Today we’ll look at a different type of industry’s newsletter program. In fact, not an industry at all, but a commonwealth government. Up for critique is Techlines, a communications program for the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Governor’s Office of Technology. The goal for Kentucky’s Public Information Officer, Scott, is to keep other government departments informed about how they use technology. His monthly newsletter has been a low-budget, one-man act for quite a while. But Kentucky just updated its Web site, Kentucky.gov. Scott’s using this critique to help update his newsletter in accordance with the new site.
Techlines ranks 18 (see the scoring criteria), indicating room for improvement. Scott’s newsletter is well received. Subscribers include government organizations outside the state, media outlets that cover government, Kentucky businesses, members of the public sector as well as many state employees. Later this month, Scott will receive an award from Kentucky’s Association of Government Communicators for Techlines (he thinks the category may be effective yet "cheap" marketing!). Kudos, Scott. You’re doing something right here!
Now, let’s talk about how to make it better.
Strategy: Four Stars
From day one, Scott’s strategy for Techlines was simple: The technology office’s CIO wanted to convey to all other agencies how technology was used and to foster communication between the separate groups of technologists within government offices. Scott seems to be doing a good job here, so I gave him four stars. Each newsletter has four to six headlines about the Commonwealth’s technology. They’re linked to micropages containing the full stories. Scott creates extra value by adding stories that focus on technology and government on the national level.
List Segmentation: Two Stars
Because he’s a one-man show, Scott hasn’t been able to put effort into list segmentation. In the future, as Techlines is promoted via the new state Web site, it may be important to capture audience segment information (state agency/employee, Kentucky business, Kentucky resident, media, or other) so Scott can start versioning his newsletter. This will be effective when, for instance, there’s a story that’s important for state employees, but not for the media or public to read.
Content and Audience: Three Stars
Scott seems to have interesting articles, issue after issue, covering a variety of topics that appeal to each of his audience segments. September’s issue offered an update on state employees’ new email extensions, information on how technology helps traffic flow on Kentucky roads, recent awards, and work practice initiatives his office is taking. All in all, a nice blend.
Permission and Privacy: Four Stars
Metrics: Two Stars
As with many other newsletter publishers, metrics fall to the bottom of Scott’s priority list. The state can’t afford a fancy tool, and the crunch of getting the monthly issue out leaves him with little time to view the results available through the rudimentary tools he does have. Bear in mind even the simplest measurements can provide insight into what draws readers into your newsletter. Scott indicates he’s moving this up the priority list, especially as the newsletter will get more attention in the future.
Look and Feel: Three Stars
Due to the short execution time (I’m beginning to think lack of time is the number one saboteur of good newsletters!), Techlines layout suffers a bit. Scott and I discussed creating shorter, punchier headlines and a short synopsis for each story. This draws readers in and engages them in a full reading experience. I also suggested he move national headlines to a side column, or perhaps reduce the number of national stories he runs.
As I didn’t have the opportunity to critique more newsletters individually, in December I’ll do a collective review and cite good and maybe not-so-good examples. There are several best practices many publishers don’t yet implement. We’ll tackle these next month, too.
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Kathleen Goodwin is the former CEO of IMN (formerly iMakeNews), specializing in customer acquisition and retention through permission-based e-newsletters. For nine years, she was vice president of marketing for Ziff-Davis' publishing division, where she oversaw the marketing of all print publications and their early online siblings. She also serves as an advisor to early-stage companies and has been responsible for several successful new-business launches.
March 19, 2014