February 22, 2021

NRC Automated and Personalised Newsletters with JAMES

NRC and their Newsletter Environment

NRC Handelsblad is a Dutch legacy publisher with a rich history of over 100 years. Their journey with newsletters started 5 years ago. Now, NRC offers 23 manually curated newsletters that cover a wide range of topics and content. These newsletters are at the heart of NRC’s strategy.

In 2020, NRC joined the JAMES Launch Partner Programme. In this project, we explored how NRC could leverage the power of automation and personalisation to further improve their subscriber retention. During the one year project, we experimented by using a variety of algorithms and formats.

Following our collaborative research, we created a proposal that would fit within the expectations of NRC subscribers. This partnership has achieved remarkable results that have been acknowledged at all levels of NRC, from editorial to management.

3 Needs Addressed by JAMES at NRC

When NRC started to consider Twipe as a partner for their newsletters, they had 3 key priorities:

  • Start automating newsletters
  • Create personalised experiences for their audience
  • Activate their digital subscribers to form habits

After initially considering to undertake the project internally, the team at NRC were quick to change their minds. In particular, the NRC team have been impressed by the possibilities within the Launch Partner Programme. The decision to choose Twipe was based on the fact that NRC could trust the knowledge and insight that Twipe had gained working with other publishers.

JAMES has enabled NRC’s editors to get familiar with the concept of personalisation, whilst proving to them that personalisation is not a negative feature. The editing team quickly realised that the algorithm was able to be tailored to their specific desires, allowing for a much broader selection of articles to be presented to the reader.

It was a practical decision for us to hop on. But what I liked about the Twipe team it was the hard work they showed in a remote environment. The project management skills are there, you know what the next steps are, you know what we have to do and I think it was really helpful for us.

Luuk Willekens, Digital Project Manager at NRC

Continuous Experimentation and Improvement

The JAMES Launch Partner Programme takes the form of 4 distinct work packages. A unique feature that NRC found particularly useful was that the project started at the launch of the very first newsletter. For NRC, this is unlike other projects where the first newsletter has been the overall goal. This enabled the teams at both NRC and Twipe to see what worked and what didn’t work in joint weekly stand-ups. This analysis meant that future newsletters could experiment in different ways.

The first packages concentrate on data integration, algorithm training, and experiment design. Once the programme arrives at the fourth work package, selected cohorts of readers are exposed to triggers produced by JAMES. For the following 6 months, incoming data is thoroughly examined twice a week with Twipe. This data is analysed to further improve the effectiveness of our algorithms.


Twipe Accelerated NRC’s Newsletter Roadmap

Hear directly from Luuk Willekens on how Twipe has helped NRC accelerating its newsletter strategy. If you are interested in the full 10 minutes interview with Luuk, detailing all the aspects of the project, click on the button below.


JAMES created habits with NRC readers

Before starting with JAMES, NRC managed 2 big newsletters and 21 niche newsletters. Through the Launch Partner Programme we introduced the new, subscriber-only NRC Middag newsletter. With 40,000 subscribers exposed by now, NRC Middag is amongst the best performing emails at NRC. Middag achieves a 50% Open Rate and a 15% Click Rate. This is higher than the 2 big newsletters, however it must noted that while NRC Middag is a subscriber-only newsletter, the other 2 are open to all readers.

In the period between November 2020 and March 2021, we divided the 40,000 subscribers of Middag in 2 cohorts. One cohort was exposed to a trending algorithm, whilst the other was exposed to the JAMES hybrid v.2 model, which contains aspects of personalisation and trendiness. When comparing the two, we could confirm that the content plate in a newsletter affects click rate quite significantly, and that personalised content has a positive effect on engagement.

Interestingly, we saw an uplift of 26% in the number of readers showing a habitual and recurring reading behaviour for the cohorts exposed to the JAMES personalised newsletter. These habitual readers partake in 3 or more reading sessions per week. This frequency has proved to be a key threshold for retention in various research papers.

Enthusiastic feedback from the newsroom and the readers

Despite initial concerns about personalisation, NRC’s editors have become familiar with the concept of personalisation. The much broader selection of articles presented to each reader has been a huge bonus for the paper.

In a survey of over 500 readers, there was an overall sense of positivity with the standard of newsletters. This was highlighted by the overall reaction of readers: “Keep going on!“.

We asked our readers how they rated the newsletter on different dimensions and overall the reactions were pretty enthusiastic – “Keep going on!” is the most heard remark.

Luuk Willekens, Digital Project Manager NRC Handelsblad

James-Your Digital Butler

Accelerate your roadmap to automated and personalised newsletters

JAMES can help your organisation serve your readers with the content they love automatically and increase your chances of retaining them. We are selecting more partners for the Launch Partner Programme. If interested in participating, fill out the form and our team will be in contact shortly.


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