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Newsletters are tricky things - they generally start off well, then typically slide into a decline where the content becomes dull and someone's burden to produce. Ask yourself these key questions: how does a newsletter fit with the rest of your programme? Do you have enough interesting material to sustain more than one issue? The following tips and thought starters will help.
Ten Things You Should Do
- Go back to the beginning. What is the objective of the newsletter? Define clearly what you want to achieve in developing your newsletter. Be specific so that you can monitor outcomes and fine tune to improve success.
- Who is it for? Describe the typical reader. Think what interests and information needs they have. Are all readers similar? If not, matching content to their interests could be a problem. How do they prefer to receive information - print or by e-mail?
- Write down the editorial policy. Draw up guidelines for contributors about subjects, copy length (shorter pieces work best), tone, style and acceptable subjects.
- Decide on the structure. What are to be the regular and occasional features? How will you balance news, information and opinion? What items will you have about products, people, places, programmes and so on? Will you carry advertising or accept material from external sources?
- Decide who is to compile and edit the newsletter. Beware of committees - it is much better if final editorial responsibility rests with one person.
- Agree the publishing schedule. Look at the high and low spots of the year, think about holidays, key exhibitions, conferences and industry events, to pinpoint the ideal times. Once you have agreed when you will publish, work backwards to establish firm dates for printing and editorial closure of each issue.
- Consistency. Ensure the objective, messages and presentation of the newsletter are consistent with business objectives, the communication plan and corporate ID.
- Production values. Aim high. Writing, printing, pictures and layout that are not of the highest standard will reflect badly on you.
- Feedback. This is vital. Ask people if they read it, why they read it, what they like and what they don't! Consider reader questionnaires - try competitions to incentivise reply - look at the letters to the editor.
- Review and revise annually. In the light of reader feedback take a critical look and fine tune the formula on an annual basis.
Five Things You Should Not Do
- Don't mix audiences. A dealer and distributor newsletter is different to an employee newsletter. Each group has different needs - respect them.
- Don't allow production schedules to slip. Do not hold back issues for hot news - if it is not available by the 'close' date then it's carried forward to the next issue.
- Don't just think print. Many companies have successful, lively and interactive newsletters via their intranet or on the internet. Some companies have video newsletters that they play in the staff canteen.
- Don't change the style too often. People get used to a particular style and presentation - change things too often or too radically and you've lost them.
- Don't do it if you can't sustain it. Filling pages with uninteresting news in no use to anyone and costs you time and money!
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