If you undertook a survey of company newsletters in your city you would likely find three different types: printed, online and email formats. We are in a transitory state with communication in which individuals have very strong opinions about how they wish to consume content. Some prefer the convenience of having mail sent to their email inbox while others have trouble reading on a screen and prefer to hold a tangible newsletter in hand.
While the obvious difference between the types of newsletters is the format in which they are received, there are other less obvious differences you will want to consider when deciding between print vs. email newsletters.
The difference in printed and digital mediums shapes the type of content that each can offer. Printed newsletters are more restrictive, allowing mostly text and images to communicate a message. Digital newsletters, on the other hand, can include text and images, but aren’t limited there. They can also include video, audio and animation.
I will preface this topic by saying that it is debated quite a bit. Debatable points aside, it is safe to say that longer pieces of information are much easier to read in a printed format under a wider variety of conditions. This consideration should come into play with newsletters as you evaluate the type of content that will be included. If the newsletter will be composed of one or two very lengthy articles, it will likely be more readable in a printed format. If you have shorter bits of information, then the screen may be more readable.
Tracking & Analytics
Analytics and the ability to track user engagement has become very important as a gauge of an effort’s success. With printed pieces you are involved in one-way communication, meaning that you mail out a newsletter and it is likely to stop there. Your ability to track the recipients engagement is limited to their response to an included call to action, like a business reply envelope. Because this type of call to action requires the recipient to make a concerted effort at a later date to mail something, you are likely to lose many people at that step. Your ability to analyze user participation is diminished because they must do something for you to track.
With digital newsletters that limitation does not apply. You may very will have specific calls to action that you wish to track, but your ability to gauge interaction is not limited to those. Email and webpage newsletters allow you to track so much information about a user, from their physical location to the type of device they are browsing with. You will know in real-time when someone receives your newsletter and what they did with it. Did they click the links you included to related articles? You can easily see this type of information and more.
Planning & Cost Evaluation
There really is no hard and fast rule to when either type of newsletter should be used, but there are some differentiating factors that you should consider. Of primary concern should be who your audience is and how they prefer to receive information. If your audience is 16-18 year olds, you can pretty easily conclude that they like electronic communications that can be distributed over social media. If your audience is 25-50 year olds, you will have a more difficult time deciding what is most appropriate. If you are unclear on direction, it is always helpful to do a survey of your users to find out their preference.
I worked with an organization whose audience ranged from 21-81. As we were debating switching to an electronic newsletter many people object saying that our “older” recipients just wouldn’t like it because it would be difficult to read. As a measure of user testing we sent the first eNewsletter to our entire demographic and it was surprising to find that the group most engaging with the newsletter (based on analytics) were in their 50s and 60s, while the “younger” group in their twenties were engaging less. The lesson we learned was not to make assumptions about our audience, but rather to ask them how they wanted to receive information.
One of the most important factors to evaluate is the cost involved in different types of newsletters. There are different costs associated with printed and digital pieces. Both types of newsletters will have production & delivery fees. With printed pieces this will be the printing and postage associated with the mailing. Printing costs can vary greatly based on the number of colors you choose to use and the final size of the piece. Postage costs are largely based on the size of your final document and can be lessened somewhat by filing as a non-profit with the postal service.
Digital delivery will include the cost of a broadcast email system. I think that people tend to think email is free–you can just go into Outlook and send the email, right? Technically, you could do that, but if you are sending to lists of 100+ people outside of your organization you run the risk of getting your entire domain marked as a spammer. What this will mean is that none of the emails sent from your domain will be delivered until you are cleared. That has the potential to be a HUGE problem for an organization and can take months to correct. To head off these problems the are broadcast email providers that will assist you in developing and sending mail to large groups. They work very hard to compose and send email in the best way possible to prevent being marked as spam. The best part is that if that were to happen your own email capabilities wouldn’t be affected, nor would you find any delays in service through the provider. In the next unit, we will take a look at a broadcast email provider.
When planning for your newsletter, you will want to first plan a timeline for production and delivery. To do this, you will first need to make a decision as to whether you will have a printed or digital newsletter. If you are sending an eNewsletter your production time will involve time to write and compile the content, and time to compose and test the email. Realistically you should be able to compose, test, and troubleshoot an email in 1-3 days. The amount of time needed for writing will vary based on your contributors.
If you are producing a printed newsletter you should start by deciding what size the newsletter will be and how many pages it will have. You should also begin early with collecting printing quotes. Along with pricing information these quotes will also give you a time allowance that the printer will need for your specific project. This can range anywhere from 1-3 weeks depending on how complex your design will be and the number of other jobs they are working on at the same time. After the printing is complete you will also need to factor in time for the newsletter to be delivered by mail. Local recipients will generally receive mail within a week, but if your audience is spread out nationwide it may take up to two weeks for everyone to receive the newsletter. If you are including time sensitive information you will need to plan accordingly.
Also important to consider is the type of content that you will need to include. The type of articles, image and other media will be unique to your organization and newsletter’s purpose, but you should also consider common elements of newsletters that need to be included.