case study

Irish Times newsletters

Project details

  • Client —  The Irish Times
  • Project —  ActiveCampaign
  • URL —

What was required

With the emergence of smartphones such as the iPhone and Android-based devices, full HTML-based mobile email was now possible. By applying responsive HTML and CSS, it is now possible to build an email template optimised for mobile and desktop devices and a wide gamut of email clients. It is well known that Gmail, Outlook and Hotmail have idiosyncrasies that can make HTML email a challenge. Building a template that did precisely this was required and, at the same time, be integrated into a new CRM, Active Campaign.

Project insight

Newsletters can provide an excellent way to engage with readers. It delivers content-rich emails to their Inboxes and gains valuable metrics such as open rates and click-thru’s back to the website, all useful data.

In 2018 the Irish Times transitioned from Aprimo to ActiveCampaign; both are cloud-based Email Service Provider (ESP). It was chosen for various reasons but primarily because it would integrate with the Content Management System used to publish the newspaper, Polopoly. Using RSS as a source for content, templates were developed that could easily generate email-based newsletters by journalists at any time. The code developed was used to build over 12 different email products, some of which had built-in logic that enabled the display of subscriber-only content. At the start of the project the list size was below 50,000. At the end of the project during my time it was well beyond 500,000 with open rates averaging 30%. Open rates were equally impressive at 2-3%.

Building a responsive HTML email which works well with the major players is no easy task:

  • Gmail desktop
  • Gmail app
  • Outlook and all its versions
  • Other mobile apps
  • Hotmail

Firstly the design had to be responsive; for the most part, a two-column layout for the desktop that stacked when viewed on mobile. The number of images was carefully considered because, by default, email clients will not display images unless requested by the reader.

Desktop and mobile emails
The same HTML for desktop on the left and mobile on the right.

Secondly, the limitations of what can be displayed vary between clients. In some cases, it was possible to use web fonts to help maintain the brand. As a rule, you can’t use audio or video in an HTML email, but there is a handful where you can.

ActiveCampaign is a cloud-based ESP which is very flexible and, more importantly, easy to use. It allowed the creation of sophisticated templates with conditional logic that enables rendering content based on the subscribers’ activity. Powerful workflows were used to deliver a series of emails based on how they interacted with the site and their subscription.

ActiveCampaign dashboard
ActiveCampaign dashboard with an overview of templates used.

The initial templates were rigorously tested using, a live testing platform for email, which allowed for the rapid development and deployment of new email products.

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