Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Creating email brand & strategy for nonprofit arts company
January - February 2019
Email style guide, design assets, content
Move away from an outdated email marketing platform, rebrand monthly newsletter, and create and implement a comprehensive email marketing strategy
Implemented a new email platform and content strategy that led to a 30% increase in engagement and added over 3,000 new contacts to our database

Project summary

While working as the digital marketing manager for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, I initiated a project to overhaul our email marketing channels. By switching to a new platform, creating a comprehensive content strategy, rebranding our monthly email newsletter, and introducing new acquisition campaigns, we were able to increase engagement and add new users to our database.

Building an email strategy

My first step was inventorying the types of emails OTSL sent out. After grouping our communications from the past year into broad categories (including event logistics, donor communications, ticket sales, etc.), I separated what would continue to be manual communications from what would be set up as an automation within our new platform.

In collaboration with the marketing director, I identified five key goals for our email marketing and automation program:

  1. Listen to our audience and respond to their needs
  2. Help our constituents get to know Opera Theatre
  3. Provide context needed for patrons to have a delightful experience with OTSL
  4. Prevent anyone from falling through the cracks
  5. Inspire readers to take action (ticket purchases, donations, or event attendance)

Style guidelines included rules for how and when to use personalization tokens, color palettes to subtly differentiate between email categories, and instructions for optimizing mobile content. I also implemented new scheduling rules to prevent any of our audiences from being overwhelmed with non essential communications, or receiving too few touches within a month.

In Tune with OTSL

OTSL's main email publication was a monthly newsletter sent to all subscribers. Over time, since anyone could submit content for inclusion in the newsletter, it had become bogged down with long chunks of text that were sometimes useful for audience members—but sometimes not.

It was clear that the newsletter needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. I started by eliminating the submission-driven layout and replacing it with a structure based on the content our users were looking for:

  • A brief, 1-2 sentence introduction
  • 2-3 featured stories, which could be original or shared from another publication (again, 1-2 sentences each)
  • Bulleted list of 1-5 linked news highlights
  • List of upcoming events with links to their website pages
  • Featured deals (used if we were currently running a special offer)
  • "From the staff" section (1-2 paragraphs contributed by a staff member about something they would recommend—responses ranged from books to travel destinations, local eateries, movies, hobbies, and more)

"From the Staff" came about when I discovered how much our audience members loved hearing from staff members. Because they were so eager to get to know the team, I added this nugget to the end of each month's email to encourage readers to keep scrolling.

"From the Staff" example

The new structure made the email easier to scan, read, and understand. By incorporating content based on what our users actually wanted to see, we were able to dramatically increase engagement within a few short months.

In Tune with OTSL example

In addition to overhauling the content, I created a new visual identity that better aligned with OTSL's existing brand. I also gave the email newsletter its own name and wordmark, "In Tune with OTSL."

In Tune with OTSL header

Behind the Scenes with OTSL

One of the initiatives I launched to encourage new email signups offered subscribers backstage content in the lead-up to OTSL's annual festival season.

The series ("Behind the Scenes with OTSL") was created in conjunction with a new video strategy, so behind-the-scenes videos could be distributed every other week to subscribers.

Invitation to subscribe for "Behind the Scenes with OTSL"


Moving from an outdated, clunky email marketing system to a new platform opened up opportunities for customization, personalization, segmentation, and automation. We capitalized on these opportunities by creating and implementing a comprehensive email strategy that allowed us to increase engagement and drive attendance for the 2019 festival season.

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