GQ’s short-run newsletter course bests daily newsletter open rate by 160%

By Stephanie Talmadge


New York, United States


GQ’s “How to Do More Push-Ups” newsletter is a limited-run, 17-day e-mail course that coaches the reader through workouts intended to increase upper body strength. It was inspired by the huge success of a video in which GQ staff writer Clay Skipper challenged himself to two weeks of training with our fitness columnist, Joe Holder.

In the first month after publication, the write-up of the video delivered 85% more visitors and engaged minutes than the average GQ wellness story, so it was clearly resonating with our audience.

It was published at the end of May 2020, when folks in the United States were stuck in their homes, and we were seeing a big uptick in interest around at-home workouts. We decided to capitalise on this surge and make it easier for our audience to follow along with all the workouts by turning them into a newsletter course.

For years, we’d wanted to incorporate short-term courses into GQ’s larger e-mail strategy as a way to reach new subscribers and offer fun, dynamic, experiences to our existing newsletter readers. Short-term courses can be more appealing to a casual reader than newsletters that will be sent to them ad-infinitum until they eventually unsubscribe or stop engaging. Daily newsletters can be a tough sell for someone who only engages with your brand every so often on social media or in search results.

The "How to Do More Push-Ups" e-mail course was a huge hit during the pandemic, launching GQ's e-mail course initiative. Image designed by Corinne Ferman.
The "How to Do More Push-Ups" e-mail course was a huge hit during the pandemic, launching GQ's e-mail course initiative. Image designed by Corinne Ferman.

We see these targeted, short-run courses as a good way to get people in the door. When it concludes, if they’ve had a good experience, they may be more likely to subscribe to another related e-mail product from GQ — one that’s reaching them on an ongoing basis and will continue to build on their budding loyalty.

Because there were really only three workouts in the challenge, we wanted to add additional content to make each e-mail a rich, engaging experience. We did this by breaking down each exercise and explaining the science behind it. On rest days, when there was no exercise to complete, we linked readers to related content on GQ’s site on topics such as how much water to drink daily or restorative yoga poses.

While some of the e-mails included links to the Web site, our main goal was to provide readers with everything they needed for the challenge in the e-mail itself. We also didn’t want readers to have to dig back through their inbox whenever they were ready to actually start exercising. (Who wants to risk being confronted with a work e-mail when they’re off the clock?)

We wanted each workout to be contained in a nice-looking, stand-alone image the reader could save to an album on their mobile device. That way, they could quickly locate the one they needed. Plus, when the course was over, they’d have a beautiful, cohesive album on their phone they could return to at any time.

We launched the course in concurrence with our 2020 Fitness Awards, included links to subscribe to relevant fitness articles, linked to it in our daily and wellness-themed newsletters, and promoted it on Twitter and Instagram. Within the first month of its launch, we had more than 2,000 subscribers who were clearly happy with the programme — the average open rate was 160% higher than what we see with our daily newsletter.

To date, more than half of all subscribers are totally new to GQ, so it accomplished our goal of bringing new readers into our e-mail programme. We also saw that folks were more willing to sign up for a short-run course from social media versus subscribing to our daily e-mail.

A handful of readers wrote in to tell us about their success and to express their interest in taking other courses like this. “Doubled the amount of push-ups I was able to do,” said subscriber Tavaris B. “I hope you’ll do one for legs next!”

Going forward, we hope to launch more limited-run challenges like this, potentially making them part of the package of a GQ digital subscription or adding affiliate revenue links for the equipment you’ll need. We see these programmes as a powerful new tool for deepening audience engagement and expanding the pool of readers in our e-mail ecosystem.

Banner illustration by Simon Abranowicz.

About Stephanie Talmadge

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