If your job in any way relates to politics or public policy, you probably subscribe to Mike Allen’s POLITICO Playbook. It’s the daily “must read” inside the Beltway. It contains valuable lessons for communications pros, regardless of whether you cast your gaze upon the Capitol Dome or the White House Portico every day.
First, a bit of background. As popular as the Playbook is today, it isn’t the first daily must-read for Washington. It builds on the legacy of at least two publications that came before it (both of which still exist but carry less weight than they used to). In 2002, Mark Halperin (then the political director for ABC News) started an internal staff email summarizing political news of note — and it appropriately came to be named The Note. It then became a popular publicly available email, subscribed to by much of the professional political world.
Playbook and the Note both became popular, at least in part, because they were (are) free. But the must-read prior to both of these emails was a faxed, subscription-based newsletter called The Hotline. This long (20+ pages, as I recall) daily fax included summaries of news stories from around the country, focusing on political topics and specific races. Before newspapers migrated to the web, this was especially helpful since it was almost impossible to get timely newspaper summaries in any other way back then. Today, of course, the Hotline faces stiff competition from free sources.
OK, so with that background, what can you learn from the Playbook even if you’re not in politics?
Summarize Daily or Weekly Industry News
Regardless of what industry you call home, professionals benefit from a daily news summary that helps them know what they need to know. If your industry doesn’t already have it’s own version of the Playbook, why not consider developing one yourself? It’s easier than ever using a media monitoring solution that can help you to quickly and easily identify relevant articles to summarize.
Although Mike Allen occasionally breaks news in the Playbook, more often than not he simply curates what others have written. That’s a potent recipe for anyone looking to build their own email list.
Develop a Personality for Your Emails
With the proliferation of emails and new sources today, it’s important to find a way to stand out. Mike Allen frequently injects humor and personality into his news summaries to help keep his audience engaged and coming back.
This can be as simple as a short personal note at the top (similar to what I include in my Sunday Night Email that I send to friends with some PR industry news and job listings) or it might be accomplished by putting your own twist on each news summary rather than being a “just the news” rundown.
Become a Name-Dropper
Everybody hates a name-dropper, right? Not if you do it correctly. Rather than including mentions of celebrities or other VIP’s, call out by name the people that make up the heart of your target audience. Mike Allen does this by highlighting birthdays and other personal milestones like births, engagements, and weddings of his readers.
Done effectively, this style of name-dropping can help to increase open rates (we all like to see who’s doing what in our expanded social circles), but it also will increase pass-along rates as people share the news bits by forwarding the email.
Incorporate Some Shameless Self-Promotion
First I tell you to name drop and now I want you to be a self-promoter? Surely you think this is crazy advice. But it’s not.
There’s a big difference between focusing on yourself and including subtle promotional plugs. Mike Allen regularly mentions POLITICO stories, his own video podcasts, and upcoming events — but it’s not the focus of his email. He’s just as likely to share something from the New York Times or Washington Post as he is from his own publication.
The key to successful self-promotion in an email like the Playbook is to exercise moderation and ensure that you’re giving your audience something of value, not just a purchase pitch.
Be Consistent, Except When You’re Not
Mike Allen publishes The Playbook 7 days a week. Some have openly wondered if he ever sleeps. On rare occasions, he takes vacations — and finds a colleague to fill in. Although he varies the time of day based on what he’s working on, you know that you’ll get the email at some point each morning.
And that inconsistency in timing actually makes the email a more compelling must-read, in my view. It helps to underscore the fact that this is really a personal email from Mike — not some staged news publication that comes out at a set time every day. With so many news choices available, feeling like there’s a personal connection between the email sender and recipient matters.
Make Yourself Accessible
Despite strong readership and a roster of subscribers chock full of Type A personalities looking to get coverage for themselves (or their clients/bosses), Mike makes it easy to email him. Whether you’re pitching a story or simply sharing a birthday, you can shoot him an email at any time and be confident that he’s at least looking at your subject line.
For those of us with smaller audiences, there’s really no excuse to ignore email requests and questions. Even if you say “no” to someone who wants something featured, you ought to be responsive. For my Sunday Night Email, I frequently get asked to highlight a particular PR/communications job opening, and I try to respond as quickly as possible to each of those (and I include most of them as long as they’re comms-related).