Is killer content killing you? Too much of it? Not enough? Do you notice the months getting shorter and your deadlines rolling around with increasing frequency?
If publishing a regular e-mail newsletter is becoming a chore, or a huge headache, listen up for seven nitty-gritty tips from the trenches. (Tips are written specifically for HTML newsletters.)
1. Re-Examine Why Are You Publishing
If you've published for a while (say, at least four issues), you've established a track record with your readers. But what are you getting in return?
Most e-newsletters are a cross between a branding tool and a lead-generating tactic. Evaluate which yours is. And which marketing tactic is more important to you right now. If you're not generating a significant number of leads with each issue, you might consider cutting back to bi-monthly (every two months) or even quarterly.
You'll get more ROI out of your e-newsletter if you continue to publish it, rather than run out of steam after four or five issues. E-newsletters as successful marketing tools are a long-term tactic.
2. Assign a Point Person
Designate an inside point person to keep track of all the details. Whether or not you are using a Web-based service to deliver your e-newsletter, you need at least one staff member whose job responsibility includes "getting the newsletter out."
This can be a junior staffer who is meticulous as well as a good writer and editor. Ideally, he or she will have a basic knowledge of HTML. Be nice to this person.
3. Take Stock of Your Editorial Resources.
Do you have a CEO who has a real touch when it comes to writing? His or her informal musings about hot topics in your industry--or a personal note--can create the "voice" of your newsletter.
On the other hand, if no one in your group has the ability to write clearly, informally and succinctly (key to successful online content), outsource. Hire an outside editor and feed him or her article ideas on an ongoing basis.
4. Plan Your Next Issue
The best time to plan the content of your next issue is immediately after sending out the current one. You're "in the groove," so to speak, and able to think most clearly about your publication.
Within hours of hitting Send you'll know what attracted the most interest from your readers--and whether your subject line inspired a click to open the issue. This is where your "content formula" comes into play. Ideally, you have a formula for a mix of articles, topics, departments, letter from the CEO, quizzes, etc. Be prepared to change it. If click-through reporting tells you that the number two article is the most popular, analyze why. Make that the lead next time. If you ask for reader feedback on a certain topic and get a flood of responses, you have the basis for an article in the next issue.
5. "Calendarize" the Process
OK, that's a dreadful word. But it's easy to let the weeks go by and realize that your next issue is "due out" next week. Before panic sets in, turn to your point person and ask him or her to come up with a publishing calendar. Or hand the task to an outside editor. This should include deadline dates for:
- Collecting article ideas--getting reprint permission, if necessary
- Turning ideas into rough drafts
- Dropping the copy into your HTML template with placeholder titles
- Editing and cutting within the HTML (the copy is almost always too long)
- Writing final article titles and a draft subject line
- Sending test issues to your internal "newsletter approval" group
- Checking every link
- Printing out a hard copy to do a final proof for typos
- Sharpening the subject line one last time before you publish (yes, do this last; it's key!)
You'll note that a number of the tasks above are not dissimilar to what your Web team does before revising your home page and reposting it.
6. Keep an Idea File for Each Issue
The best time to plan future issues of your newsletter (other than right after sending) is when you're not thinking about your newsletter at all. You may be responding to e-mail, looking for information on the Web, speaking to a colleague on the phone, etc. If a URL on another site sparks an idea, immediately cut and paste it into a "running ideas" file on your hard drive. If it's an e-mail from a potential contributor, do the same. Better yet, put ideas into folders named April '03 or May '03. If you've got a shared drive, your point person will have access to them as well.
If it's a magazine or newspaper article, tear it out and stick it into a paper folder labeled, you guessed it, April, May or June '03.
7. Apply the Newsworthy Test the Day Before Publishing
Finally, apply the newsworthy test. Has something come up that will be of keen interest to your readers? A new regulation, a connection to world events? If so, add a blurb in your CEO or publisher's note to reflect this. Making your newsletter "newsworthy" adds huge credibility.
And if the point is to establish your company or organization as knowledgeable and an industry leader, you're a step closer to a solid ROI for all your efforts.
Debbie Weil is an e-newsletter expert and publisher of WordBiz Report, winner of The Newsletter on Newsletter's 2002 Gold Award for Online Subscription Newsletter. She is the author of the special report Turning Clicks Into Customers, the essential guide to marketing online with killer copywriting & content.
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