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Newsletters are a medium unexplored by many organisations and companies, and yet they can offer the power to cement customer relations, as well as promote business. Brian Holmes looks at the pros and cons of publishing your own newsletter.

The difference between newsletters and magazines is one of commercial focus. Magazine publishers tend to earn the bulk of their income from advertising, with some additional revenue coming from subscriptions, whereas newsletter publishers primarily publish to communicate with their readers (though there is a growing commercial newsletter industry). The primary aim of a newsletter is usually to inform its readers about what's going on in the life of the organisation, the broader industry, and/or to highlight new developments in products or services. It can also be used to introduce readers to the people ?behind-the-scenes?, and to promote the business of the organisation.

Distinctive features

Newsletters often have the following features:
? primary editorial focus is on the organisation and its activities
? although adverts may appear, they take a back-seat role in the publication, especially in relation to its financing
? they are concise, informative and entertaining, and should not take too long for people to read
? they should complement existing marketing and provide strong justification to be on an organisation's mailing list
? they should be regular. This is absolutely fundamental, as it should be something that the readers look forward to receiving. The commitment to publish should not be taken lightly, especially as this will be your key way of building a relationship with ?stakeholders?.

A model approach

Although any number of formats and approaches are acceptable, the process by which many successful newsletters reach their markets is based on a few fundamental principles:


Appoint an editor. Make sure that it is somebody?s responsibility to actually produce the newsletter, and make sure that the rest of the organisation knows and is supportive of the whole venture. The means that the editor is empowered to actually get news and information from around the organisation.

Don?t be afraid of creating a formula. This should include regular articles, columns or features. Examples could be: calendar of events; reviews of recent events; ?my job?; my favourite play/picture/artist/etc.; interview with artist; recent news; preview of forthcoming events. Some of these could be provided by the readers themselves, thus getting them even more involved. There are advantages to creating a formula: features are quicker and easier to commission, write and produce; it provides a structure for reader ?anticipation?; and it provides a consistent and cohesive house/design style.

As far as possible, try to create an editorial plan that looks a couple of issues into the future. Obviously, the latest news is added at the last possible moment, but features and interviews can be planned ahead. This will make it quicker to publish and take the stress out of the weeks/days prior to publication.

Design and production

Once again, look to create a standard template and format. Common formats are A4, 8 or 16 pages. For most, two colours would be adequate, although four colour may be necessary for those organisations who are highly visual. The advantages of creating a template are:
? you can cost and budget accurately (covering design, print and despatch), knowing that they will be the same each issue
? by knowing the frequency, it may be possible to contract out, and therefore negotiate reduced rates from designers and printers
? you know how much editorial content is required for each issue.

Employ a designer to design it. It really is worthwhile using a freelance designer to put each issue together. Doing it out-of-house (unless you have an art/design department) will mean that you will be able to stick to schedules and have a consistently professional look and feel to the newsletter. Establish a production schedule, in consultation with the designer and printer, and stick to it!

Despatch and marketing

Unless you have a small distribution list, use a mailing house to despatch the newsletter. As a rule of thumb, lists of more than 1,000 people would justify the use of a mailing house. Be aware of the postal price bands. As soon as you go over 60g for a letter/mailing item you jump up a band and pay a lot more. If you have a mailing list of more than 1,000, and the packet is A4-sized, consider going to a mailing house and also asking about Mailsort, which gives you a discount on mailing and for items over 60g you pay by per 1g increments. You could also consider using the mailing to insert other items, such as season catalogues or flyers. You could even consider charging for inserts from other organisations.

Build or maintain a good database of ?subscribers?. This may well be the same as your customer/marketing database. However, if you feel that you need to charge for a subscription to your newsletter, then consider creating a separate database. This is because you will need to take into account any monies paid up-front for a subscription, as well as monitor when a subscription starts, ends and needs to be renewed.


Unlike one-off publications or marketing materials, newsletters take time to ?bed-in?. If successful, they evolve over time and establish their own character. This means that they can grow into becoming a powerful brand or image for your organisation. Their value cannot be assessed by just the immediate response it generates after the first mailing. A longer term view and commitment to continued publishing is required in order to build the publication into the vehicle you want. Longevity creates the key benefit of a newsletter; it provides a reason for continued interaction with your target audience. It will keep your organisation upper-most in the minds of your customers.

The down-side of this longevity is that you actually have to deliver the goods when you say you are going to; but conversely, they can provide the perfect way of publicly demonstrating an ability to deliver on your promises. Newsletters are an ideal way to fulfil and surpass expectations, and a successful newsletter can add value to your organisation and its business.

Brian Holmes runs Loaf, a design and publishing agency. He has established a number of newsletters for a range of clients, and is the designer of ArtsProfessional. t: 01954 206219, f: 01954 206229, e: info@i-loaf.co.uk, w: http://www.i-loaf.co.uk