Four Professional Tools for Great E-Mail Newsletters

There’s been some buzz in publishing circles recently about “accidental publishers,” companies that publish content even though that’s not their primary business. Does your company send email newsletters to customers or prospects? If so and that’s not your primary business, you’re an accidental publisher, too.

Taking the analogy one step further, that makes the person who’s primarily responsible for your email newsletter its editor. Even though your official title may be marketing manager, CRM (define) specialist, or owner, if you’re in charge of what goes into the email newsletter you’re an editor, too.

According to “The American Heritage Dictionary,” to “edit” is “to prepare (written material) for publication or presentation, as by correcting, revising, or adapting.” An “editor” is “one who edits, especially as an occupation.”

The editor’s role is two-fold: you must ensure the email newsletter supports business goals while making it engaging to readers. It’s a balance. Present your business messages in an email no one reads and you fail. Develop an email readers love but that doesn’t support your business goals and you still fail.

One way to make your email newsletters work in your role as editor is to borrow the tools publishers use and embrace them, rather than shy away from them. Here are some tips.

Editorial Calendar

Keep a running calendar of topics to be included in your email newsletter. Plan ahead as much as possible. If yours is a business-to-business (B2B) audience, for instance, you might plan to include highlights of the big industry conference that happens each October in your November email newsletter. Your business-to-consumer (B2C) sports email newsletter may cover baseball spring training in March and the football preseason in August.

Editorial Meeting

Once you have general topic ideas, you can get more specific about content for each issue in an editorial meeting. The best editorial meetings are interactive. They start as brainstorming sessions, ending with a list of specific items to be included in the newsletter.

Who should attend the editorial meeting? Anyone who provides content for your email newsletter or who has an interest in its success. This could include people within your company, your creative agency (if you work with one), and outside contributors, such as business partners, freelance writers, and topic advisors. Everyone who’s invited should bring ideas for articles or items with them. Be sure to remind them of the publication’s business goals and provide information about your target audience. Lead by example; come armed with a bevy of great ideas.

Production Schedule

A set production schedule can save lots of time and headaches. If yours is a monthly publication, your schedule might look like this:

  1. 10th of current month: Hold editorial meeting.

  2. 17th of current month: Get final approval on copy.
  3. 24th of current month: Get final approval on copy in design.
  4. 30th of current month: Get legal approval.
  5. 3rd of next month: Send creative and lists to email service provider (ESP).
  6. 9th of next month: ESP sends email newsletter.

You’d start the process over again for the following month’s newsletter. By having roughly the same dates every month, people can get into a groove for when items are due. You’re also more likely to be able to maintain a consistent send date, which may help opens and clicks as people get used to looking for your newsletter around the same day or time.

Ownership

If there’s one thing the best “real” editors feel, it’s ownership over their publications. There’s passion there; their publications are like their children. They care.

One issue many accidental editors deal with is how much ownership they actually have. Is their job just to compile what other people provide? Fixing typos is a no-brainer, but what about issues of tone and voice? What if the content provided doesn’t fit with business goals or isn’t really relevant for your target audience?

The level of ownership you’ll be able to exert will vary from company to company and from person to person. Often, email newsletters with low ownership, where information is gathered from a number of different sources and published as is, aren’t as effective as they could be.

Some have a bulletin-board quality: the pieces are put together almost randomly with no overarching content strategy. These newsletters are often no more than the sum of their parts; in some cases, each part’s effectiveness is even diminished.

Others end up being too directly promotional and not engaging enough. Consider the following two items, either of which may have been submitted by a content partner for a March email newsletter.

Copy item A:

XYZ is the leading manufacturer of free online games. We offer you great games to play, including:

  • Classic titles

  • Sports games
  • Action titles
  • Children’s games

Make the most of your game time with XYZ — check out our newest games now!

Copy item B:

Excited about March Madness? Stage your own online tournaments playing family and friends with Basketball Fever, free online from XYZ.

Even if you don’t have hoop dreams, you’ll love the games we offer:

  • Tetris, the classic

  • Rally Race, for action
  • Match-It! , for children 3 and up

And much more!

Both are factual. Both get the point across about the free gaming Web site. But B is more specific and engaging. It’s better content for an email newsletter. A is just a generic ad.

What if this content partner provided A, the same exact one, month after month? Bor-ring. Much better, for the provider, you, and your readers is to target the message to something of interest (say, basketball in March) and mention specific, different games each month.

What if your content partner doesn’t have the expertise or time to craft a new, engaging item for each newsletter? What if they don’t get the tone and voice, or they don’t understand why the item on the right is more engaging? As an editor, you owe it to yourself, your company, and your readers to try to help.

Offer to have someone at your organization or agency write the copy for them. Sometimes, a partner can provide information on things that are new or especially popular, and you can then write about those items. Sometimes you may do your own research, identify things on their site that would interest your readers and write copy based on that. You still want to get their OK, but by having the copy written in a format that fits with your email newsletter, you do everyone a favor.

Give it a try yourself and let me know how it works!

Until next time,

Jeanne

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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