Communications startup Cerkl flips the traditional model of email newletters

Tarek Kamil and Sara Jackson, co-founders of Cerkl, want their “smart newsletter” technology to help organizations transform their communication strategy into an engagement strategy.
“Cerkl flips the traditional model of communication — of sending one message and guessing what everybody wants to hear — on its head,” Jackson says. “We ask the audience what they want to hear, what they like and what are their skills in order to empower organizations to personalize their communications.”
Jackson says Cerkl is targeting universities looking to engage alumni, students and parents; churches seeking better communication with their congregations; nonprofit organizations building better relationships with their audiences and donors; and corporations wanting to improve internal communication with their employees.
Organizations who use Cerkl upload their email lists and create topics customized to their mission and work. Each person on the list gets a welcome email asking them to select the topics that most interest them and to create a profile. Individuals can also choose to receive newsletters from other Cerkl organizations.
The Cerkl software encourages individual customization though smart tags and prompts.
“We understand that people’s needs and interests evolve and change over time, so we watch that on behalf of the organization,” Jackson says. “Unlike other newsletter platforms, where all you have is a name and an email address, with Cerkl you know who is on your list and what their interests are. So an organization can search for specific interests and reach out to people based on that.”
The depth of information and customization has prompted some organizations using Cerkl to request integration with donor management software. That feature is currently in development, and Jackson anticipates it will be available in a few months.
Cerkl also allows organizations to earn money with their newsletters.
“With open rates three to four times higher than the national average, our organizations can demonstrate they’re reaching and engaging their audience,” Jackson says. “When that happens, businesses want to get in front of those audiences and organizations can choose to monetize their newsletter. So instead of newsletters costing you, they're generating revenue for you. Our goal is that organizations wouldn't have to pay for Cerkl, that their newsletter would earn them money.”
In June, Cerkl graduated as part of the Ocean accelerator’s first class. Jackson and Kamil each have experience with other accelerator programs but say Ocean is the “Disneyland of accelerators.”
“We were in full sales mode and sprinting hard when Ocean began,” Jackson says. “The program confirmed a lot of best practices, connected us to an abundant network to help get us to the next place we need to be faster, helped us put processes in place and prepared us to be able to scale. In addition, the exposure, that Ocean/Crossroads connection, helped us build our profile.”
Ocean also appealed to Cerkl because of its faith-based focus.
“The faith voyage, which happens simultaneously to business voyage, is not necessarily a religious thing,” Jackson says. “It is about unearthing the values, passion and purpose-driven work behind your business. From a marketing perspective, it’s important to keep those qualities top of mind — people are more compelled to lean into products with values.”
The Cerkl co-founders are big supporters of Cincinnati’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“We believe this is the best place to build a business,” Jackson says. “You don’t have to leave Cincinnati to go to Silicon Valley to build something great, you can do it right here, and organizations like Ocean, who support those efforts, are the reason for that.

Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter has a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums, and nonprofit organizations. She's the Executive Director of AIA Cincinnati.  
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