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Signal's 'Qwik-e' daily e-mail blasts off

Posted: January 15, 2010 11:34 a.m.
Updated: January 19, 2010 2:00 p.m.
 
The Santa Clarita Valley Signal launched a new weekday afternoon e-mail blast, dubbed the "Qwik-e," Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 3 p.m., just in time for afternoon drive.

The Signal's colorful, two-page Qwik-e newsletter is designed to drive increased traffic to The Signal's Web site, and augment the newspaper's preeminent position as the SCV's No. 1 local news source.

The Qwik-e presents a fast-paced roundup of breaking local news headlines, the latest updates on developing stories, community calendar listings, and previews of news, sports, entertainment and lifestyle stories plus photographs slated for the next day's Signal newspaper.

The Qwik-e also includes a link to the latest traffic conditions and a forecast of the next day's weather, to help readers plan the drive home from school or work and what to wear the next day.

"With Qwik-e, anyone who has three-to-five minutes every afternoon can quickly find out about the latest local news, sports and entertainment, and get a look ahead to the next day," said Signal Publisher Ian Lamont, who named the newsletter.

"The Qwik-e is a snapshot of the mid-day and a bridge on the information highway between our morning paper and your favorite evening TV newscast," said Signal Online Editor Stephen K. Peeples, who developed, produces and edits the newsletter.

"Qwik-e combines the best aspects of quality journalism and digital-age immediacy and interactivity with a sense of humor that's in keeping with the online medium," said Signal Executive Editor Lila Littlejohn.

Adding to the Qwik-e's interactivity and fun is the daily "Where in the SCV is THIS?" photo contest. Readers can click to go to the "Where in the SCV is THIS?" page on The-Signal.com to see a larger view, then send an e-mail to scvraw@the-signal.com with their guesses about the location of the day's photo.

On the same page, the previous day's photo location and winner are revealed.

Daily photo contest winners become eligible for a weekly random drawing to win a pair of tickets to Edwards Cinemas (either Canyon Country or Valencia) and a $10 dining certificate to a local restaurant.

"Props to Signal Facebook friend Jeff Lui and our own photo editor Dan Watson for inspiring the photo contest," Peeples said.

"Jeff started a similar contest as a goof on his Facebook page, and I was ruminating on a photo contest for Qwik-e when Dan independently suggested almost the same idea. That was good enough for me. I ran with the idea and adapted it to Qwik-e and our Web site," Peeples said.

The "Qwik Links" box on the newsletter's right side provides one-click access to The E (The Signal newspaper's e-edition), the popular Half-Price Fridays dining promotion, and the Reader Meter poll on The-Signal.com.

Qwik Links includes links to The Signal's Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel as well, for easy social networking.

"Nearly all Qwik-e story and Qwik Links lead directly back to content on The-Signal.com for the complete stories, and each day's Qwik-e will be archived on the Web site for anyone's future reference," Peeples said.

Qwik-e signup: free and easy
Readers have four easy ways to sign up for The Signal's free Qwik-e newsletter:
* Click on the "Interactive" drop-down menu on The-Signal.com's main navigation toolbar, then the "Qwik-e signup" link
* Click on the tile ad on the right side of the Web site's home page
* Click on the "Sign Up for the Qwik-e Newsletter" link at the bottom of this or any article on the site
* Click on the "Sign up..." button in this story's "Related Content" box

A fifth way to get the Qwik-e is to call Signal Circulation at (661) 259-1000 and request your e-mail address be added to the list.

A "Forward e-mail" link at the bottom of each newsletter allows Quik-e readers to send a newsletter to friends or other family members who may also want to sign up to receive it directly.

Qwik-e advertising opportunities
Qwik-e provides local advertisers a variety of positions and options -- a 100x300 pixel tower, a 150x150p tile, a 100x300p horizontal tile, and a 100x600 banner. Charter sponsors include Poole & Shaffery, LLP and Stay-Green Inc.

Potential sponsors should contact Lamont directly at (661) 259-1234 for availability and cost-effective pricing for a campaign tailored to the newsletter's target 18-35 and 35-54 demographics.

Qwik-e's inaugural edition will go out Tuesday to an initial list of more than 5,000 e-mail addresses, a combination of Signal subscribers, advertisers, registered Web site members, and other local and regional business and community members who have opted in to e-mail lists vetted by Mellady Direct and Constant Contact.

Qwik-e BETA-tester-monials
The Qwik-e has been in beta-test mode daily since Jan. 4, and has received high praise from our test group of early recipients:

* "This newsletter looks really good. I clicked most of the links, and they all worked very well. I especially like the weather and 1/2-Price Fridays links. The article leads are all good, relevant stories. The banner ads are attractive. The 'Where in the SCV...' picture is a great idea. 'Click for larger view' was a good idea (too). Nice touches. " -- Andy Pattantyus, CEO, Strategic Modularity Inc.

* "I like the name 'Qwik-e' -- very clever and a little bit naughty. Clean layout, easy to read...great idea about the traffic and gas prices. Super idea on the photo contest; very intriguing, especially for us visual people. I would make the photo a little bigger or maybe able to be enlarged (done!) The amount of advertising seems about right -- not too much. The largest ad is pretty good quality, which is helpful for the image of the e-mail blast overall. Good headlines. Right length. Nice job." -- Andie Bogdan, Director Planning, Marketing, PR, Henry Mayor Newhall Memorial Hospital

* "Nice job, guys...this looks super!" -- Gail Ortiz, City of Santa Clarita Public Information Officer

Qwik-e: A Signal of the times
Qwik-e's launch is the latest development in The Signal's transformation into a company that produces more than the Santa Clarita Valley's only award-winning daily newspaper, in an effort to provde even greater service to the community.

