Despite all the great technology we have at our fingertips, it’s good to know that some businesses are still using the traditional, printed newsletter to communicate in their markets.
As a former print journalist I have a fondness for words and images on paper, and I believe the newsletter can – and should – have a place in the marketing mix for many years to come. However, I think that many valiant efforts to use this medium are prone to failure – the result of too few skills and poor advice.
When a local company’s four-pager hit the doormat recently I found myself wondering how many businesses are pumping money into print – but getting little in return.
In truth there is a brief golden moment when a reader picks up your newsletter and makes the choice between read and recycle.
So how does your newsletter shape up? What part of your print run goes for pulp with hardly a glance? Here are some pointers that should help to make your publication produce profits:
Know your purpose – Don’t just publish for the sake of it. Define your editorial policy to complement the role that your newsletter will play – for example: enhancing the corporate image and encouraging sales by showcasing market leadership, understanding of customer needs and successful applications of products or services. In reality, the goal is to get the reader to visit your shop (or website) … and buy!
Remember the reader – Think of your reader as a hard-working commuter coming home to a family, domestic responsibilities and a garden in need of attention. If he (or she) is going to pick up your newsletter from the hallstand and digest it intelligently, it must scream READ ME on every page. So it must be relevant, appealing … and must convey benefits to the reader.
Make it newsy – You don’t have to make every page look like a mini-clone of the popular press – the content and design possibilities are endless. But whatever the appearance, the content should clearly demonstrate editorial flair. What you need are magnetic headlines and gripping copy that draw the reader and retain interest … right down to your call to action.
Cut out the waffle – Beware of the MD’s ego-trip essays or the sales director’s lengthy ponderings on the state of the market. Rather channel their enthusiasm into thought leadership articles that make readers sit up and take note. And remember that since the arrival of 140-character communication, keeping it short is what readers increasingly expect.
Be visual – Grab the reader’s attention with stunning images and informative diagrams. You are competing with colour on TV, PCs, mobiles, tablets and supermarket shelves. So be bold and be bright … or your publications will certainly be heading straight for the bin.
Be informative – You want the reader eventually to make an informed buying decision. So help that process along by providing information in such a way that the reader immediately perceives a benefit from learning about you and what you offer.
Be clever – Today’s production and print processes give you the flexibility to create separate editions for different geographical areas or customer types – of from different divisions of the company. You can also load your newsletter as a pdf file on your website – giving a wider audience the ability to read it online or print it for themselves, if they wish. Don’t forget to use social media to encourage people to read your latest issue. And if you’ve a really good story on the front page, send it out as a press release or add it to the company blog.
Call in a pro – If you have the time and skills to put a newsletter together on your own, by all means do so. But it’s well worth calling in a writer/editor/designer package with the experience and skills to give you impartial advice on content and presentation. You want a professional product that adheres to traditional standards of journalism and printing, enhances your reputation … and boosts your bottom line.
Content is everything these days. It’s what goes into websites, email marketing, social media, brochures – even old-fashioned media releases. No surprise, then, that it’s become a big talking point in the marketing sector.
In reality, content is what I – and countless other PR professionals – have been producing for clients over many years. Our challenge is to keep abreast of the latest content opportunities and to adapt our output appropriately.
But it’s not that simple. There’s so much content around that we have to be even more creative in our word-crafting if our clients’ messages are to stand out amid the swelling mass of communication clutter.
It’s refreshing to see some of the profession’s thought leaders suggesting that the key is not to pump out clients’ sales messages – basically what they want to say – and instead to produce what their customers might want to hear.
As one of the experts I follow suggested recently, content creators need to stop selling and start listening. After all, communication is a two-way process: a one-to-one conversation is nothing but series of balanced responses. Why should content be any different?
So, to promote a product in today’s market, the content copywriter should be focusing on the benefits rather than the features. The sales messages can still be woven into the text, but subtly.
If we give the reader a captivating story, with which he or she can easily identify, we are surely on the way to converting prospect into customer.
I believe many companies are losing out because their messages are clouded by outdated construction and blind obedience to what pleases the managing director. This may be because neither they or their communication advisers have embraced change.
I have spent many hours writing about ‘boring’ products including bricks, plasterboard and various systems that go into modern buildings. I’ve also addressed more glamorous subjects. Whatever the subject matter, I always try to develop a human angle to help readers associate more effectively with the products my words are promoting.
My clients are happy.
As a profession, though, we need to put greater effort into educating more clients on what it takes to communicate effectively.
Then we can all be happy.
You are in the widget business, and you have decided to step up your communication with customers. So you are thinking of a website, a newsletter and, perhaps, some news releases and a blog to get the ball rolling. You managed to write your way through school and higher education – so why, you may ask, would you need to hire a professional writer?
Let’s first look at some of the underlying issues: who are you trying to reach, what is your message, and what is your desired outcome?
In most cases, the main targets will be existing and potential customers. The message will be to tell or remind them about the goods and services you offer (and how good you are). You want them to buy from you – not once, but repeatedly.
