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Versatility Makes This PR Media Channel
A Potent and Powerful Marketing Tool

newsletters are the perfect solution for customer communications PRSA Tampa Bay newsletter is published as a PDF. first digital photograph uploaded to Compuserve

by John Siebenthaler

update: As publishers like Platforming Books perfect the technology and the requirements for digital publishing solutions, expect a more robust solution to cross platform challenges; desktop, reader, tablet, and analog are all covered.

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asmp images was inspired by the adac newsletters analog to digital - an early adopter

In the late ’80’s, desktop publishing was a distinctive new technology in its infancy. The primitive hardware and limited software were hugely expensive, but compared to X-ACTO blades, rubber cement and paste-up boards the writing on the wall couldn’t have been clearer.

I launched the American Society of Magazine Photographers (ASMP) Images PR project (above) to get my nose under the digital tent. The bi-monthly effort ran for a couple of years, successfully connecting Central Florida ASMP member commercial photographers with their counterparts in other regional professional creative groups like AAF and AIGA.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Tampa Bay chapter newsletter was created, produced, and distributed as a fully featured and optimized magazine style PDF publication to build the chapter brand among members and the public.

Siebenthaler Creative provides a variety of strategic communication solutions

Modern Relationship Workhorse

If you’ve been searching for an all-purpose PR, CRM, B2B or B2C marketing tool, today’s modern newsletter offers the ideal combination of interactive performance and function that’s perfect for snagging the attention of an increasingly distracted audience.

Between smartphones, e-readers, PCs, tablets, and even traditional mainstays such as print and television, consumers are getting content from more sources than ever before.

Filling the gap between magazines and post cards, newsletters have become a staple of internal communications departments, outbound and inbound marketing, and PR campaigns. They’re extremely well suited for breaking through web clutter with a targeted message of engagement that can capitalize on a variety of rich media content to further their impact.

A bonus is that when properly constructed, your newsletter packs a valuable SEM/SEO wallop that’s both elegant and efficient – Google love doesn’t get any better!

The difference between a commercially successful newsletter and what we typically see in our email inbox as a result of an online signup encounter is considerable, depending on how much (or how little) creative and technical ability is brought to bear.

A good first step in determining how to shepard the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is to imagine your own effort displayed at Barnes & Noble while wondering if anyone would buy it based on visual appeal. Lets take a look at the current state of newsletter physiology.

5 Essentials of Interactive Newsletter Publishing

This two color version also used a colored offset paper stock for more interest.

This 2-color, four page B2B direct mail piece was typical of the genre for years and filled an important slot in the marketing plan.

It’s only been a few years since a newsletter meant a lone 11"x17" sheet of Carnival 60# offset, folded once to yield four, one or two-color pages just like this entirely analog B2B version (right). The first digital publishing software – for many, Microsoft Word (copy) and Aldus Pagemaker (layout) – would revolutionize every aspect of marketing.

Format options now include an amazing array of publishing solutions: email, HTML, PDFs, eBooks, ePubs, digital and print are all part of a well equipped communications toolbox. Chances are good you’ll want to engage more than one (repurpose) for comprehensive coverage.

Before deciding on a specific look my preference is to first establish a publishing goal based on audience and use, match that up against the appropriate format, and then design to the platform.

Organizations with periodic member news and events to communicate are usually better suited to a PDF, while manufacturers who roll out new products monthly might best benefit from an HTML email. Plain email supports links and problematic attachments but not embedding; eBooks are more paperback than magazine: simple art at best. Tablet only? Think ePub. Use my chart to help make your decision.

not all newsletter formats offer the same advantages
clik to enlarge

1) Document Length: If It’s Too Long, Turn the Page

The low bandwidth overhead combined with complex graphic display of HTML for eBlast distribution is a big part of its popularity. That said, a major drawback when used for newsletters longer than, say, one page is that long documents are awkard to scroll through, which tends to make them difficult to read and thus easy to ignore. Build is usually in Dreamweaver, but can be done in InDesign, or hand coded.

For a magazine style layout, PDF is a great choice. The latest version of Creative Suite really opens up the ability to incorporate complex design opportunities like streaming content while retaining a look and feel that’s faithful to traditional publishing. Multiple applications support PDF construction, including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

E-books and ePubs are device dependent (readers and tablets) with strict production requirements. Digital (as an InDesign formated document) is most commonly an in-browser Flash adaptation that preserves a pseudo print-like environment wrapped in an experiential application.

Your workflow will depend on what format is used for publishing. I use InDesign and Dreamweaver accordingly, supported mainly by Photoshop and Illustrator, with a smattering of Fireworks. And Word? Used on occasion for copy, but these days it’s a hindrance.

2) Content: Mix And Match — Copy, Art, Video, Audio

What the modern newsletter is capable of displaying ranges from copy only to exotic combinations of interactive components, depending on the format and viewing platform. Besides links and email tabs, content can also include hi-def streamed video, animation, and touch interactivity on tablets and smart phones. And when it comes to engagement, nothing succeeds like well chosen photos and video.

Dynamic forms are an increasingly popular and highly useful component of the contemporary newsletter. SEM metadata like titles, keywords and descriptions when properly manipulated can make a big diffference in marketing reach.

3) Design: Style And – Not Or – Substance

No matter how important and well written, without a basic design component it’s likely your newsletter will struggle for engagement as consumers of media consistently demonstrate a preference for style.

Design failure is often the result of a rambunctious use of odd colors for type and backgrounds, unusual effects for artwork, layouts constructed entirely in tables, or the unfortunate selection of inappropriate typefaces. If you think red on black is a dramatic use of creative license, it will come as a shock when no one reads your text set in 9-point type.

When in doubt, leave it out - there’s never a good reason to use Comic Sans. Unadorned Times (Regular) may not jump off the page but it won’t scare anyone either. Resist the urge to style if you can’t visualize how that bright orange headline reads against a lavender color field.

4) Platform: First, Know Your Audience

Platforms available for experiencing content now extend well beyond PCs. Mobile devices like smart phones and tablets, and eReaders like Kindle, have opened huge new opportunities for published content to gain an audience, especially when distributed through as epubs through sites like Amazon and iTunes.

Publishing to mobile depends on the target platform. Phones are at a disadvantage when reading complex layouts at scaled down sizes, although SMS could be a valuable newsletter marketing component. Tablets are ideal for serving a variety of formats.

5) Delivery: Push Once, Pull Forever

When newsletters were published only as print, distribution consisted of stamped mail, POS, and event handouts. Now delivery is fulfilled using subscribed outbound (email) and inbound (SEM) to a global marketplace. That’s a powerful incentive to make maximum use of your available resources, and that includes making the most of SEO opportunities within the publication.

No matter how you get your own copy - by mail, Google search, or list delivery - today’s newsletter has not only survived the devaluation of traditional print, but is actually thriving thanks to the unique and customizeable qualities of this exceptional media channel.

See more content and newsletter design here and on my behance site.

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