Email marketing is still one of the best ways to build deeper relationships with a radio audience. But even the best content is useless if the email isn’t opened. And if nobody reads the email newsletter, does it really exist? That’s why email open rates should be one of the first metrics checked.

Every email newsletter can turn secondary listeners into fans and alert the most valuable listeners-those who have opted in to receive messages -on how to use a radio brand more.

And that converts to longer TSL.

Many stations have developed a negative view of email marketing because they’ve watched email open rates decline over the years. Email may not be as sexy as it once was, but it’s still the most effective way to reach a large audience quickly.

Notice in this chart from Marketo: audiences interact with brands most by email and websites. That’s impressive. And you thought social media was driving the bus? Not quite. Not really.

Social media is immediate, and it’s easy to see reaction, but it’s kind of like watching the studio line light up when asking for caller #9. Don’t use it as the only measure of success.

How To Improve Email Open Rates

Chances are, most email newsletters sent already outperform overall averages. Listeners tend to be more attached to radio stations (and especially air personalities) than most industries.

But if email open rates are low or declining, it’s time to investigate the causes. Here are some tips that could improve the chances of those important messages getting through.

Subject Lines

Regardless of goals, email success starts with the subject line. It’s the first thing readers see.

Think of the subject line as a headline on a newspaper article, the title of a song or the hook of a radio segment.

Here are the essential elements of a good subject line:


Communicating urgency and scarcity in the subject line can compel readers to respond. How many times do you see an email that looks mildly interesting, and you think, “I’ll save this and come back to it.” And it never happens. Or, it’s not as interesting. Email subject lines should have a sense of importance to prompt immediate action.

A subject line and message that creates FOMO—the fear of missing out – is a strong motivator. A message that says, “The deal ends tonight” or “Your last chance to enter is 5pm today” will produce more opens.

Try it and watch the number of subscribers opening emails from each campaign. Better yet, conduct an A/B test. Send the urgent list to half the list and a “regular” subject to the other half. My money is on a clear response winner.


If the subject line piques a recipient’s natural curiosity, they’ll be more likely to open the email for more information. That will lead to higher email open rates.

How can subject lines inspire curiosity? For one thing, make sure each newsletter is focused on the user’s interest. That should go without saying, but many subject lines are something like, “Where to have fun this weekend with (station)”. That doesn’t make me curious. It’s easy to ignore and delete.

An offer

At the end of the day, people love new things and experiences. They want something! Get that in the subject line.

It may be a contest or promotion, but an offer to actually get something for responding is far more powerful than a “chance to win”.

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Maybe you can offer free music downloads of a new song by a hit artist. Or a coupon for BOGO (Buy One, Get One) at an ice cream store. Or even a behind-the-scenes video of an event they’d find interesting.

Try to find an immediate, urgent and attractive offer. It will get more attention.

Subject Lines Tips

There are a couple of keys to writing a great subject line for your email newsletters. First, keep it short.

Email subject lines get cut off if they’re too long, particularly on mobile devices. And with about 2/3 of email opens taking place on mobile, it makes sense to write subject lines with fewer than 50 characters.

To keep it short, think about which words matter and which details can be trimmed.

Is it really important to include the word “update” or “newsletter” in there? A study from Adestra found that emails including the word “newsletter” in the subject line saw an 18.7% decrease in open rates.

Secondly, toss in a touch of personalization. Adding the recipient’s first name to the subject line adds a friendly, personal feeling to the email. Everyone loves the sound of their name. Research proves that emails including the first name of the recipient in the subject line had higher click-through rates than emails that did not.

A personalized subject line has a 22% greater chance of being opened than one without it. However, only 70% of businesses personalize messages. Just be careful not to go overboard with personalization. That can be a little creepy. But used at specific times for specific purposes, it can help!

It’s even possible to set up a system to automate the email chain and still personalize newsletters without spending a ton of time and money.

Send From a Personality

An email from one of the most popular air personalities will get far more opens than from a radio station.

Why? Simple.

It’s personal, and listeners form relationships with people, not brand names.

That can be the difference in being perceived a spam or a valuable communication.

According to Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hacker:

If the “from” name doesn’t sound like it’s from someone you want to hear from, it doesn’t matter what the subject line is,

Be sure all email copy reflects the personality of the air talent, and doesn’t sound like Linda from Accounting wrote it (sorry, Linda from Accounting).

It’s pretty easy to personalize the “From” name and email address in the software from most email service providers. Take advantage of those features.

Segment Your Lists

Blasting the entire database might make you feel good, but it won’t help email open rates. And it may actually damage the brand’s image in the long-term. In a subtle way, irrelevant messages condition the recipient to ignore future messages.

With information gathered from forms and compiled in a smart database, target messages to those most likely to respond.

Segmenting lists can be simple, or sophisticated. For example, if a recipient doesn’t own a car, and uses public transportation, don’t send the offer for auto service and a tire sale.

Segmenting lists depends on internal capabilities and station goals, but read this blog post for 27 ideas for how to slice and dice email lists for better segmentation.

Deliver What You Promise

Starting with the subject line and continuing into the text of the email, a promise is made to readers. Make good on that commitment.

