Newsletters — Read or Dead? Part III

In Parts I and II, we looked at what newsletters can do for your organization and what makes them successful…or not. To conclude, we’ll look at some of the many newsletter options as well as some alternatives when a newsletter isn’t the best fit.

An all-purpose “here’s what’s going on” newsletter is where many organizations start. It allows you to cover a variety of topics — often any topic — from highlighting particular projects to plugging a new product to publicizing employee happenings, the latest “we’re going green” initiative, or the company picnic. Organizations choosing this type of newsletter often set up ongoing features or departments (for example, a letter from the CEO, “News from the Shop Floor,” “Employee News,” “Ask the Expert,” and the like).

You can cover a lot of ground in a newsletter like this, and readers can take or leave what they like. Depending on your organization, though, you might consider the impact of a more targeted newsletter — targeted in terms of what you write about and who you send it to.

A software company may focus an “insider” newsletter on a particular product and send only to buyers of that product. A non-profit may highlight a particular program and send the newsletter to that program’s donors. A law firm may cover legal issues related to a particular audience — manufacturing clients, for example.

Targeted newsletters can even be internal to your company — one company I worked for published a newsletter just for employees. It was popular, and helpful to maintain the company’s sense of “family.”

One of my clients publishes a variety of internal (online) newsletters covering various aspects of the business, such as project “wins,” successful examples of interdepartmental cooperation on client projects, and explanations of new initiatives or specific market segments. Along with being informative for employees, the newsletters encourage specific, beneficial business practices, such as looking for opportunities to add value for clients by pulling in experts from other parts of the company.

Targeted newsletters can be short — a page or two, or even just one meaty, e-mailed story — and therefore require less effort. Another advantage — reader interest is likely to be high, assuming you target properly.

Even a poorly aimed newsletter occasionally hits the mark. I somehow got on a mailing list for a sales-focused newsletter — more specifically, how to grow your business by focusing on your sales force.  Every two weeks, it shows up in my e-mail. I could have stopped it long ago (since it offers the all-important opt-out option), but I’m rather impressed by it.  When I take the time to skim it (because I’ve written about sales-related topics and some of my clients have sales forces), the articles are consistently well-written and ring true. I admire the company’s ability to publish consistently and send consistent messages — it’s doing everything right. So I keep receiving it, and maybe someday I’ll be able to pass the company’s name along to a client, or refer to something published in the newsletter for a project.

Sometimes, though, your newsletter isn’t the best primary marketing venue for a particular topic. Ask yourself, is it really “news” or is it a meatier story you want to tell? Would someone skim it over morning coffee or lunch at their desk, or does it take more concentration? Is it important enough to deserve its own venue, its own splash, rather than a shared one?

Some stories, for a variety of reasons, are better off told in another way, perhaps a third-party publication (such as an industry journal), a targeted direct mail campaign, a podcast, or a press release. You can always cross-market by mentioning the article, podcast, etc. in the newsletter. We’ll look more at direct mail, published articles, and the like in future WordPlay at Work posts.

The Bottom Line: Are newsletters read or dead? I believe even in today’s information-saturated world, well-conceived, well-executed newsletters still have their place and the potential to be a positive force for your business. Think “current,” think “useful,” think “targeted” — and most of all, think about what matters to your readers. Don’t know? Ask them!


I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers.
~ Mickey Spillane


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