So no one is reading your customer newsletter? Join the club. Katharine Paine polled her clients a few years back, only to learn that few remembered the newsletter she so faithfully mailed each quarter. Paine is CEO of the Delahaye Group, in Portsmouth, N.H., which, ironically, tracks the effectiveness of others' PR.

After taking a hard look at the editorial content and design of her newsletter, "The Gauge," Paine concluded that she came up short on both counts. Her solution: keep most of the writing in-house but hire a free-lancer as editor and art director. She chose Bill Paarlberg, a former magazine publisher with strong design skills, from Kittery, Maine. "He keeps the newsletter from being too self-serving," she says. Paarlberg observes: "With most newsletters, the company doesn't have the enthusiasm or time to make it good. What's difficult is saying something memorable -- not rehashed."

Paine and Paarlberg redesigned "The Gauge" to play up one theme per issue, such as setting a marketing budget. "We spend a lot of time dovetailing the stories," explains Paarlberg. "We'll sub in stories up to the last minute."

The recharged "Gauge" is now Paine's best source of business. Most of the 1,500 copies go to customers and prospects for free, but 10 are paid subscriptions.

Paarlberg's advice for newsletter editors? "Have something to say, in as few words as possible. Chop the copy in half and then in half again." He draws design inspiration from USA Today and old issues of Spy magazine. Paarlberg is partial to 1940s-style clip-art graphics on the lighthearted side -- "the cheesier the better, but I don't always get away with it."

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Help for the Newsletter Blues

To improve the look of your newsletter, turn to these publications:

"Before & After" (916-784-3880; $36 for six issues). Any publication with the subtitle "How to Design Cool Stuff" deserves a look. "It's by far the most informative reference for graphics on the computer," says Paarlberg. Topics covered by the 16-page glossy newsletter include how to "decongest" a newsletter; making the most of black and white; how to borrow from winning ads; and how to design a low-budget flier.

"Step-by-Step Electronic Design" (800-255-8800; $48 for 12 issues). This resource is also sensitive to penny-pinching. A June 1993 story details how a designer of a university brochure used elegant type, recycled paper, and old engravings to meet a tight budget. The 16-page newsletter ends with a roundup of resources.

How (800-333-1115; $49 for six issues). The journal is for graphic artists, but several issues, such as the annual "self-promotion contest" number (September/October 1993), show how to make a statement with business cards, press releases, and more.

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