It may seem like a minor detail, but your association newsletter is an integral part of your organization. People join your association in part to get the inside scoop on their industry, and the newsletter is how you get this info into their hands. By sending regular updates, industry news and predictions, and engaging story pieces, you keep your members involved and provide them with important information that they may not find anywhere else.
So it may not come as a surprise that there is, in fact, a right way to write an association newsletter. From the initial content brainstorm to the final send-off, your update should be deliberately crafted to deliver useful info in an exciting manner. We’ve compiled this start-to-finish guideline for newsletter creation so you can start yours on the right foot – or, if your newsletter is already up and running, you can compare your process to ensure that you’re sending out the best material possible. Let’s get started!
Step 1: The plan
No marketing ever gets very far without a plan. The overarching guideline is what gives your project momentum and ensures its effectiveness, so think of your end goal right at the beginning. What’s the point of this association newsletter? Are you just keeping your members up to speed on industry happenings, or are you trying to gain renewals? One critical point that will inform all the rest of your newsletter creation will be the format in which you plan to disseminate your information.
If you plan to send your newsletter via email, you want to keep your content short and sweet. No one wants to scroll through a Tolstoy-esque novel in their inbox. If you do plan to have a longer newsletter, your email will just be “teasers” of each article, but you should link back to either a web page devoted to the full newsletter, or a downloadable PDF that your viewer can print off or read at their leisure.
If you’re going the traditional route, there will be other considerations to keep in mind. For instance, how many pages should your newsletter be? How will the page count affect the amount of postage you pay? Would it be worth it to have the copies staple-bound, or just do a folded, pamphlet-style newsletter? These practical details are critical in getting your newsletter where it needs to be, so work these things out beforehand for a streamlined dissemination process. Once the plan is in motion, you can move on to phase 2: the content.
Step 2: Content creation
This step is pretty intuitive: getting down what you actually want to say. It’s actually a little trickier than it seems, and this phase alone has two distinct steps to it: the initial content brainstorm, and the writing.
Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, more likely), you need to have a plan for what you want to say. Now, you could have plenty of things you want to talk about, but the hard truth is that that doesn’t matter – the only thing that matters is what your members want to see from a newsletter.
Think of the reasons your members joined your association. They joined to gain a better knowledge of their field – to get a leg up on their career – to see industry predictions so they can know what’s coming down the pike. This needs to be the focus of your newsletter. Include a number of pieces that will give variety and color to each letter. First, include what’s new and notable in your industry. Let your readers in on what’s happening in the field – but don’t just report the news. Interpret it in light of what it means for your members, and what they can expect in the future. Next, include at least one human interest piece. Interview a notable person within your organization. Get some insight from someone who’s a big player in the field. Adding a human element gives your newsletter a personal touch that keeps your readers engaged.
Once you have topics drawn up that follow these guidelines, you can move on to the next step: the writing.
Writing your newsletter requires some creativity and experience. Have a dedicated copywriter or other staff member with strong writing skills perform all of the writing, to keep the tone and verbiage consistent. Keep paragraphs short and sweet. Your emphasis should be on clarity and readability, so no extended, difficult-to-follow sentences or unusual jargon. Remember that we live in an age where most people scan content rather than read every word. For this reason, your writing should be broken up with short paragraphs, bullet points, numbered points, or block quotes so that even speed-readers will get the gist of what you’re saying and at least take away some high points. When the writing is complete, it can finally be formatted into a more complete package through design.
Step 3: Design
Time to get excited, because this is where things really start coming together! Go back to your initial plan for dissemination. The format of your association newsletter will determine how it should look in a layout, so keep this in mind. If you’re formatting an online newsletter, you have a lot of options for interactive content or having the various articles accessible by a table of contents or menu function. Either way, ensure that your graphic design is professional and eye-catching, without detracting from the article content. For example, avoid using photos that are trite or are blatantly “stock” photos, but don’t get so conceptual that people don’t understand the connection from the visuals to the writing. Again, clarity is key. Your images should always support your content.
If your association newsletter is going out via mail, layout is a little more restricted. You have a certain number of pages to work within, and printing considerations to keep in mind. Thus, perform mock-ups of each page to see exactly how they will look when printed and how they will all fit together.
It’s also worth considering how you order your pieces. Lay out your newsletter so that your “featured” article comes first, and break up longer articles with shorter “candy” articles. Save one of your most noteworthy pieces for the very end. With this strategy, you keep people reading all the way through. The shorter articles keep the content from becoming too dry or tiring, and the ending piece gives a payoff that sends your newsletter off on a high note. And, of course, all of the imagery standards apply to print just the same as they do to digital!
Last but not least, it’s time to get your work into the hands of your audience.
Step 4: Dissemination
Finally! Your masterpiece is complete and you’re ready to share it with your audience. If you’re sending an electronic newsletter, here are a few factors to recognize:
Make sure your association newsletter is mobile-friendly. A lot of people read content on their phones. A lot. Always create a format that is easy to read on a mobile device and won’t cause that kind of frustration that gets someone to navigate away and never come back. And, don't forget about the importance of the subject line. Enable social sharing. A big part of gauging the success of your association newsletter will be seeing how many people engage with it in the social sphere. Ensure that there’s a way for your audience to share the newsletter across a variety of platforms, and you’ll make it painless for them to give feedback and get other people reading.
Have an accompanying marketing campaign. Yes, you read this correctly. You need a marketing campaign... for your marketing campaign. It sounds silly, but it’s true. You need to support your association newsletter with social ads, organic ads, and an email blast to make sure your newsletter is seen by the right audience. People are bombarded by information all day every day, so your newsletter will get lost in the mix if you’re not deliberately getting it in front of viewers. And, make sure you're tracking your campaigns effectively.
As far as mail guidelines go, there are only a couple things we haven’t covered:
Give it a catchy headline. Really this is applicable to all newsletters regardless of format, but it’s particularly critical here. If you don’t have a headline that gets someone to crack open your newsletter and read it, it’s going to wind up in a recycling bin, and you’ve just wasted your time and money.
Craft headlines that are short, sweet, and incredibly punchy. Use emotional, hard-hitting language that appeals to your reader’s interests, and place your headline in a prominent position that is certain to be seen. Don't forget about the subject line, either.
If your marketing looks cheap, it conveys a lack of professionalism. You definitely don’t want this to be the case, especially when you’re trying to show yourself as an expert in your field. For this reason, use high-quality papers and make sure your printing is done cleanly and professionally. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, but you do have to make it look like you did.
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As a professional organization, your newsletter is one of the important perks you offer to members. Your valuable, insider information will help advance their careers and provide them with knowledge and confidence. Take time to truly craft and perfect your association newsletters, so your members know they’re receiving the benefits they need and deserve. This is how you keep members engaged – and renewing their membership year after year.