The key to a successful newsletter is planning. Begin by making a list of what you wish to accomplish with your newsletter. Keep in mind that readers are more likely to be drawn to articles that take their needs into consideration. Readers want information that can help them, not necessarily sell them. By including at least one good informational article, you can sprinkle in information about your own products, services, etc. that will be better received by your audience.
The following are some suggestions for designing a well-organized, attractive newsletter:
• Consult with a graphic designer to develop a masthead and basic layout. Consulting with a graphic designer can be a very wise investment during the planning stage. While it is possible to design a newsletter entirely on your own, keep in mind how many pieces of mail your customers receive each day. A professional, well-designed layout and masthead draws readers in and enables them to immediately connect your name with the purpose of the publication. (Remember, you have about 10 seconds to grab the reader's attention or your newsletter may wind up in the trash.)
One way of finding a good, experienced graphic designer is to ask several reputable printers. Once your initial layout and masthead is created, you can take control of the layout step.
• Determine the size of the newsletter. The standard size for most newsletters is an eight- by 11-inch format, with just four pages or additional pages inserted depending on how much editorial content you want to include. Keep your newsletter to a standard page size to help contain costs.
• Know what you want to say. Before you begin laying out your newsletter, it is important to make a list of stories or items you want to include in this particular issue. Decide how important each story is and allocate space accordingly. Be sure to cover a wide variety of topics, not just self-promoting items. For example, in addition to publicizing your own products, sales promotions and services, you might want to include a story on the latest color or design trends-real news and helpful hints that actually benefit your customers.
As a rule, make certain the topics are helpful, interesting and important to the reader. Think soft sell.
• Develop a creative format. When designing the layout of a newsletter, create a format that will work with a mixture of photographs and copy. Each issue of your newsletter should have the same basic layout to indicate it is part of a series, but should look different enough to show it is a new issue. For example, don't always place the same number of articles on each page or place a visual in the same spot on a page. Choosing a different color paper each time is one way to make the issues easily distinguishable.
• Provide an area for mailing information. If the newsletter is a self-mailer (sent without a cover envelope), don't forget to provide room on the back cover for mailing information: return address, logo, mailing label, "Address Correction Requested," and a stamp or pre-printed postal permit number. Contact a postal representative to be sure you are following the proper guidelines.
• Invite the reader inside. Incorporate a wide variety of photographs, illustrations and other interesting graphics to attract the reader's eye. Use colored boxes to set off sidebars from the main copy and make them attractive. You might want to place a teaser about one of the interior stories on the cover to entice the reader to open the newsletter.
• Don't overwhelm the reader with too much copy. Too much copy can be intimidating to the reader because it makes the pages unattractive and difficult to read. Be sure to provide ample white space between articles to provide a clean, organized look and to clearly show where one article stops and the other begins.
• Allow the reader to respond. Put your address and telephone number in a visible spot that makes it easy for the reader to get in touch with you. You also may include a reply card that the reader fills out and returns. A reply card is an additional expense, but can be beneficial when you are trying to gain feedback on specific topics (i.e. customer or product information, workshop enrollments, etc.).
• Maintain a consistent design for each element. Keep the design aspect of the piece consistent throughout the newsletter. For example, all headlines, subheadings, captions and body copy should have the same design elements and type font on each page. Or, surround all photos and headlines with the same style of border and set off the sidebars. Otherwise, the newsletter will appear disorganized and confuse the reader.
Readability is one of the most important aspects of a newsletter because your purpose is to communicate with the reader.
• Add a second color to generate interest. Although a black and white publication is less expensive than full-color, you can add interest to your newsletter by adding an additional color. Use a second color to set sidebars off from the main copy and make them more attractive. Or, choose an exciting colored paper with a coordinating ink shade.
• Get quotes from several printers. It is essential that you establish a good working relationship with your printer. Once you have the layout in order and stories written, you are ready for printing quotes. (It is a good idea to check with at least three printers as prices can vary considerably.)
Ask your printer to recommend a house stock of paper. Printers buy certain papers in large quantities and keep them in stock for customers. Coated stocks are generally cheaper and reproduce better if you are using a lot of photography. However, some people prefer the look and texture of an uncoated stock.
• Create and maintain a customer database. Try not to waste time and money sending the newsletter to the wrong audience. It is important to develop a mailing list that targets your frequent customers and high potential clients. You'll find you receive much more feedback when you reach the proper audience.
At least once a year, clean up your mailing list by updating it with the proper names and addresses. One way to update your list is to send a reply card with the newsletter asking your customers to give their current information. You also might include an area for customers to add names and addresses of friends, etc. to your mailing list.
A newsletter is a low-key, personal way to stay in touch with your customers. It's easier than ever before to create professional, visually appealing, informative newsletters. In no time at all, you will find yourself combining words, photographs and illustrations into a newsletter that will pique your customer's interest and have them calling you for repeat business.
Newsletters can be great fun to produce and your customers will gain that little bit of extra one-on-one attention you would like to give them.
James H. Allen is corporate sales director for Seabrook Wallcoverings, Inc., Memphis, TN, (800) 238-9152. Seabrook publishes the quarterly Seabrook Journal.