Author, advertising and
publishing consultant, former
editor of Chicago and other
magazines, former creative
director of Campbell-Ewald and
other advertising agencies. For
more information, click here. Or
see Who's Who in America or
Consulting editor, historian, poet
and author of several books. For
more information, click here or
BLOGS and GLOBS: I have
been writing a blog since 1966,
only I didn't know it. In those
days, it came out in the form of a
newsletter on paper. Remember
paper? It never got lost in
cyberspace, although if it got wet
enough blog turned into glob. I
called it The Uncommentator,
and tried to make it amusing. To
read some of my favorites, see
Recent Books by the Frisbies.
NEWSLETTERS 101: TO BE OR ENTROPY
Newsletters are harder to do right than is generally realized. I was reminded of this when I was invited to address a meeting of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (C.A.S.E.). For an audience of college publicists and fund raisers, my assigned topic was: "GNP Gross Newsletter Proliferation."
I said the reason there are so many newsletters is that nearly every institution or business can do itself a lot of good by keeping in touch regularly with its universe of alumni, contributors, distributors, sales representatives, customers or other influentials. A publication requires a community to exist; it also creates a community. Some executive perceives this potential at least dimly and says, "Let's launch a newsletter."
The trouble is that without professional help (me, for example) almost all of the copies seem to disappear into a black hole. If a reader chances to be heard from, he turns out to be an elderly retiree who didn't have a lot to do and happened to have the newsletter with him in a doctor's waiting room where the magazines were all two years old.
Eventually, somebody perhaps the chairman or the president asks, "Why don't we get any response to our newsletter?" All the person responsible can do then is risk telling the truth that their publication is boring or sit there and squirm.
* First Law of Squirmodynamics: Any organization tends to find equilibrium by filling up its newsletter with what it wants to say rather than items its audience wants to read.
A new newsletter usually generates enthusiasm within the organization. Various departments fall over each other furnishing news, perhaps more than there's room for. This phase lasts approximately three issues. By then, everyone has already contributed the best material available. People whose main duties lie in other areas find gathering news for the newsletter an increasing burden. The moment of crisis can be identified when colleagues start avoiding you at deadline time and try to look like someone else by changing their hair styles or shaving off their beards.
* Second Law of Squirmodynamics: Cooperation with a newsletter editor diminishes geometrically in proportion to the editor's ability to apply heat to the non-cooperators. Personally, I'm fond of the Second Law. More than once, it has brought me new business when a desperate client looked for outside help to take over the problem and avoid the embarrassment of falling farther and farther behind the announced publishing schedule. However, it's much better if I can be involved in the project from the beginning, helping design the newsletter concept, line up the information sources, set the tone and get it pointed toward the stars.
The time to spend the money is upfront: on a good name, a high quality design and a viable concept. When this work is properly done, the cost of individual issues can be kept moderate.
* Third Law of Squirmodynamics: Zero input equals zero results. A newsletter edited to serve the interests of the readers can compete successfully for their time against the publications they pay money for. Editors often think they have to generate all the copy in a newsletter. Not so. One of the services a newsletter can provide is quoting, summarizing and analyzing articles its readers may have missed in a broad spectrum of other publications. When the sponsor's messages are slipped in among items of compelling interest, they get read.
The college publicists attending the C.A.S.E. meeting seemed to enjoy my story of one newsletter I produced for more than 20 years through two or three changes of client ownership and three or four changes of management. New management anywhere has a tendency to assume that the old management sat around wearing green eye shades, spitting on the stove and waiting for competitors to fall over the edge of the flat earth. What saved the newsletter each time it came up for review was the flow of feedback from customers who read it and often commented on the contents.
I launched a newsletter for a subsidiary of Capital Cities that was seeking cable television franchises in the Chicago suburbs. I named it OFFICIAL CHANNELS: The cablevision newsletter for public officials and interested citizens of Illinois. It worked. Officials read it. We saw them carrying it to meetings. We did in fact get some franchises. A national trade publication, Cable Marketing, noted that Official Channels had "genuine credibility" because it reported real news.
In words of great wisdom, Cable Marketing said a successful newsletter requires a professional editor with a background as a reporter plus a management that can "resist the temptation to turn the newsletter into a frothy puff piece...Nothing will destroy its effectiveness faster than the appearance that it's nothing more than an ad for the system that produces it."
You'd think I told them to write that myself. As a matter of fact, I did.