Whether distributed via e-mail or printed and snail-mailed, newsletters are a great way for a business or an organization to keep in touch with employees, customers, prospects or association members in a cost-effective manner. The trick, however, is to come up with a strategy to keep readers engaged and the publication's production and editorial adjustments in line with current budgets.
Here are five tactics that you can you can use to make your current newsletter more
engaging and a must-read for your intended recipients. And while these strategies
also work well for printed newsletters, we're going to focus on electronic
newsletters because they offer the most opportunity for generating fast feedback
from readers. Incorporating even one of these tips will help ensure that your e-
newsletter increases in value from the recipient's point of view.
1. Boost interactivity through surveys
Raising interactivity is a sure, winning bet if your goal is to engage your readers and
generate a reason for them to anticipate the next issue. This step is also the most
obvious answer to the question "How do I know what my readers want to read
about?" It's one of the great fallacies of the publishing business that the editors or
publishers feel they always know more about what their readers need to know than
the readers themselves. In truth, anything that's created in a vacuum by a roomful
of editors and reporters is probably going to (ahem) suck in terms of achieving the
goal of delivering engaging stories. Newsletter editors have a responsibility to get
out there and see what feature in the last issue got readers talking, what kinds of
topics readers look forward to seeing in the publication and how they feel about
being able to communicate those desires.
2. Poll your readers to uncover the best delivery method for their needs.
In a similar vein, efforts that ensure that your newsletter read are often thwarted
simply because the readers do not receive the newsletter in a format they feel is
appropriate. In terms of e-letters, for example, one recipient's e-mail client
(Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, Entourage or Mail) may be set to not receive
HTML files, while another's e-mail client may be set to send all HTML-based e-mail
to the junk mail folder. The point is, you need to know the methods by which you
will have the best chance of getting your e-newsletter before the most number of
recipient eyes. If that means sending out a text version as well as an HTML version,
so be it. But you won't know the answer to that question until you ask them the
3. Have the newsletter available in a variety of formats... and ALWAYS in archive
form on the Web.
On the slim chance that one of your subscribers was left off the distribution list for
the last issue, it's imperative to have the information available through your
website. Beyond driving traffic, these archives serve as a reference point for current
customers or members and also can be used as a selling tool aimed at prospects
("See what type of creative thinking we've come up with! Visit our website and
check out our latest e-newsletter!") Additionally, you should consider: downloadable
PDFs of the newsletter; a dedicated page for visitors to view the current e-
newsletter; and a way for readers to forward their issue to a friend to take full
advantage of viral marketing opportunities.
4. Plan your editorial budget to include a combination of fresh, breaking
information as well as a stockpile of evergreens.
The people who put together newsletters of any type are often under the gun when
it comes to developing material for the next issue. This can lead to mediocre,
under-reported, bland stories being published since the time and attention they
required could not be given. One way to alleviate that pressure - and reduce
production headaches - is to plan editorial budgets well in advance that include
ready-to-drop stories that can be appropriate for at least two issues down the road.
This type of planning will give writers and editors more time to concentrate on
developing the must-read pieces your readers expect. And, of course, those will be
the stories that your readers told you they wanted to see from your surveys. Right?
5. Reassess the newsletter's role within your organization and set a mandate to
boost that role.
If your company only sees a newsletter only as a way to promote upcoming events
or provide pictures of new products before the new catalog ships, you might want to
consider discussing other roles the publication could play in the overall strategy of
the organization. A consulting or law firm could use an e-newsletter to provide
perspectives on new consumer trends or recently passed legislation or court rulings.
A retailer might consider an e-newsletter as a loyalty-building tool, providing sneak
peeks at upcoming goods or services along with special coupons distributed only
for newsletter recipients. And a manufacturing company could pass along ideas that
boosted efficiencies in a plant in Dubuque to employees in its plant in Tampa
through an internal e-newsletter. This raises the value of the publication in the
executive ranks as well as among readers, which could become valuable at budget-
The flexibility that newsletters in general - and e-newsletters in particular - offer
is undeniable in terms of distributing your company's or association's messages to
the proper audience. The trick is to carefully manage how well the material in the
newsletter matches with the needs of the readers, improve the level of interactivity
with the reader, make sure the newsletter is available to the widest appropriate
audience and has an important strategic role within the company or association. If
these goals can be met, you can be assured that your readers will eagerly anticipate
the next issue more so than the last.
Chris Scott heads Hodge Media Group, the custom publishing arm of Hodge
Communications, Inc. Hodge specializes in strategic public relations and marketing
communications for businesses, entrepreneurs and professional associations.
Formerly an award-winning journalist, Scott brings over 20 years of experience to
client engagements. Subscribe today to Communic@te our free bimonthly e-
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