What Makes a Company Newsletter Work?
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
A monthly newsletter may be a company's best marketing tools.
How far can a newsletter reach? A marketing director at a New Jersey company, relates two vivid examples of her newsletter's widespread appeal.
"I went to a customer to renew my auto insurance. I was sitting in the little lobby, and on the end table there were the usual insurance industry magazines, but right on top were the current and previous editions of Commentary. Another time, I went to a small restaurant. There, getting out of her car almost simultaneously with me, was a woman carrying our newsletter-I wished I had a camera with me-and I said, 'I thought people only read the local newspaper at lunch' and she said it was her 'day with CommentaryI read this thing cover to cover. We pass it around the office.'''
In this article, four marketing professionals describe features of their newsletter and tell how the newsletter is used to market the company.
What's works in a newsletter
Effective newsletters begin with effective content, say those we interviewed.
"The newsletter is very important, very critical" says one editor. "It gives up to the minute news, spotlights products, highlights upcoming corporate and community events. We also have news updates and the newsletter's a good tool to let cusomters know we're out there. Also we feature new customers and include a monthly calendar."
Not every company treats newsletter features the same way, of course, but pros generally agree on the marketing value of the following newsletter items-both for promoting new and selling current products and serviceds.
· Photographs. Because of their human appeal, photographs get a lot of attention where plain copy might fail. Says one newsletter editor, "We do a lot of photos. We even like to do the center spread as a photo spread. It's a real 'thank you' page to customers."
· Guest columnists. Bringing in outside experts adds an air of authenticity and professionalism to newsletter content. Fortunately, companies need not pay for qualified columnists. "Say it's tax time," says an editor. "One of our customers who's expert in that field will write a column."
· Hot issues. Whether it stems from community, legislative or simply internal corporate issues, a little excitement keeps current and prospective customers involved. "The most important part of our newsletter is page three-the 'hot issues' page," says one executive.
· Product promotion. Every company interviewed uses the newsletter to promote products and special events. Some add inserts, while others make event announcements part of the format. And, when the promotion is over, follow-up stories may inform those who missed the event.
· Blurbs and highlights. Many companies condense information about customers and community events into short, easily digestible bits. Says one editor, "Our Briefs are written in blurbs. It's the most popular section, because it's short and sweet, newsy and gossipy and people enjoy that.
· President's message. Many newsletters feature an article from the president or chairman of the board. This is an ideal place to promote new products and services because the column is generally upfront and personal.
· New member information. Both current and new customers like to read about other customers "People like the New Customer Profile because they want to know who's coming into an area," says an executive.
Writing this column doesn't have to be a burden if you follow one company's lead. "We like to have the new members introduce themselves with an article about their business," says an editor in Montana.
· Calendar. Most companies include a calendar of events in the newsletter. No wonder. This is an unfailingly popular item. "A lot of customers use the calendar," confirms an executive in California. "We did an informal survey and asked if people read the newsletter and almost everyone said 'yes.' Then we asked about the calendar and, again, most everyone said they found it very useful."
· Professional Information. Articles in the newsletter need not be original. Many organizations will allow companies to reprint articles. "If you find a message or an article that can help your customers, include that," suggests an executive in Massachussetts.
· Customer news. Customers are a bottomless source of newsletter content, and using what they submit makes both editorial and marketing sense. In Montana, any client of a professional services firm with upcoming events to announce can be featured in the newsletter. Says one editor, "It seems that the most popular thing in our newsletter is our feature on customers each month. They can talk about who they are, what they've done for the company or what the company's done for them. The customers really get fired up over that.'
· Customer recognition. Recognizing customers in print is a favored technique of smart marketers. One editor says,"If a customer has a grand opening, or if there is a promotion from within, or a customer lands a big client and wants to brag about itwe print a picture and a press releaseWe feel it gives them identification with the company and they are going to stay customers."
Another California company is also eager to help members promote themselves. "Customers have an opportunity, once they join, for a free ad or an article written about them. We can show them the back page where we print our Community Notes, if someone wins an award, or is appointed to a board or committee," reports the editor.
Distribution is important to marketing too
Some companies reserve newsletter distribution exclusively for customers or clients. "We have set our newsletter up as an 'in-house' piece just for our clients," says one Texas executive. "Our clients are the only market. We have no outside features."
More often, however, companies distribute the newsletter broadly. "We have 750 clients and about 1,000 mailings," says one editor. "The newsletter goes to all the customers, the city council, the city managers, and we take bundles to the library, the hospital, the community center, and some of the coffee shops where people are apt to pick up a copy and browse through."
Here are some innovative newsletter features to consider:
1. Health and fitness tips
2. Recycling and environmental updates
3. Baby pictures of employees
4. Insurance changes and how-to-file articles
5. Volunteer needs and news
6. Book and movie reviews
7. Recipes for working parents
8. Children's drawings of relatives at work
9. Swap/sale/barter
10. Ways to improve efficiency and work habits
11. Promotions, transfers, new employees
12. Old-fashioned home remedies
13. History-corporate, local, world (20 years ago this month)
14. Cartoons or customized comic strips
15. Community involvement and awards
16. Company activities
17. How to get in touch with: local, state and federal elected officials; school board members; radio and television news directors; newspapers; emergency centers
Nancy Rathbun Scott is a business writer living in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached at author@nancyscott.com. Visit www.nancyscott.com for more information.

@2004 Nancy Scott