Newsletter content and designI recently wrote a post on newsletters that covered some important aspects of newsletters. An HR forum recently had members asking some very basic questions on how to go about publishing a newsletter:

  • What is a newsletter? How is it different from an in-house magazine?
  • How do I name my newsletter?
  • Are e-mailers and newsletters the same? What about e-newsletters?
  • Are there free templates available?
  • How much will it cost?

Below I share some ideas based on my own personal experience.

What is a newsletter?

Simply put, a newsletter is a small publication (print, html, pdf, email) that contains news, updates and relevant information for a select group or audience.

So it’s not meant for everyone, and it does not contain lengthy articles, essays, or detailed content.

But who puts out a newsletter? The first time I came across one was as a member of a small scholarly association – it was a folded one page print issue delivered in mail, with news and updates from that particular field. This was the snail mail age.

A newsletters can come from a society or association, a company, a department or a vertical within a company, and even a website. They can address an entire industry or sector, or talk only about certain products and services.

Print newsletters can be anywhere between 4-12 pages (for print, count in multiples of 4 only.) E-mailed newsletter are obviously fitted in a single email.

Formats and platforms for newsletters

An intranet I managed had an email newsletter (or e-newsletter) sent out twice a week. The design was a wireframe html that we would first copy in Word (or use a simple html editor), add new text and images, and then copy it into an email to be sent out. A print newsletter can now be converted to a digital pdf format.

Another one catered to not only a particular IT vertical’s employees, but also its external vendor base. In another case, an online newsletter was made in html and put up on its own subdomain on the corporate site, to be browsed like a website.

How to name a newsletter?

Naming a newsletter takes us into the creative territory. Usually one and two-word names work best. They could be abstract, or refer to something concrete, but will obviously relate to the company, industry or activity that forms its subject. Popular names usually revolve around conversation and engagement.

For e.g., a newsletter for artists might be called ‘The cubist’, or ‘Brush strokes’. A manufacturing plant might use ‘Floortalk’. The best strategy for naming a newsletter is to run an internal survey in your group, and also ask your agency for suggestions.

Producing a newsletter

Print newsletters are now usually ordered in limited numbers. You will need design, content and tech support to get an e-newsletter or digital newsletter out. There are free newsletter layouts available on the internet. For e.g., here. But as you will notice, these may not well fit your specific purpose. If they do, your work has greatly been lessened.

If you have sweet time at your disposal, you can create a simple newsletter design even in Word. And write and edit content. But then there is always a difference between amateur work and professional hands.

A wireframe newsletter can be simple and cheap to obtain and use. It basically uses lines and dividers to lay out content and images. Either get a freelance designer to make one for you, or take inside help. You will need some knowledge of html to edit if that is the platform, or an open design file (InDesign, Illustrator, etc) to edit content. Before getting the layout done, you should also fix on the inside regular sections and leave flexibility for ad-hoc updates.

The content front is easy to figure out – official, informative and fun. Getting regular updates and material can however be a bottleneck. So make sure to plan issues well in advance.

Outsourcing newsletter design and content

You can outsource design and content to agencies, and provide only raw material for edits. Writing styles can affect how well the newsletter is received by the readers  avoid the ‘stuffy’ newsletter style of writing. A one-time effort and cost can also go into a professional layout and design.

In my experience, some external help, at least for proofing, can be worth the money spent, as team members may not always get sufficient time to ensure an error-free publication. The flip side is having to spend time supervising and checking content for mistakes and blunders in areas such as tone, word choice and facts.

Return on investment

The returns need not be monetary. A newsletter is also about building a community, engaging readers and creating a positive atmosphere. As a marketing tool or for internal use, the return depends on how well it it received.

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