Revenue ideas that work

If newspaper birthday wish is for more revenue, join the club

How the Aberdeen American News generated $15,000 with its birthday club


Time after time, we’re seeing email birthday clubs drive results for media companies. With birthday messages consistently driving three times higher open rates than other emails, these campaigns have proven themselves as great engagement and re-engagement campaigns for your database.

Beyond engagement, birthday emails are also becoming big revenue generators as well. And the best part? They’re a true set-it-and-forget-it style campaign. By securing annual sponsorships, these emails drive revenue all year long and can free up your sales team to work on prospecting other advertisers for future campaigns.

The team at the 15,000-circulation Aberdeen (South Dakota) American News was looking for new ways to build their brand’s relationship with their readers, drive revenue for the paper, and increase the overall engagement numbers of their database.

After reading about other success stories on the Second Street Lab, the American News team decided to launch their own email birthday club.

First, though, they had to figure out a few logistical matters. For instance, what goes in the email? While they knew a simple birthday message would be nice, a message including a few coupons or special offers from local businesses would be a real birthday treat.

This meant the team needed to figure out their birthday club sponsorships. The sales team pitched this as an evergreen program that would put advertisers in front of the Aberdeen American News audience month after month. On top of that, the paper’s database also has a higher percentage of female readers, which they knew would be even more appealing to many potential sponsors.

Right away, the team was able to lock in nine sponsors including restaurants, salons, craft stores, and even a national fast food chain. Each sponsor was given the opportunity to include a coupon or offer within the email to drive foot traffic to their business.

The team wanted to make sure their readers weren’t seeing a lot of the same coupons or offers, so they helped the businesses create clever, unique coupons just for them. For some this meant a free meal with a party of four or $5 of free play at one of the many local casinos. One of the craft stores even offered users discounts based on how old the reader was, for example, 27% off on a 27th birthday.

Writing the email was only half the battle—the Aberdeen team still needed an appropriate email list. Like many media companies, the American News had already been collecting opt-ins and birthdates on most of their contests and promotions.

While it’s not a good idea to automatically push every subscriber into your birthday email list, if an email subscriber has opted-in to a membership like a VIP Club or is a paying subscriber of one of your publications, you can start sending to those who’ve already provided their birthday.

Having this in their database already gave them a tremendous head start. But going forward, the paper wanted to invest additional time and energy in a more dedicated effort to grow this specific list.

The Aberdeen American News sent an email to their full database announcing the new birthday club and encouraging their readers to sign up to receive free offers on their birthday. To ensure their email was performing to the best of its abilities, the team A/B tested three different subject line and preheader text combinations to determine the one that resonated most with their readers.

In addition to sending emails, the paper also made sure to collect opt-ins and birthdates on all of their other contests and promotions. And the paper posts frequently about the birthday club on social media—a great way to convert their social media followers to their email database.

As the popularity of the Aberdeen American News birthday email has grown, sponsorships have become even more attractive to their local advertisers. While the sales team still does outreach, the paper has now incorporated a clear place for advertisers to reach out for sponsorship information within the sign-up form of our birthday club. This gives sponsors a simple way to let the paper know they’re interested and saves time for the paper’s sales team.

The Aberdeen American News birthday club has been a win, win, win for the paper, their advertisers, and their audience. By securing multiple sponsorships, they are currently bringing in $15,000 a year in revenue. Making the content enticing and valuable to readers has it consistently driving a 40% open rate and making a great re-engagement campaign for inactive subscribers.

If you’re looking to get started with your own birthday club—or looking to improve on an existing program—Second Street offers a how-to article at

Matt Coen is president and co-founder of Second Street, a Saint Louis-based provider of private-label online promotions platforms for media companies.