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Getting an open or click to a website or Facebook page may spike traffic today, but it’ll hurt tomorrow if it’s not worthwhile.

This is one of the leading reasons for unsubscribes.

Of course, it’s easier to deliver what is promised if there’s a defined goal for each newsletter. For example, one week the objective may be to increase traffic to watch an interview on your website. Another goal may be to improve social media shares of an on-air segment.

Regardless of the goal, it needs to be clearly established before designing the email and writing the message. Planning will help create a perfect call to action (CTA), which will improve click-through rates (CTR).

Write Short

Everyone scans inboxes very quickly. Long emails with lots of text are ignored. Or, at the least, flagged to come back later. The more clear and concise the writing, the better.

Avoid complex and flowery language and think about how content will benefit your audience. Instead of talking about how awesome a new contest is and what times to listen, put it in their terms: “Imagine sitting so close to Ed Sheeran, you can feel his heat! Win tickets tomorrow at 7:30.”

Use Action Words

The goal for each email should be to lead the audience to more engagement. A click-through or a listening occasion are common goals. So write to inspire the audience with action words that achieve the objective.

For example, instead of sending a generic message like, “Help us pick the music this week”, make it exciting: “Tell Bruno Mars what you think of his new song”.

Or if promoting a contest to meet a celebrity, avoid common words like, “Win a meet and greet with Taylor Swift”.

Dress it up and make it interesting. How about a photo of Taylor backstage? The person next to her has their face whited out. The headline: “This is you backstage with Taylor Swift”.

Emotional Appeals

The Taylor Swift example shows how to appeal to a reader’s emotions. It makes them feel special, and that is a powerful thing, especially with millennial listeners.

When people feel they have exclusivity, or are hooked up with something on the inside, it gives them a sense of belonging that builds loyalty.

Simple adjustments in phrasing can turn ordinary results into magical responses.

A few ideas:

“An exclusive offer for you”
“My gift to you” (remember, it’s from a high profile personality)
“You’re invited!”
“Join me at…”
“A private invitation for….”

Make it Important

So many station emails read as if the promotion department was just trying to get a message out and check it off their “to-do” list. That leads to copy that isn’t inspiring. And it usually results in too many messages, too much text and too many photos.

Less will always inspire more response. Less text. Fewer pictures. And just a couple of focused messages. This helps the reader immediately see what’s important.

Be Inclusive

If you’ve signed up for marketing or business to business newsletters, you may have noticed a technique that works on the reader’s psychological desire to belong to a popular community of others that are like them.

Using numbers can communicate that your offer is popular. For example, “Join 250 Others Just Like You As An Insider”. Being part of a hot trend is an motivation.

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You can also use numbers for an opposite goal, such as showing how exclusive an offer is. A headline like, “Just You and Your Three Best Friends In a Private Meeting With Aaron Rodgers”.

So many times, we build email newsletters to push content out to readers. But it makes a lot of sense to get them involved.

Asking a relevant question is a good tactic. For example, you might try the following: “Are You Looking For a Better Way To Spend Saturday Night?” or “Have You Heard The Story Your Friends Are Talking About?”

Add a Little Humor

Just as the best on-air attribute is being funny, a dose of fun is highly recommended in newsletters.

It doesn’t have to be hilarious to get attention. Just make it clever and consistent with your personality.

A simple, quirky “Abre-cord-abra! Yeah, we said it. Chilli Peppers Live in Our Lounge”

Use The Preview Text Field

Most software providers have a Preview Text option. Use it.

Preview Text is like an extension of a subject line. It’s kind of a sub-header that appears near the subject line.

The purpose is to provide a sneak peek at the content inside your email, which email clients like the iPhone Mail app, Gmail, and Outlook will display alongside the subject.

The exact amount of text shown depends on the email client and user settings. Usually you can make the Preview Text a little longer than the subject line, but it’s still a good idea to be concise.

But here’s the biggest reason to use it: If it’s not set up, the email provider will automatically pull from the body of your email. That can look sloppy, especially if it pulls copy about a weekend remote at a pawn shop.

Most importantly, it’s a wasted opportunity to engage your audience.

A/B Test Your Email Newsletter

On the air, it’s hard to tell how much action is generated. But in email, you know. What’s more, you can measure exactly what causes that activity.

A/B testing allows you to fine-tune email newsletters and build a set of best practices for maximum engagement. Do it right and you’ll quickly find out what works best.

There are many ways to A/B test.

You could send the identical email with a different subject line. Which gets the most opens?

Or send the same email with different headlines. Which gets more clicks? Another test is to substitute stories or position of content to measure response.

Some marketers even send an A/B test email to a small subset of the database one day, measure the results and use the best-testing version for the full email send the next day.

Consistently testing over time can increase open and click rates by 20% or even more.


At the end of the day, if emails aren’t opened, you’re wasting time. Even worse, it’s missing an inexpensive and effective means of marketing.

Use engagement statistics to track results and always follow these basic guidelines:

  • Keep it short.
  • Make sure the CTA is clear and visible.
  • Stimulating curiosity is a psychological hack to drive response.
  • Don’t give all the information away in the subject line or message.

Work on using these tactics to improve email open rates. You have great content to share. Make sure subscribers get it!