Achieving this goal may require patience and dedicated effort to influence perceptions and change buying habits. Breaking through may require more than one type of communication. You’re a bit like the BBC – you must inform, educate … even entertain. Each type of communication needs a different approach, which makes more difficult for the non-specialist to produce.
If you can do it, good luck to you. If you can’t here are five reasons why you should hire a professional writer instead.
1 The time factor
A good piece of writing requires research, composition and editing. That translates to a briefing interview, reading source material, gathering contributions from various people, sorting and selecting key information, writing it into a readable article, and checking to ensure the words convey what is intended, in a manner suitable for the recipients.
Many businesspeople can write – some extremely well. But I doubt that there are many whose business responsibilities give them enough freedom to tackle in-depth writing on a regular basis.
Hiring a professional writer means you can minimise your involvement in the process and focus your attention on your primary responsibility: managing the business.
2 Not all writing is the same
Very little ‘grown-up’ writing bears any resemblance to what we learned at school – and what we did pick up at school and university may not provide adequate grounding for addressing today’s plethora of media channels.
As a business person, unless you are unusually talented with the written word, the chances are that you will struggle to write effectively for all the media now available to promote your business.
Professional writers, on the other hand, draw on their multi-channel experience to produce copy in a variety of styles. For example, they will package your basic message in news releases, feature articles, blogs, case studies, web content, brochures, speeches, presentations and more – even Tweets.
3 Presenting a balanced, objective view
Many professional writers trained as journalists, and were taught the importance of reflecting both sides of a story in their copy. They would also have learned how to pitch their writing at a level appropriate to the mythical ‘average reader’.
People who write without this background tend to write for themselves, highlighting the facts they want to hear in language that sounds impressive to them. This often results in stodgy, self-congratulatory verbiage that does little to convey the real message.
The professional will ask lots of questions to get to the core of the subject – and then write about it objectively, in a clear, concise fashion, to ensure the message gets across, loud and clear!
4 Knowing what to say
Business people often find themselves approached for comment on issues relevant to their business. Some are blessed with the eloquence to dash off a quick sound bite that adequately puts their point and demonstrates their thought leadership on the particular subject: others are less able.
A professional writer is quickly able to get a good understanding of the client’s views and ability to comment on key issues. This enables the writer to develop suggested words for the client to approve – and if the job’s done properly, there won’t be many amendments.
Equally, the professional who becomes deeply involved in the client company’s products, people and ethos is able to write authoritative, image-building articles with a minimal brief on the requirements.
5 Good grammar and spelling enhance your reputation
What you say is very important – of course. How you say it is also vital, because the delivery impacts the effectiveness of your communication – as well as the listener or reader’s perception of you and your company.
Professional writers sometimes make mistakes (we’re only human, after all), but generally we can be relied on to spell well, use words correctly and to be masters of grammar and punctuation.
In these times of predictive text and gr8 messaging shorthand (lol), it may seem pedantic to show concern about spelling and grammar. But there’s good reason to believe that a company’s image suffers significantly as a result of poor attention to detail in this regard.
Consider: if you were choosing between two ‘professionals’ and one had a mistake-riddled website – all other things being equal, who would you choose?
So, if you are really serious about your widget business and promoting it through quality communication, brief a professional writer today.
I’m writing this on a Friday in January, when the weather forecasters were 100% correct and my corner of the UK is experiencing significant snowfalls. In fact, much of the country is covered in the stuff and it’s causing immense disruption.
All this I know because I have been dipping into Twitter from time to time, and finding that it is a wonderful medium in times of need, such as today. Local authorities and other agencies are tweeting important information, and retweeting by others is helping to spread those messages even more widely.
Now it may be that people have more time today to use Twitter, but the medium works in the same way on ‘clear’ days, too.
So, in this new era of ‘public service tweeting’, pause to think how you could be making better use of social media in your normal communication with stakeholders.
Rumbles in the wake of the Leveson Report on ethics and practices of the UK press can be expected to continue indefinitely – and at least until the politicians have agreed a legislative formula for the judge’s proposed independent, self-regulatory body.
At stake are the essence of a free press and the notion of media credibility.
The Leveson Report advocates continued press freedom, without direct parliamentary interference – but is also calls for a better legislative framework enabling the press to regulate itself more effectively. This gives government and media the challenge of finding a compromise in their – and the nation’s – best interests.
The image of the British press has sadly been tainted by the actions of a few who overstepped ethical boundaries in the quest, one presumes, for journalistic and commercial success. Given the increasing impact that new electronic information sources and alternative advertising opportunities are having on traditional print media, one can to some extent understand the need to push limits wherever possible.
However, what some of these people are alleged to have done is an inexcusable breach of press freedom, and it has also led to action in other judicial channels.
In my view, the ‘softer’ touch of the Leveson Report recognises:
I suspect the press could go forward quite satisfactorily with no additional control whatsoever. However, the Leveson proposals will enhance credibility by allowing the public a more clearly defined route to challenge the media if ethical principles are seen to be discarded.
There is a lesson in all of this, and it’s aimed at my PR colleagues, bloggers, web copywriters, social media commentators and the like. It is this: Be careful in what you say. A Leveson-type inquiry into the new media might not be as lenient.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 16 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.