Making the most of newsletters

Newsletters can be wonderful tools for communicating with your customers,employees and other key audiences. Because of their format, they're ofteninfused with more credibility than traditional brochures. If your newsletter islittle more than blatant self-promotion, however, it's likely to hit thewastebasket before it hits your target's desk.

By following a few basic tips, you can cultivate interest in your newsletterand make it an effective marketing tool.

Keep it interesting. Whether you're informing prospects or encouragingteam-building among your employees, provide useful content and avoid thetemptation to use a hard-sell approach. For example, if you own ahome-decorating supply store, include "how-to" articles on faux-finishing andwallpapering that feature products you carry in your store. While these topicsrelate to your field and reinforce your message, they also offer valuableadvice and will help cultivate a loyal audience.

Do it yourself . . . or not. The abundance of desktop publishingprograms on the market makes it easy for virtually anyone to create anewsletter. However, poor knowledge of design basics and overzealous use ofdifficult-to-read fonts has led to more than one design disaster. Before youtry to do it yourself, consider hiring a professional graphic designer tocreate a template into which you or a staff member can input copy. If you stillwant to give it a shot yourself, pick up a book on graphic design basics beforeyou attempt to create your masterpiece.

Find your look. Depending on your budget, you can choose from a varietyof styles--from a simple, one-color piece to a multipage, full-color format.Factors such as the number of colors and pages, type of paper, and paper sizecan mean big differences in cost, so ask for quotations on differentspecifications from several printers.

Keep it short. Generally, it's best to limit your newsletter to eightpages or fewer and keep articles at 300 words or fewer. If you have a lengthyor complex issue to address, try to break it up into two articles or one longerarticle accompanied by a short sidebar piece.

Remember what a picture's worth. Photographs add interesting elements toyour piece--as long as you use something more creative than the traditional"smiling head" shots. If you choose not to use a full-color format, keep inmind that photographs reproduce best in shades of black. Learn from one unhappymarketing manager whose two-color newsletter featured the company president'sface printed in a very unflattering shade of green.

Don't ignore the details. Triple-check spelling and grammar.Typographical errors can quickly damage your credibility and distract yourreader. In addition to running the document through spelling and grammarcheckers, have someone proofread it--preferably someone who hasn't seen thearticle before. He or she will be more likely than you are to catch any errors.

Include a feedback mechanism. Make it easy for readers to respond byincluding a contact name, phone and fax numbers, and postal and e-mail addresses.