For nearly 150 years, The Boston Globe has consistently been in the forefront of American journalism. Today, it ranks in the top 25 most highly circulated print and digital publications in the nation.

Maintaining its position has not been easy. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, circulation at The Boston Globe fell in every reporting period from 2004 to 2011. However, the latest reports show three straight periods of gains, driven by the strength of digital subscriptions, as well as increases in weekday and Sunday audiences. Meanwhile, other publications in the audit experienced decreases or modest gains.

How did The Boston Globe succeed when others struggled?

Email Marketing Makes Headlines

While The Boston Globe applied a multi-channel approach to growing its subscriptions, the old standby—email—would prove to be highly effective.

To devise its email strategy, Pete Doucette, Vice President, Consumer Sales and Marketing at The Boston Globe, chose to partner with FulcrumTech, an email-marketing agency that provides guidance and resources to design, develop and implement online marketing programs.

Doucette recalls, “In early 2014, we were trying to shift our business from print to digital, and evolve how we went to market and engaged with our customers. Our goal was to expand our subscriber base across the board and increase digital revenue.”

Past Performance is Indicative of Future Results

As a first step, Doucette and FulcrumTech established specific, quantifiable goals and projected outcomes. For example, they determined that for certain acquisition campaigns, improving open rates by 2% would increase subscriptions by 10% (check out this free calculator).

The team then undertook a 10-point assessment to identify deficiencies that would inhibit results. Foremost in the conclusion was that The Boston Globe’s existing email platform was lacking key capabilities. Recognizing the need for better email automation, personalization, and optimization reporting, Marketing Cloud was soon implemented.

Mitch Lapides, CEO and President of FulcrumTech, explains the next critical phase was to understand how previous email campaigns performed against list size.

“We plotted campaigns against conversion rates to identify where the greatest opportunities for improvement existed. This helped to reveal high-send, low-conversion campaigns, as well as low-send, high-conversion campaigns,” he states.

Simple Tests Yield Major Optimization Opportunities

The time spent examining previous campaigns revealed some immediate opportunities for improvement. Based on the analysis, the team decided to optimize three variables: Subject lines, frequency, and copy personalization. The tests involved small segments, and much effort was made to ensure each was a statistically significant example of larger audiences (free tools to help you do this are available here and here).

A subject line campaign was then developed to test variations of a common theme. While each subject line was only slightly different than the others, the performance differences were dramatic. The highest performing subject line had nearly 10% more opens, and converted 24% better than others.

Next, the team tested frequency of sends to determine whether sending more emails translates into more subscriptions, or whether it results in saturation (and dreaded unsubscribes). By testing different variables, they fine-tuned the frequency over a five-day period, increasing opens by 103%, and increasing paid subscriptions to the segment by an astounding 269%.

And lastly, a test was performed against seven audiences to optimize email offers and test different personalization techniques. Dynamic content was used to customize headlines, as well as tailor copy specific to each recipient based on their buying history. The results? Certain messages outperformed others over 50%.

Optimization Pays Big Dividends

While many print and digital news providers struggled to maintain status quo, The Boston Globe experienced amazing results. By testing and optimizing variables, the iconic publisher saw a 90% increase in year-over-year subscription growth.

Best of all, the methodologies they used are available to anyone—regardless of size or industry. All it takes are the right tools, processes, and partners.

Interested in learning more? Hear directly from Pete Doucette and Mitch Lapides in the recorded webinar: 6 Powerful Email Tactics to Engage New and Existing Customers.