December 11, 2015

The humble newsletter: our guide to producing the best

By

Emily Barnes

Email newsletters can be a powerful tool

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External communication is imperative to a company- its what keeps us in a job, at least. Email newsletters are a great way to share content and a powerful tool for positioning an agency as leaders in their field, giving clients assurance by mapping agency thoughts on their needs, what they’re producing and the work that inspires them; and can be an impressive marketing tactic to showcase agency culture to potential business.

Nevertheless, we've all received a newsletter that we've sent straight to the trash. Why? Because, well…its easy for them to be dull, too long, irrelevant and everything in between.

Apart from a good database of recipients, a slick design and good copywriting, what makes bloody good newsletter content?

We've come up with some nifty guidelines for creating an effective company newsletter, with some helpful advice from a couple of our B2B clients who have a particularly impressive track record for creating some exemplary readable content, if we do say so ourselves.

Valuable content: balancing education and self-promotion

The most obvious start is to make sure, above all else, that your newsletter has value. Like most things, you have to ensure that you're not producing content for the sake of it. Fanclub’s client Emily Maginess, Marketing and Communications Manager at The App Business, explained that the mobile transformation agency ‘Wanted a platform to be able to share not just our own stories, but to give clients access to the knowledge and thinking that we share routinely here.’

Subscribers are going to be bombarded with regurgitated, lazy newsletters, and will just blacklist your offering if its seeping with self-promotion. Whilst you certainly have to weave a bit of narcissism in there (10% is a good rule), the best content will do that work for you, by marking your company as thought leaders and a hub of education and inspiration. Genuinely. For marketing technology agency Techdept, Chief Executive Dan Kirby quite simply produces a newsletter that will ‘give readers good quality content that helps them understand tech’.

It’s sensible to consistently follow a vague structure of a concise spread of original thinking, interesting finds from the industry and beyond, and company news. That way, readers can cherry pick the most interesting parts.

Newsletters should aim to be a voice in a wider conversation, and be generous with their commentary and insight. Think about how you communicate the passion and breadth of thinking that goes into your work; tell the world about how the things you’ve seen, heard or places you’ve been have influenced what you produce or will produce in the future.

Make it personal with ear (and eye) candy

You want people to know who you are and what you're about, beyond the industry realms. What are you watching or listening to? Getting the team to recommend music, podcasts and TV shows, for example, or share personal interests is a great place to start to share your enthusiasm both in and out of the office. You don’t have to stick to company and industry news and thoughts for value; positioning individuals in a wider conversation is simply more engaging. ‘Our strategists are just as likely to talk about conditions and experiences in prisons improving as discussing mobile trends’ adds Emily at The App Business.

That said, keep it succinct

The difference between a newsletter and a blog is that the newsletter offers a quick read through of inspiration without getting too bogged down with content. Link away to your favourite pieces, but leave the in-depth stuff to the blog and keep content short and sweet. Think commentary rather than analysis.

The best newsletters keep content simple but address it very well. Again, a concise structure, headlines an’ all, as well as great copywriting is important in nailing this smart simplicity.

Consistency and process

Bit of a no-brainer, but as with any communication, consistency is key to success and will reap the most rewards.

It’s useful to employ the same tools, individuals and processes for curating your newsletter, or a simple system for delegating who will be.

For The App Business, their #TABUpdates issues are curated by strategists, engineers, designers and agile coaches, who work to an effective timeframe. ‘We picked a tool called Curated which allows us to collaborate in house, and work fluid in a 10 day sprint. For the first 5 days we are swapping ideas, thoughts and links, and the following week we’re polishing and crafting. Keeping it narrow in those timescales has kept the content fresh and current’, says Emily.

Get everyone to chip in with ideas for content; whether a completely organic suggestion or request to contribute to a topic or thinking hotspot. Don’t get preoccupied with thinking too long-term: ask people what they’re interested in right now, to keep it timely.

Shareability: the office and beyond

More than their marketing abilities, newsletters are a nice method of internal engagement that can inspire and motivate the team. Company news and goings-on can make your team feel valued and part of the end product, as well as inspiring each other with musings from a variety of places, producing a final piece of work that acts as a feel-good resource.

So, there we have it: Fanclub’s suggestions for newsletters that will get people’s ears pricked just enough to please a whole host of the most time-conscious subscribers.

We’ll leave you with the following thought from Techdept’s Dan Kirby: ‘Newsletters should have good content that is genuinely useful to the person receiving it. NOONE WANTS TO READ PR PUFFERY.’

Never a truer word said.