A Virus Worth Catching

The carnage of failed companies surrounds us; it feels like we’re working on a battlefield. There’s plenty of hand-wringing at companies large and small, and you always hear the same statement: “Cut nonessentials, like marketing.”

How stupid is that? Cut the one part of your company that is actively involved in creating more business?

It’s Time to Do Better Work With Lower Costs

I think I’ve found one of the answers. I’ll share it with you if you come close to your screen, shield it from your coworkers, and promise not to tell anyone. Ready? It’s newsletters that you have other people distribute for you. Here’s how it works at my company…

We were sitting around a big conference table trying to figure out a cost-effective way to communicate with our clients on a regular basis without incurring big costs and everyone’s time. We thought about direct-mail campaigns, but they are costly and time-consuming from inception to results. Everyone would need to agree on strategy, copy, and art direction. Forget it.

Then, after a short brainstorming session, we came up with the big idea: an online newsletter that would rely on third-party content that could be sent weekly to an opt-in list of clients and friends. Click here to see an example.

Here is how you can institute a newsletter where you work:

  1. Get a name for it. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just easy to remember. We chose Insights because we were giving our clients weekly insights into the world of business, technology, and marketing.

  2. Determine the audience. Do you already have a good email list of people who have opted to receive information from your company? Use it. If not, send an email to everyone in your company that says something like:

    [Your company’s name here] is going to send out the first issue of [brilliant, witty name of publication here] shortly. Please take a few minutes and review it, then give us a hand. We’d like you to forward it to friends, family, and colleagues who would either be interested in receiving it or could pass it to the appropriate person in their company. We do not want to spam anyone. This needs to be a personal transaction, for example, “Hi Jim. Check out what our company’s doing. Thought you might enjoy this or could pass it along.”

  3. Send an email to everyone in your company. Even if you have a great email list, you should still send an email to everyone in your company. First, they’ll help spread the word. Second, they’ll know what the marketing folks are up to.

  4. Determine the focus of your newsletter. I work for an Internet strategy and Web development company, so the logical topic headings became:

    Mobile and Wireless Technology — What’s new in the field of wireless?

    Customer Relationship Management — It’s on everyone’s lips.

    Supply Chain Management — Same as above.

    Marketing — What’s happening online or offline.

    Good Business Practices — What are winning companies and people doing?

    Signs of the Times — Just stuff we find interesting.

Now you’ve got the basics. Let’s send out a newsletter.

The first thing people need to see is an engaging subject line. Be descriptive, this lets people immediately decide if they are going to read it, file it, or delete it. Respect your audience. Teasers and cute subject lines only serve to aggravate your group.

Once they open the email, let them know why they are receiving it. It’s a courtesy, and it’s appreciated. Also let them know that they can opt out from the list easily. Most people’s inboxes are inundated with unsolicited garbage; make sure your email gets opened. (Hey, this is beginning to sound like direct marketing!)

We start each newsletter with a section pointing out what’s new this week. It’s a bulleted section highlighting a seminar series, new client acquisitions, and anything else that would be of interest to the audience.

You’ve got your subject line and your introduction, so now it’s time to get to the meat of the matter: the content. There are dozens of great resources out there to help you find the content you’ll need. A short list of the resources I use regularly include:

Find articles that relate to each subject. Then cut and paste the first few lines of the article into your Word document. You’ve got the reader hooked because you’ve chosen a great story. After the two- to three-sentence lead-in, write, “Read the rest of the article,” and include the link to the Web site. Don’t worry about losing them forever once they arrive at the link’s landing page. They’ll still be able to search the rest of your site by hitting the Back button, which will bring them back to the newsletter content.

Once you’ve put together the main body of the issue, include a wrap-up section. Is there any other information that they would find useful? This is a good place to reinforce the main points you discussed in the beginning of the newsletter. (Hey, sounds like the P.S. in a direct-mail letter!)

Next, put a link to your Web site’s home page. Then add the opt-in and opt-out information. Make sure it’s clear and easy to follow.

Oh, a few more items…

  1. Make it worth someone’s time to pass the newsletter around. When people forward our newsletter to at least 10 people and copy me, they are entered into a drawing for a cool prize.

  2. Before you send this to anyone outside the building, send it to five people in your office to bulletproof it. I neglected that one step, and a URL was incorrect. It was not fun. Take the extra hour and have the most anal-retentive pain in the butt proofread your newsletter. You’ll be assured that it works, and you might even make a new friend.
  3. When you cut and paste the Word document into your email, send it to another email address and make sure everything remains formatted correctly. Sometimes bulleting and line breaks get funky.
  4. Send it.

Our results have been tremendous, yet creating the newsletter has taken very little time each week. It has led to business and has led clients to respond, “Great information. Keep it coming.” Nothing is better than that.

If you institute a newsletter like this, please let me know how it works for you.

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