Nothing focuses the mind like starvation, and that’s exactly what happened in a marcom department where I once worked. For a variety of reasons, the business was failing, and we were slowly starved of resources via layoffs. About halfway through this agonizing decline, we had to come up with a way to continue to produce a monthly company newsletter with almost no staff. The techniques we developed in desperation can help you produce a newsletter efficiently, whether your company is new, mature and awash in cash, or slowly going down the drain.
Step 1: Accept Your Circumstances and Set a Realistic Goal
Healthy companies with resources generally write their newsletters from scratch. They have the luxury of a dedicated editor and writers, brainstorming sessions, and post mortems (discussions of what got a response in the previous issue). Ideally these days the newsletter is online and structured so you know exactly how many readers clicked on which stories, and what offers get a response.
Our desperation goal was to write as little as possible as quickly as possible in less than one day, if possible, but still keep our current customers abreast of what was going on and get leads. (In marketing speak, a lead is a prospective customer for a product whom you can identify and market to and hopefully sell to successfully.)
We quickly realized that to do this we would have to depend on pieces that the company was still producing regularly in our department and elsewhere. We also decided to drive traffic to our website where we could track increased traffic to targeted pages on days when the newsletter went out. When we felt a piece was a possible lead generator, we would force readers to register to download it. If they were customers or prospects who had previously registered, they could simply identify themselves with a username and password.
Step 2: Do a Company-Wide Inventory
We next systematically went through the company’s departments to decide whom to contact and to inventory everything that was being produced. Here is a sample of the list we came up with:
- Marketing – success stories, white papers (thought-leader pieces), brochures
- PR – press releases, article placement, interviews
- Events – events we were sponsoring or trade shows attending, speaker engagements at conferences, panel discussions we were participating in
- Tech Writing – manuals, how-to guides
- Customer Service – application papers (solution-focused), debugging guides, transitional pieces
- Training – courses available, especially new ones and ones in new formats (online as opposed to classroom)
- Sales – references, successful request for proposals, promotions, co-marketing pieces
- Web Team – new features and improvements to the website
This kind of inventory and tracking should be done systematically by any company that produces a newsletter. Yes, you can brainstorm and write from scratch, but an inventory can help you make sure that you do not overlook anything another department is producing that your customers would find valuable or your prospects interesting.
Step 3: Set up Categories and Format
Looking at our situation, we decided to do a barebones newsletter with three sections:
- Lead story – Would consist of a headline, two paragraphs, and a link to the website. The headline would also help us write a catchy subject line for the email announcing the newest issue. We found that people vied for this valuable placement, and we never had problems filling the space or getting quick cooperation in producing it.
- Business section – Would contain a maximum of three one-paragraph summary stories with website links for more information that would cover promotions, important events, success stories, new brochures, and basically anything that was not obviously a technical piece. We were still regularly writing success stories, so we were confident we could fill this section.
- Technical section – Since we were sure that our resellers would also read this section, we decided to include white papers they might find valuable here. Our saviors were in the technical support group where they were regularly writing technical papers about making the best use of the company’s products and also notes about technical problems and transition guides for moving from older to newer technology. We would include three pieces per month, each summarized in its own paragraph.
After putting this plan together, we were confident that the format was right and that we had enough material to do one informative newsletter per month with minimal effort.
Although I certainly don’t advocate working under such conditions, the lessons our constraints taught us were valuable in our next jobs at more prosperous companies:
- Find out what sources you can draw on with an inventory of the entire company
- Make sure you cover all your audiences (in our case, business and technical)
- Write as little as possible and point the reader to more information, forcing them to register or identify themselves for particularly important or enticing pieces to generate leads and drive visitors to the company website