Newsletters — Read or Dead? Part II

Last time, we looked at what newsletters can do for your business. Now let’s look at what makes them successful…or not.

These qualities are key:

Consistent. The newsletter is published regularly (monthly, bimonthly, quarterly, biannually) and has been through several cycles. Readers have learned to recognize and expect it.

Consistency must be your goal if you’re starting from scratch — commit to seeing it through for at least two years. If you’re anticipating monthly , bimonthly, or even quarterly releases, realize this can be a brutal schedule, depending on the scope of your effort and what else is on your plate. Are you sure you’re up for it? Map out at least a few issues ahead to see if you can sustain it.

Targeted. The publisher knows its audience and what interests it, and tailors the newsletter accordingly. For example, I wrote for a software reseller’s newsletter, targeted to professionals in the IT industry. All of the articles focused on IT-related products and issues. Many other types of newsletters are possible and can be successful. We’ll talk more about those in Part III.

How well do you know your clients and their interests? Consider conducting a pre-launch survey to test potential topics (or even the idea of a newsletter at all) if you’re unsure.

Anticipated. Readers look forward to receiving the newsletter, for whatever reason. Maybe because it provides valuable information they can use on the job; maybe because they’re interested in what else your business is working on; maybe because you include an “Ask the Expert” section or FAQs they like to read.

How do you know readers anticipate it? You ask them, or they’ve told you unsolicited. Again, a survey can be helpful to see what sections or features they value (or would like to see) most.

Timely. It’s called a “news”letter for a reason. I wouldn’t use a newsletter to publish articles that aren’t tied to something current — there are other, better options  if you want to talk about certain topics in general.

What do you want to cover in your newsletter? If it’s “new” or “upcoming” or “hot off the press” or has very recently happened, it’s newsletter-worthy. Otherwise, consider other ways to spread the word. I’ll mention some of these in Part III.

Easy to read. This doesn’t mean the newsletter needs a fancy layout and full-color graphics. Simple use of text formatting can make a newsletter easy to read (like this one, for example).

Even if you intend to handle layout in-house, invest in having a professional graphic designer evaluate your proposed design or design a template for you. Even simple changes in fonts, type size and style, line spacing, and the like can make a significant improvement.

Respectful. By this I mean respectful of readers’ time, offering the ability to opt out of receiving further issues or the choice to receive by e-mail instead of regular mail (if the newsletter is printed at all).

Whether you publish in print or electronically depends on your audience, of course. Are they Web-savvy? Do they have online access at work? Cost is another consideration — is it worth it for you to print?

Appropriate. I regularly receive an oversized, full-color newsletter in the mail from my health insurer, and it never fails to annoy me. It offers no option to discontinue it, or receive it online, and all I can think about is my monthly premiums funding it — twice, because my husband receives the same one and both arrive together (and neither of us gives it more than a cursory glance, if that). Similarly, I just received a full-color magazine of sorts from a charity I supported last year — a less deluxe publication would have seemed a more appropriate use of donors’ funds.

First, be sure a newsletter makes sense given your organization and audience. Then, be sure it sends the right message. Glossy or low-key? Fun or strictly business? Creative? Elegant? Bold? As with all of your marketing materials, the newsletter should express and support your brandand have a clear raison d’être that doesn’t leave readers puzzled, or worse, annoyed.

Next time, in Part III, we’ll finish up by looking at different types of newsletters and some of the other publishing options when a newsletter isn’t quite right.

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I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
~ Elmore Leonard

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2 Comments

Filed under Putting Writing to Work

2 responses to “Newsletters — Read or Dead? Part II

  1. I enjoy newsletters when they contain “news you can use”. Too often newsletters simply promote an organization’s product or service. They’re nothing more than an advertisement. Better newsletters bring value to the reader by delighting them with an interesting story, teaching them about a new concept, revealing a different point of view, or providing a tip to help solve a tricky problem. When this happens, the organization raises their profile in more meaningful ways. Over time, an organization becomes a trusted adviser and the first choice readers will turn to when they need a product or service.

  2. I agree, Randy. Some of the corporate newsletters I’ve been involved in have been of the “subtle product/service promotion” variety, but others did a good job of offering that fresher perspective and learning you talked about.

    Humorously, I just got my health care insurer newsletter(s) yesterday and guess what? They are now offering opt-out and e-mail options! High time.

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