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A. Thomas Heald
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Part 2 - 850
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Effective In-House Newsletters
by
Tom Heald

 

This first of two articles, concentrates on In-house Company Newsletters with next month's article featuring Consumer Newsletters written by freelancers.

Newsletters are an increasingly popular, cost-effective way to communicate with customers, prospects, suppliers, employees, and colleagues. Everybody from clubs to corporations, small businesses to global giants use them. The secret to produce a successful newsletter is to understand the audience, then tailor the newsletter to their specific needs. Each audience is unique but all tend to fall into one of three categories: consumers, experts, or special interest groups.

Consumer newsletters are directed at potential users of a company's goods and services. Its tone is generally informal, informative and visually stimulating with photos, artwork, cartoons, witticisms and snappy headlines to attract the reader's attention. Its goal is to foster good public relations and enhance a company's image by providing information about its goods and services.

Expert newsletters attract readers who are knowledgeable and informed about a specific subject by providing the latest information in a given field. The audience may be a group of researchers studying AIDS or distributors of a company's products. Its style is often formal and in some cases extremely technical. The intent is to share and disseminate information rather than selling a product or service to the reader.

Special interest groups are a captive audience. They may be the employees of a company, members of a club, or subscribers looking for specialized or insider information. The more specialized the audience, the less flashy the newsletter tends to be. Most financial newsletters are drab, single-column, four-page letters with ever changing numbers and, occasionally, a Bull being replaced by a Bear. They are costly, informative and boring. By contrast, a free newsletter sent to owners of a mutual fund may contain the same information presented in a glossy, three-column format with lots of attractive colored graphs, pictures, and artwork. Clearly, its audience is less captive than the financial newsletter's readers. It must work harder to be read.

Company newsletters fall under special interest groups. They run the gamut from plush publications printed quarterly for stockholders to internal publications that foster morale and improve communications. The duality of the audience presents a dilemma. How does one address the interests of stockholders and employees in the same publication? Sure, they share a common interest in the company's undertakings and products, but not in the day-to-day activities of the company. Yet, news of the annual picnic, staff changes, new procedures, special awards, weddings and births are of interest to employees and help bring an organization together. The solution -- publish separate internal and external newsletters.

External newsletters are generally more formal, concentrating on products, marketplace and key customers. When covering a new product, it will stress its position in the marketplace and advantages over the competition. An internal newsletter, on the other hand, might stress design aspects, the development team, and the hero who solved a last minute problem. An informal, chatty, style is often used that stresses you and I over we and they. This helps create an intimacy with the reader and make's it their newsletter.

Editors of internal newsletters seldom have trained reporters. To be successful they must develop a network of key people or stringers, to provide personal insights and leads for stories throughout the organization instead of relying on mandated articles that come in reluctantly, late and occasionally well written. The editor is almost always rewarded for digging up a story and convincing one of the principals to write an article rather then sending a memo around reminding management that their department's article is due in a week.

Regular columns are a good idea. The Locker Room for company sponsored sports, On The Move for promotions and transfers, The Grapevine for personal items, Say What for excerpts from fractured memos, Community Spotlight, What's the Policy, The Suggestion Box, and so on. Set an editorial tone that makes the employee the focal point. Avoid pronouncements from on high. It's hard for an employee to empathize with a newsletter seen as The Official Voice of Management! Present messages from management matter-of-factly. When the news is bad, stick to the facts and let people draw their own conclusions. Lead with your most important story and never put the Message from the President on the front page with the inevitable head-shot!

When trying to keep the president from committing printicide, don't argue about the extra work or the difficulty of doing what he demands. Instead, concentrate on how the employees will perceive his or her comments and its effect on management's credibility and employee morale. Show the consequences of the article and alternatives to it, not a list of excuses and difficulties. Then get a decision and live with it. Remember, the boss isn't always right, but the boss is always the boss.

 

Producing Consumer Newsletters
by
Tom Heald

Writing Consumer Newsletters can be fun and rewarding, but it requires a different
approach than In-house Company Newsletters, discussed last month.

