Archive for March, 2011

“Are newsletters old news?”

March 29th, 2011

Recently Marketers Making a Difference held a discussion in Boston called “Are Newsletters Old News?” Alas, I had to miss it. One of the questions they asked was: “Will Twitter and Facebook replace newsletters?” I’m hoping to find out what they concluded and will let you know.

In the meantime, I’m having a hard time imagining that newsletters could really disappear. One reason, at least, is the difference in these media. Twitter, of course, is only 140 characters long. And, while FB is longer, they both are a back-and-forth way of discussion. Certainly, if you have brief news, you can get it out right away through one of these two.

But, if you have some thinking you want your group to do, or a policy you want to clarify, or a story you want to tell that is longer than appropriate for Facebook, where will you go besides your newsletter?

On the other hand, a well-designed FB page can convey your character, your brand, your tone, just as easily as a newsletter. What do you think?

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Attracting readers to your employee newsletter

March 25th, 2011

Two or three years ago I had the honor to write and produce an employee newsletter for a major hospital in New England. I’m not sure who benefited more–certainly I learned a terrific amount about the hospital, its programs and patients, and the vast number of research activities it supported. This newsletter was produced in PDF format and delivered in hard copy and by email.

The content was rich, ranging from advance research results to employee picnics and the occasional memorial notice, and I always wondered how we could be sure everyone would know the newsletter was for them, regardless of their role at the hospital. And, for those receiving the PDF version on line, how could we tempt them to take the time to open the file?

My suggestion was this: for the emailed version, to include an “In This Issue” in the email itself: “New art therapy program shows results” or “Chief surgeon steps up for flu vaccination” or ” ‘Bob the Gardener’  to retire.”

We never measured the effects of “In This Issue” while I was there. But, I’m still on the email  list, and I’m happy to say that there is always a short list of contents in my email. I’m willing to bet that research would demonstrate the value of letting readers, especially busy employees, know what to expect.

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Writing a newsletter at any age

March 23rd, 2011

When I was a kid, as I recall, I started a newsletter with a couple of friends. This was around about the fourth grade. And, not to date myself, but our tools were limited to colored pencils and paper. I think we only came up with one issue. But what a pleasure to write and decorate your own publication! This was a little school, in England, where we all wore pale green flannel berets and matching skirts and sweaters. The newsletters–and magazines–I write for today are of course very different from my first attempts–but I do think that the enthusiasm and creativity we applied were a treasure.

How is it possible to sustain–or recapture–such enthusiasm? Given routine, deadlines, policies, budgets, how could one possibly continue with the energy of an eager nine-year-old? No easy answers, and your editorial calendar is no doubt driven by PR strategies. Still, I find some things help:  Don’t wait for ideas to come to you–go out and talk to people, in the caff, in the pharmacy, in the main lobby. Who are the people you meet and why are they there? Or, what colors do you see around your building? What do they remind you of? colors stimulate us at a different level than rational thought–they can energize and inspire. Think in terms of story-telling. Even if you are reporting on legislative initiatives, remember that there are always people involved, stories behind policies and laws. Consider a short profile to go along with your “latest update” column.

What do you do to energize your newsletters?

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Newsletter guidelines: nothing is perfect

March 21st, 2011

Everyone is saying that email newsletters are the way to go, and that you are crazy to spend all that money on stamps, printing and postage–and who is reading 12-page newsletters anyway? (I’ve been saying that, myself.) But I still remember a hospital marketing manager who told me “We aren’t using email news because we don’t have broadband, our community’s average age is around 60, and they’ve told us they read our print news.”

What could I say? I was impressed that they knew their audience so well. Even if you can’t afford to hire a marketing surveyor, you can still make some random calls to get a sense of what your readers want and need. Have you ever tried this?

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Why am I so loyal?

March 19th, 2011

For the past 12 years, at least, I’ve been receiving (not writing) an email newsletter about nutrition. Sometimes I just delete it, but most often I take care to glance through it, read the recipe, which I sometimes use, and check out the nutrition science. I am so loyal to this newsletter! You’d think I’d be an active client, but I’m not.

Why am I so loyal? I signed up for this newsletter after the author made a worksite presentation when I worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield. I feel comforted when it arrives each month in my inbox–it’s well written, clean, helpful.

It’s a perfect example of the economics of email news: she reaches a huge market, has a large and loyal following, and probably only 5-10% actually hire her.

But it’s my loyalty that fascinates me the most. As long as I keep subscribing, she keeps on mailing! And for more than 12 years! I say, bravo SensibleNutrition.com!

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Quotes that sing when you are writing a newsletter

March 17th, 2011

When writing a newsletter, I love to include a profile or two–whether a patient, or a happy customer, or a new staff member. Guideline number one: look for the telling detail and the “quote that sings”–What do I mean? I mean that if you are a good writer you are also a good listener, and during an interview you are bound to hear something that has more depth, or more feeling, or even more colorful words.

For example, imagine you are interviewing an accountant who has just come to work for your hospital. At first, she is a bit shy, stiff, or formal. But as you begin to talk, and she relaxes, you notice that the standard language (“It’s a real privilege to be working here”) begins to slip away, and suddenly you hear her saying things like “When they called me with the offer I nearly fell off my chair.” And it’s not just the words that shift, but the mood as well–the feeling in the room. That’s why I love to write profiles!

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Newsletter guidelines in all the most interesting places

March 10th, 2011

How to write a newsletter that really gets your audience up and actively responding? Consider the example of the man who built the Panama Canal! I was leafing through David McCullough’s “The Path Between the Seas,” the story of how the canal was finally built. Just picked it up, you know, not looking for newsletter guidelines or clever hints.

And here’s what I found: The Canal Record, started in 1907 by George Goethals, “was an amazing morale booster. . . It made the canal zone more of a community . . . It had an almost instant effect on productivity.”

Furthermore, guidelines for editorial policy called for “an accurate, up-to-date picture of the progress being made, as well as reports on social life, ship sailings, and anything of general interest. . . . The style was direct and factual.”

As a newsletter writer, I’m impressed. Goethals face yellow fever, scandal and mud slides, and yet he knew how to communicate. Maybe he even included an employee appreciation letter!

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When is a newsletter a catalogue, and vice versa?

March 5th, 2011

One of my favorite newsletters came today, from Upton Tea Imports. Actually, it’s as much a catalogue as a newsletter—although it’s called “The Upton Tea Quarterly” and comes four times a year as the name suggests. The bulk of the publication is listings of available teas with descriptions and prices, along with accessories like Chatsford teapots and tea thermometers. The whole thing runs to more than 55 pages, and is in black and white.

In addition to the product listings, Upton Tea has been running a long series on the history of tea (currently at number XVIII) and includes charming engravings of tea plantations and nineteenth century engravings of apparatus for the manufacture of tea. This is why I’ve always thought of it as a newsletter.

As a lover of tea, I enjoy this combination of well-described product listings, and the intense devotion to quality and expertise that the catalogue/newsletter suggests. It’s a comfort to go back to hard copy, black and white pages so focused on something as ancient, and fine, as tea.

What about you? Do you use a similar approach in your newsletter? Or have one that is your favorite?

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