Case Study: University Services monthly message format


Every month, the vice president for University Services sends out a message to roughly 1,700 employees. The objective of the email newsletter is to provide University Services employees with information that is most relevant to them, whether that involves benefits (e.g., two additional personal holidays in 2022), fun events on campus, or reminders about deadlines (e.g., open enrollment), etc.

Key Challenges

The previous email format was quite lengthy. When research shows that only 5% of readers get to the bottom of an email and spend an average of 12 seconds on an email, it’s vital to keep messages brief and succinct. 


University Relations adapted the message to an Axios-style format using Smart Brevity (this video series goes more in depth). In writing each message, we kept in mind:

  • Familiar details dilute messages and distract from important information. When we see something familiar, we disengage. Focus on what’s surprising, new, or fresh to show your email isn't a waste of your reader’s time.
  • Focus on what your audience cares the most about. 
  • Use attention-grabbing email subjects and don’t be afraid to have fun with them, where appropriate, for your audience and subject matter.
  • Pick “1 Big Thing” and place it at the top of your message. Consider, “If my readers don’t read the rest of my message, what’s the most important thing I want them to remember?” 
  • Email greetings are often too long. Use a sentence or two and then get into the main point of the email.
  • Bullets are your friend because they make your message easily scannable and a way to pull out your key points.
  • Following a consistent format helps readers know what to expect.


We started using this format in May 2022 and have used it in six emails total to date. There was a break in messaging over a leadership transition so a message didn’t go out in July and August 2022.


The Axios-style format to date has resulted in a 62% open rate and 6.56% click rate on average over six messages. 

The first message included a link to a survey for feedback and the majority of respondents preferred the Axios-style format compared to the previous format, citing the message as very digestible and easy to locate information they were most interested in. 

The email subject lines for the emails with the highest open rates were “Are you part of the 60% who qualify for this extra compensation?” (72%) and “A feast for your eyes (and stomachs)” (71%). 

Some of the most clicked links were in the third or fourth item listed, which demonstrates people are reading more than the beginning of the email.


Higher open and click rates can be driven by:

Attention-grabbing email subjects rather than generic, repetitive ones

Examples include:

  • Become a flu-fighter!
  • Get the best benefits for your buck!

Writing engaging copy

Using puns, alliteration, or rhyming words. Examples include: 

  • It doesn't get "cheddar" than this. 

“Cheese” wisely! Visit the Meat and Dairy Salesroom from 2-5 p.m. on Wednesdays to buy a variety of U of M-made cheeses, ice creams, and frozen yogurt located on the main floor of the Andrew Boss Lab of Meat Science. 

  • Find out what R-E-S-P-E-C-T means to us.
    You can be a part of giving your colleagues a rewarding trip to the Bookstore. Nominate your coworkers who show respect, integrity, or stewardship for a Spot Award. Winners will get the opportunity to select a gift valued up to $75 from the Bookstore.
  • Nar-what?
    What makes the narwhal, a type of whale with a unique spiral tusk that lives exclusively near the Arctic Circle, so special? Find out at the Smithsonian’s Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend exhibit at the Bell Museum through January 8.

Using a regular format so readers know what to expect

Including 1 Big Thing, a fun fact, closing thoughts, and not including more than five items. Examples include:

  • 1 Big Thing: Get to antibody-building!
    Don’t let the flu sneak up on you! It’s the best time of year to get your annual flu vaccine. Make a flu shot appointment today at Boynton. 
  • Did you know?
    Starting in the spring, Landcare plants more than 20,000 flowering plants so stop and smell the pansies, begonias, and more!
  • Did you know?
    The University’s Locksmith Shop manages more than 200,000 keys! They certainly open a lot of doors.
  • Closing thoughts: The more I walk around campus, the more I appreciate how welcoming and beautiful it is for all who learn, live, work, and visit, and you contribute a great deal to that. Thank you for your hard work. It’s an honor to serve as the interim Vice President for U Services. 

Using links, which can help shorten your message

People who want to learn more about a subject will click on them. The examples above also demonstrate how links can help shorten your copy.