In an age of specialists, newsletters are a specialized tool. Most are small publications providing specific information to a select group of people on a scheduled basis. Being specific is what sets newsletters apart. They provide timely information -- often unique or insider information that can't be obtained from any other source -- on a specific subject -- writing, travel, video equipment, mutual funds -- to a limited audience -- members of a club, employees of a company, investors, or a special interest group. Newsletters that attempt to appeal to a wide audience with general information are seldom successful.

A successful newsletter is one that is read. It follows that to be successful a newsletter editor must understand its audience and how to appeal to it. Clubs and Organizations with information to share don't need to spend a lot of time on fancy formats; its readers are interested in the content and are happy with a simple format without any art or graphics. The same is true for insider or expert newsletters with specialized information to sell. The Kiplinger Washington Letter and Bob Brinker's Marketimer are two very successful newsletters totally devoid of any flash.

What makes these newsletters successful is their content. Readers seek them out and pay a premium to subscribe to them because they need the information. Conversely, the less captive the audience the more the newsletter must appeal to other senses. The toughest audience is the general public. To be successful, a consumer newsletter must be visually stimulating in addition to containing useful information. It builds confidence and trust by providing timely and valuable information to the consumer about a company's goods and services rather than a specific product.

Before a newsletter is read it must be seen. Its overall appearance is what attracts readers. Studies have shown that readers look at pictures first, then headlines, then captions and pullouts. The placement of pictures and artwork is important. The upper, right hand corner gets first notice. Art along the outside edge, or in the center of the page gets priority over art along the center fold.

The nameplate is the most important piece of art on the front page. It welcomes old friends and attracts new readers. The name should be unique, distinctive and reflect the image of the newsletter. A company logo or graphic should complement the name and further define it. Below the name a tagline can be used to explain the purpose of the newsletter clearly and concisely. The volume number and date should appear unobtrusively, as part of the overall design. Make the nameplate bold, not garish, elegant, not cluttered, and above all, keep it simple.

Pick a multi-column format, develop a style sheet and stick to it. Consistency and overall appearance add greatly to reader acceptance. There are many good books on this subject. Several of my favorites are listed in the sidebar.

The masthead identifies the editorial staff and contributors. It tells people who you are and how to get in touch with you. If you are publishing the newsletter as an independent agent, it is especially important that you and your publishing company are identified, not the company you are working for; they will be identified elsewhere. It can contain an editorial policy statement and should contain the copyright notice. Some newsletters place it on the front page, but more communally it appears on an inside page in its own box with a separate graphic.

Next comes the fun part, the articles. Every business has trade journals or professional publications that are sources for ideas or reprints. There are customer profiles and war stories about impossible demands that were finally meet. Interview the owner, employees and customers for human interest stories. Pick from a collection of newsletter articles on diskette like ClipEdit from Dartnell Corporation. What you want is unique information that is appealing to the readers with good graphics and pictures.

A picture's worth a thousand words, especially in a newsletter. It draws the eye in. People's emotions are released by pictures. Good artwork sells by association. It transfers feelings for -- Baseball, Motherhood, Apple Pie -- to the goods or services covered in the article. There are many sources for clip-art and photographs with some of the best available on CD-ROMs and Photo-CDs. Don't even consider publishing a consumer newsletter without good artwork.

Newsletters present an opportunity for an energetic freelancer. Most businesses know that word-of-mouth is its best form of advertising. What they don't realize is a well-written newsletter works at the same level. It enhances a company's image by associating it with knowledgeable and useful information about its services.

 
Sidebar on Reference Books
Producing a First-Class Newsletter by Barbara A. Fenson
Self-Counsel Press, Bellingham, Washington - 1994 - Soft 8.5 X 11
ISBN: 0-88908-296-0
The Newsletter Editor's Desk Book by Marvin Arth & Helen Ashmore
Parkway Press, Shawnee Mission, Kansas - 1980-84 - Soft 5.5 X 8.5
ISBN: 0-938270-03-6
Publishing Newsletters by Howard Penn Hudson
Charles Scribner's Sons, NY - 1982 - Hard 5.5 X 8.5
ISBN: 0-684-17496-0
Real Estate Newsletters Made Simple by Wendell Mathews
Gienhealth Publishers, Chicago, IL - 1988 - Soft 8.5 X 11
ISBN: 0-913652-65-2

 
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