Building the World’s Best Newsletter – Lessons from Bureau Chief of Daily Maverick’s Award-winning Newsletter

By Oluwadara Ajala

In January, we did a thing! We hosted our first ever physical workshop. But even more important was the content of the workshop. John Stupart, Bureau Chief of Daily Maverick’s Award-winning newsletters, took NAMIP participants through a full day workshop exploring newsletters and their potential for media organisations. Read the press release here. In this article though, we take a deep dive into the critical lessons John shared with participants at the workshop. Grab a pen, we promise you it is worthwhile!

Why newsletters?

Newsletters are the next big thing for media organisations looking to engage audience more and diversify revenue. For good reason too. At the Newsletters workshop in Abuja, John Stupart shared these compelling benefits of starting and running a newsletter program.

  • Direct Relationship: You maintain control of your voice, since newsletters are not susceptible to search algorithms or social media soft-paywalls. When you send, how you send, and to whom you send will be determined by your audience research largely, not competitors or other search algorithm considerations.
  • Equal share of voice in inbox: Your newsletter is not competing for attention of your readers beyond what’s already in their inbox. It’s a one-on-one conversation that you can have without interruption.
  • Cost-effective: It is probably one of the cheapest forms of marketing you could have in that it does not require a massive investment in tech and personnel to get started. You can basically start for free, up to a point, and with one person.
  • Scales easily: Newsletters have a simple growth path which is essentially; more subscribers mean more revenue. This low-risk growth path makes it really straightforward to expand. More subscribers = more revenue, which means more resources for more subscribers.

Getting started

One important first step on your newsletter journey (if you have decided to start one) is to decide what newsletter you will have. John suggests that newsrooms in their newsletter ideation stage must determine WHY this newsletter, WHAT is the objective, and HOW should it look like.

Why this newsletter?

Each newsletter needs to have its own objectives.

Knowing your ‘Why’ and how it serves subscribers will help measure your progress. Identifying objectives and key results are critical as you set goals, meet them, or adjust as you progress.

Some common newsletter objectives:

  • Build traffic to your website: a newsletter’s objective could be to increase the number of clicks, opens, interactions and impressions on your website or other platforms.
  • Increase Engagement and trust: this might be more difficult to evaluate, but broadly, you’d want to energise your reader and encourage them to interact with your content, consistently and repeatedly.
  • Develop Advertising revenue: one option could be encouraging advertisers to buy ad spots on your newsletter
  • All three!

Some additional considerations to think about when creating a newsletter: schedule, content, persons responsible, measuring success. Tip: a regular and consistent schedule is very important to build engagement when publishing a newsletter.


You may have decided that you want to build a newsletter. What factors should influence the design? John Stupart’s top tip: Don’t create a newsletter you want; create a newsletter your audience wants.

This means you must design with your audience’s needs in mind. Some useful strategies to achieve this include:

  • Conduct Audience Research to understand your audience’s needs, persona, and demographics.
  • Test your minimum viable product (MVP)
  • Identify what reaction/actions you want to achieve.

The Technical

Technical considerations for your newsletter range from determining  the ESP (Email Service Provider) that best suits your needs. Examples of ESPs include MailChimp, Mailerlite, Campaign Monitor, Touch base Pro, Beehiiv, SubStack. Each of these ESPs have their pros and cons and some research is important to decide which ESP best suits your platform. John suggests that regardless of what ESP you choose now, don’t feel like you are stuck with them forever. Moving is not such a chore and it is a good idea to monitor your needs so if your current ESP does not suit your needs, best to find another one. More on the pros and cons of these different ESPs here.

Writing a great email

How do you develop great newsletter content? John recommends that first things first, headlines! They are the lede that will attract people to open the newsletter.

Tips for great newsletter content: write well, publish on time, be consistent; manage your list (including clean up emails of people that don’t open your newsletter because they affect your open rate)


One of the most important aspects of a thriving newsletter section is marketing. It provides rocket fuel into growing your list, and understanding your subscriber value. Some newsletter marketing strategy tips: use a marketing funnel, calculate lifetime value (LTV) of a subscriber; use 3rd party platforms (paid/organic) & cross promote with other publishers.

Funnels are a useful representation of a reader’s journey to a retained paying member or subscriber, but there are revenue opportunities throughout this journey. For example, while on the way to becoming a paid subscriber, they can consume adverts, click on links, and get involved in other products your newsroom offers.

Essentially, to develop the most relevant newsletter marketing strategy for your newsroom, it is important to revert to your core purpose, i.e., the why of your newsletter; as this will translate to what business goals you develop.

As John said during the workshop, imitation is the best form of flattery. Check out Daily Maverick’s impressive newsletter sales deck and get some marketing inspiration for your newsletter!


How do you evaluate the success of your newsletter? Total opens; engagement; click throughs; anecdotal & branding. Also, important when thinking about newsletter reporting: always have clear objectives and key results (OKRs).

Tips and tricks

Some tips and tricks as you start:

  • Ask for referrals.
  • Include sign-up buttons everywhere!
  • Explain your story.
  • Re-use archival content.

Newsletters undoubtedly have multiple benefits for news organisations. Key summaries of these benefits are that newsletters build a relationship with your readers outside of your primary medium/website. It’s a dialogue that you and your subscribers get to maintain and mutually respect. They attract better revenue streams and open up new marketing possibilities while being one of the cheapest marketing forms available to you. Newsletters also give you full control of what you communicate and does not require a massive team to manage.

So, should you start a newsletter? We recommend that it is definitely an important conversation to have for your newsroom.