"Over the last year, The Signal has gone from the publisher of a daily paper to a marketing conglomerate that disseminates valued Santa Clarita Valley news and content in just about any format desired -- print, e-edition, Web site, phone, PDA, and now via e-mail -- throughout the community and beyond," Lamont said.

Producer/Editor's Note: Credits and kudos
"I'd like to thank everyone who helped make The Signal's Qwik-e possible," Peeples said. "Each contributes an essential piece to the final product."

They include Signal Publisher Ian Lamont, Administrative Director Morris Thomas, Executive Editor Lila Littlejohn and my invaluable technical partner, IT/New Media Director Joe Choo; Major Account/Community Relations Director Maureen Daniels; Operations/Marketing Director Paul De La Cerda; Constant Contact consultants Jill Mellady, Jeff Courtney and Brian Knapp of Mellady Direct; the entire 2010 team of Signal co-conspirators; Christy Packard, Angela Capodanno and The Signal's Creative Services team; City Editor Brandon Lowrey, Assistant City Editor Tammy Marashlian, Staff Writers Jonathan Randles and Melissa Gasca; Assistant Managing Editor/Sports Editor Cary Osborne; Entertainment/Lifestyle Editor Michele Buttelman, Escape Editor Jim Walker and Staff Writer Michelle Sathe; Opinion/Business Editor Josh Premako; and Staff Photographers Dan Watson and Francisca Rivas.

"Extra special thanks to my hand-picked Qwik-e production team -- Signal Web/New Media Interns Paige Hagen of College of the Canyons, Alex Bohush of Golden Valley High School and Joel Rosario of Cal State Fullerton," Peeples said.

"Within minutes after I introduced them to the Constant Contact program's administrative control panel and taught them the basic navigation, they were showing and teaching me and each other various nuances, shortcuts and ways to tweak the template to my specifications.

"The team's well-developed computer and graphics skills, social networking savvy, youthful enthusiasm, positive attitudes, old-school work ethics and pride in accomplishment have made it pleasant and rewarding to collaborate with and direct them on the Qwik-e beta-testing and launch. 

"Between my planning and their execution, launching Qwik-e been far smoother and less stressful than even I thought possible. While I now have the process down can produce a Qwik-e solo, it goes faster and is far more enjoyable when one or more of the team is working with me. They help me make Qwik-e what is considered by all accounts so far to be a top-notch product.

"My team also includes carefully selected Editorial Interns Emily Philpot from The Master's College, and Rebekkah Gunther and Jackie Shapiro from College of the Canyons.

"Each has also demonstrated excellent skills in writing, Web-related production, and social networking that help me keep the bar high in The Signal's Web and new media content and presentation, and provide valuable support to the paper's overall editorial operation.

"I am very fortunate to have these fine young people working with me, and can't thank them enough," Peeples said.

Qwik-e: Backstory & production
Peeples and Littlejohn proposed a daily Signal e-mail news blast more than a year ago, but the timing wasn't right. After Ian Lamont  signed on and settled in as The Signal's new publisher, though, in fall 2009, the concept was eventually revisited.

With a recommendation by Signal marketing consultant Jill Mellady of Mellady Direct, Lamont gave Littlejohn and Peeples the green light to develop and launch the newsletter.

Adopting the working title "Afternoon Edition," the two editors comspired to create a content budget and sketched out a design concept drawing based on features they had seen in a variety of newsletters from news organizations and other sources. 

With further input from Lamont and a small team of savvy Signal staffers, Peeples and Jeff Courtney, Mellady Direct creative director, designed and developed the first Qwik-e layout and color scheme.

Courtney started with a basic graphic template from the library of Constant Contact, an industry leader in e-mail marketing, and the engine behind Qwik-e. Based on Peeples' specs, Courtney customized the template and handed it off to Peeples for further development in-house at The Signal.

Peeples and Littlejohn refined the content budget while he organized and developed the daily production schedule and workflow.

"Producing the daily Quik-e starts with reading the morning paper," Peeples said. "Then the hunting, gathering, sniffing around the newsroom begins. I check AP and a variety of other online news sources, and go through 100-150 incoming e-mails per day alerting me to mentions of our community posted on other Web sites locally and around the world. We get a lot of cool story ideas and leads that way.

"I also check the latest Associated Press headlines for news with local angles, or news so big we owe it to our readers to share. The Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti and the international relief effort is an example of a story encompassing both those aspects," Peeples said.

"About 11 a.m., one or more of my crew joins me, and we start work on preproduction of the day's Qwik-e -- changing the date, updating the weather, swapping out ads, and building the 'Where in the SCV is THIS?' photo contest on the newsletter and the Web site," he said.

"Around noon, I check with the City Desk editor and beat reporters for breaking news and updates to developing stories," he said. "Soon after, I receive e-mails from the news, sports, entertainment/lifestyle and photo editors who provide their preliminary story budgets and image options.

"Our SCV Raw news posts from public agencies, schools and nonprofit groups provide another source of story ideas for the paper, the Web site and the newsletter, too.

"From all these sources, I distill the top two or three news, sports and entertainment/lifestyle stories, choose the images, write up the budget, write up the text and gather links for each item, and hand it off to my production team for assembly," Peeples said.
"After previewing, tweaking, and my final Q.A. and signoff, the team unloads the blast.

"We take a breath, wait for the flood of photo contest entries to hit the inbox, post the name of the winner on the Web site, then get started on pre-production for the next day's Qwik-e."

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