should look. The newsletter even got its name from the results of this survey. And the fact that we put the focus on service and tips, excursions, cooking tips. This newsletter has a much stronger mix of news and service than we have anywhere else.

One more thing: In the survey we asked whether we should use a more or less informal mode of addressing the readers. The answer was unequivocal: this target group favours an informal style!

Holscher: What we have seen is that, by targeted use of our jointly developed articles, also via push news, Facebook pages or other channels, we reach new people. That is already working really well. Our article on tips for excursions published directly after the lockdown produced measurable numbers of subscriptions. With other topics we create a value for readers that cannot be quantified directly by subscriptions.

Schwarz: We set ourselves the objective of attracting 1200 subscriptions annually with family-oriented topics. Roughly speaking, that would represent about twice as many as the previous year. It is not possible to say exactly because we did not yet have this focus in the previous year and so did not measure subscriptions on the basis of family-oriented topics. The Familienzeit newsletter was published for the first time in June and this year we are well on our way to reaching 900 subscriptions with family-oriented topics. So it looks like we are on target.

Holscher: We have to say, though, we can’t yet track everything super precisely. It is also a bet. Right now we are building reach from which we can later gain subscribers. The question remains whether that comes from the newsletter or whether the subscriptions result from elsewhere. In any case, we see a great deal of interest in the topic.

After the newsletter launch in June we built up our reach very quickly. Today, we have 3000 newsletter subscribers. Our business newsletter that existed already, has 2000 subscribers. However, it has to be said that growth like this requires constant advertising. If we organise competitions or quizzes, then we quickly attract new subscribers. Without marketing, progress is a lot slower. Our largest newsletter has 22,000 subscribers, that was initially our Corona newsletter that we have transformed into an evening newsletter. For such a new newsletter, 3000 subscriptions is a really good figure. In addition the opening rate is also higher than average.

Schwarz: Between 35% and 55%. Against this background, a figure of “only” 35% would be disappointing.

In conclusion, I‘d like to take a broader view of your Table Stakes experience as a whole, not just the Families newsletter. You are still involved in it. But can you draw some first conclusions? Is the participation proving worthwhile for NWZ?

Schwarz: We didn’t need Table Stakes to learn that we have to sell digital subscriptions. The entire transformation was already a major topic in both the company and the newsroom.

But Table Stakes provided us with the impetus for the two projects, as did the backing of management to get everyone on board and simply try out something new. And if it doesn’t run so well, then we just shut it down. Stop Doing is an important lesson from Table Stakes!

Holscher: It made us even more focussed. Even the planning of the meetings gave us an opportunity to make progress. It was within the framework of one such preparatory meeting that we defined our digital subscription objectives in concrete terms in response to the questions: “What is our North Star for this year?”, `”What is the North Star for the year 2025?”

And it gave us the courage to do things that we would perhaps have shied away from doing. Doug [Smith] always says, “you can always count on the print subscribers to play along”. Conversely, that means for us: the print subscription business continues to run a solid course, better than predicted years ago. That gives us the peace of mind and the opportunity right now to focus more on online and more rapidly implement change in that area.

Schwarz: Especially in view of the fact that all our print subscribers also have access to the online content.


Interview with Stephanie von Unruh, Managing Director.

How much importance do you attribute to Table Stakes?

Stephanie von Unruh: It is a very, very important programme. It is absolutely a management-level topic. However, some two years ago we appointed a Paid Content Task Force that continues to have our full confidence. The members of this Task Force are drawn from the different areas of the newsroom, digital product management, CRM, the circulation team and marketing. And it is this team that also runs the Table Stakes project for NWZ. They have the power to push things forward and take decisions. This leads to regular sparring sessions with management, but otherwise everything lies in the hands of this team. The fact that we in management hand over control so trustingly is perhaps also due to our corporate culture.

The Familienzeit newsletter is the most important output of your Table Stakes participation. From your point of view: for what do you need the newsletter? What are the potential benefits for NWZ?

Von Unruh: Our two newsletters for business and family-oriented topics give us the possibility to focus fully on two target groups, to systematically develop and address two new (for us) communities. And the lessons we learn in doing so can be applied perhaps next year to other topics and communities, e.g. health or cuisine.

What is the strategic importance of newsletters in general for NWZ? How do newsletters rank in product development? What is their role alongside E-Paper, apps, events, …?

Von Unruh: That is perhaps the greatest knowledge gained from Table Stakes. A newsletter is a product in its own right. As such it needs a product owner.

In our company we set ourselves the target to address 100,000 customers via all newsletter products by the end of 2021. That can be through specific local or topic-dedicated newsletters. The question always arises: How do you reach the right users at the right time? And how do you best get them to become subscribers? Our newsletters are intended either to help gain subscriptions or generate customer loyalty.

All newsletters are confronted by the same questions: How to promote the product, how to gain leads? What are good opening rates and what can you do to raise them? How can they be used to increase customer value? All these questions are regularly discussed by the people responsible for the newsletters at an in-house newsletter summit.

Throughout the world the prospects for local journalism, or non-national news media respectively, are a subject for discussion. What is your view on this?

Von Unruh: Very optimistic and willing to invest. We are currently setting up three new editorial offices in the neighbouring region of East Friesland in order to significantly digitally extend our area of distribution. That pre-supposes investments and naturally involves risks. But we are focussing here clearly on our future business model, and that involves relevant, well-researched local and regional topics and stories. I believe firmly in the economic viability of digital local journalism.


(Image source: Wikipedia)