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How’d You Make That Flipping Awesome B2C Content for AARP?

If your content is for everyone, it’s for no one.

No one would accuse AARP of ignoring that truism. The association’s massive-circulation magazine and bulletin offer pitch-perfect content for the over 50 crowd. They go further by recognizing the differing needs, interests, and experiences of the Gen X, baby boomer, and silent or greatest generations who make up that group.

And they’ve gone even further in the last few years, including the 2018 launch of the e-newsletter and website, Sisters From AARP for Black women over 40. Originally, the site simply served as a home for the articles in the newsletter lineup.

“I remind Sisters From AARP’s multigenerational contributors that the organization touches every generation,” explains Claire McIntosh, editor-in-chief. “The younger you are, the more you need AARP. Sisters’ outreach and strategy takes that into account.”

An April 2020 website redesign made room to showcase themed Spotify playlists featuring Black artists, as well as polls, games, online events, and other exclusive content. It also marked a more concerted push to engage readers and create community.

An image showing an example of an AARP Sisters newsletter.

While the pandemic raged and social justice concerns dominated the news, the team stepped up communication on its Facebook and Instagram channels. Content choices prioritized lifestyle, informational content, and even humor to promote “a sense of belonging and contentment,” according to AARP.

And it worked – the Sisters team sees more engagement on (including enthusiastic comments, not just likes) social channels and more subscribers. They now reach an audience that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

The keen editorial focus and fresh, distinctive voice carried throughout its platforms earned the AARP content initiative a 2021 Content Marketing Awards for Best Digital Publication and Claire was named 2021 B2C Content Marketer of the Year.

@sistersletter won best digital publication and editor @ClaireRMcIntosh was named #ContentMarketerOfTheYear from @CMIContent Awards. #CMWorld Share on X

We asked Claire to share the Sisters From AARP story and her thoughts on building a successful content product and team.

Establishing visual branding and a distinct voice

Before building Sisters’ web, email, and social channels, Claire and the team conducted audience research and tested concepts with its audience.

Claire established Sisters’ content categories, editorial calendar, and brand voice, which she conveys to writers as “the same conversational tone they’d use with a bestie at brunch.”

And when a writers’ content doesn’t quite hit the mark, she makes the advice even more specific: “Write it as you would share it conversationally after ordering the second mimosa. We want it to be really friendly.”

The voice of @sistersletter is the same conversational tone used when besties brunch, says editor @ClaireRMcIntosh via @KMoutsos @CMIContent. #CMWorld Share on X
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 5 Steps to Find Your Brand Voice

Listening, learning, and adapting

Claire takes an ear-to-the-ground approach to guiding editorial decisions and her writers.

“Early on, I shared with senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media Myrna Blyth that I saw my role as a listener-in-chief,” she explains.

She’s tuned into reader feedback, taking ideas and inspiration from reader emails. “It’s the readers who are driving what we talk about. That comes from subscriber surveys, my mailbox, what people are asking for, what they tell us they like, what they tell us they don’t like.”

Reader input – solicited and unsolicited – drive what @sistersletter talk about in their magazine and newsletter via @KMoutsos @CMIContent. #CMWorld Share on X

Claire also listens to colleagues and contributors. “I’ll meet a writer for lunch or virtual coffee. She’ll tell me how she handled things with the school principal when her daughter was being bullied, and I’ll ask her to write about it.”

Working as a content team

Claire works closely with Sisters’ creative director Dian Holton, who shapes its visual branding, and senior editor Leslie Quander Wooldridge, who manages its social media and produces Q&As, celebrity updates, first-person stories, and polls.

All three women are part of a team led by executive editor of specialized content Shelley Emling and general manager Sami Amad. That team produces Sisters and two other niche platforms: The Girlfriend for Gen X women and The Ethel (named for AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus) for women over 55.

A group of project management, marketing, design, business development, and web development colleagues support all the newsletters, social channels, websites, events, and e-commerce offerings that arise from the project.

Claire contributes to AARP print publications, too, shaping the food content for AARP The Magazine.

All that collaboration adds up to signal-boosting power for all the specialized publications. “When you collaborate with innovators from across the enterprise,” Claire says, “you access a breadth and caliber of talent that wouldn’t be available with a dedicated team. You can punch above your weight class.”

Creating meaning and fulfillment

Sisters From AARP connects with a niche that Claire describes as “unaccustomed to targeted media that celebrates and supports them at the age and stage that they — we — are at now.”

Engaging this often-overlooked audience in a way that makes a real difference in their outlook and lives brings meaning to the team’s work.

“This engagement makes a difference as the African-American community faces grave challenges linked to the pandemic, voter suppression, employment and wage discrimination, and racist violence. I’m equally proud of how we kindle joy and resilience by elevating fun, friendship, and fulfillment.”

On the horizon

Sisters sends every reader a birthday greeting, which is a great prompt for the recipients to share how they think about the newsletter and what they want. In general, Claire says, “They just want more.”

Look for more of that sense of fun and friendship as Sisters rolls out some new social media initiatives that will make it “more of a party” and a new e-commerce project to support readers with stylish self-care options. They hope to resume in-person events.

While Claire and her team work on making sure Sisters content reaches its audience in more ways and more places, the team knows its overarching purpose.

“Above all, we’ll advance AARP’s mission to empower people to choose how they live as they age.”

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute