How Quartz is Reinventing the Email Newsletter
President and publisher Jay Lauf on the Quartz Daily Brief, the special Cannes Lions edition, and driving audience loyalty by putting readers first.
"Good morning, delegates!"
That's the message 15,000 advertising professionals, brand representatives, and marketers received in their inboxes early Monday morning at the start of the third day of Cannes Lions 2016, the largest annual gathering for the global advertising industry, taking place this week on the French Riviera.
The sender: Quartz, Atlantic Media's four-year-old digital outlet focused on global business news and analysis, which has developed a special version of its immesely successful Daily Brief newsletter solely focused on Cannes Lions.
"To me, it’s the best kind of media partnership," Quartz president and publisher, Jay Lauf, tells Folio:. "We’re three and a half years old, and for a growing global brand, exposure at such a premiere event provides great value for us. But I think what we’ll also be able to do is provide great value to the attendees and the event itself by doing what we do really well, keeping them informed in intelligent ways."
Atlantic Media, the parent company behind the 158-year-old magazine The Atlantic, generated considerable buzz when it announced plans to launch a digital-only brand back in 2012.
Four years, 16 million unique monthly readers, two international expansions, and one messaging-style mobile news app later, Quartz has become a prime embodiment of the "digital native" media brand archetype—thanks in no small part to its witty, informative, and intensely curated email newsletter, which now boasts more than 200,000 subscribers, according to the company.
Selecting email as a key channel in the media mix—the Daily Brief has been around since Quartz's inception—may have seemed like an odd play for a brand that marketed itself as forward-thinking. For one, Lauf says, email was a widely overlooked mechanism for connecting with audiences, an automated marketing vehicle often existing solely to drive clicks back to publishers' websites.
"We thought that an email product shouldn’t just be headlines to drive you back to the website," Lauf says. "Rather, we asked, 'What would we want from an email product? How could an email we receive every morning make us smarter?'"
The result was a daily newsletter delivered in the morning and designed to tell readers not just what happened while they were sleeping, but what to expect for the day ahead. Unlike most newsletter products, not all of the links go back to Quartz's website, qz.com. In fact, most go to outside sources, even competitors.
"It's very deliberately user-first," Lauf continues. "A lot of publishers give lip service to that, but don't really deliver on it. We put ourselves in the shoes of the busy reader that we serve, who may not want an app or a newsletter that’s just another marketing vehicle to keep people inside the walled garden. It’s about making our readers smarter. If that means linking out to other sources, we believe that will come back to us in terms of loyalty."
And it has. If anecdotal evidence like social media love letters—or the fact that the Daily Brief's format has since been replicated by competitors across the industry—does not suffice, consider this statistic: since its launch in 2012, Lauf says the Daily Brief has achieved a consistent unique open rate of around 40 percent, vastly outpacing industry norms of about half that figure.
Tasked with producing the special Cannes-specific version of the Daily Brief is executive editor Zach Seward, Quartz's VP of product. On top of the thousands of attendees who were automatically subscribed after registering for Cannes Lions, an additional 1,100 subscribers have signed on, looking to stay abreast of the festival's latest developments, according to Lauf.
He says the festival's stature as an international gathering of marketers made it an obvious choice as a test-site for a special-edition Daily Brief. Quartz is, quite literally, a global brand, to the point that it originally required all of its journalists to be fluent in at least two languages. According to Lauf, the journalism team now speaks 35 languages fluently and, combined, has reported from over 115 countries around the world.
The Daily Brief itself has three different editions, all of which come out at 6:00 a.m. in their respective time zones: North America (Eastern time), Europe (Central European time), and Asia (Hong Kong time). Separate editorial teams hand off production of the newsletter in eight-hour increments, allowing uninterrupted, 24/7 coverage.
"It comes to them," Lauf says. "Our readers are often busy, they might often be distracted, they can often be regimented in their schedules, so the fact that you’ve got something you can rely on, that comes in at 6 a.m. every day. It’s at a time that it allows you to get smart before your day gets going."
Simplicity and consistency are key, he adds. Consumers don't have to scroll through their social feeds to find what they're looking for.
"One of the things we felt was an innovation was actually having human beings write and edit and curate the Daily Brief," adds Lauf. "Rather than have it be sort of an automated scrape of headlines that you throw into an email, our writers and editors would put a lot of thought into things like the synopses—how do I make somebody really smart on this subject without them having to click through if they don’t want to?"
Those who aren't spending their week rubbing elbows with the rich and creative on the French Riviera can keep up to date with the Cannes-specific Daily Brief by subscribing here.