A couple of months ago, I was speaking with an employee who works for a large corporation that shall remain nameless. She was looking for someone willing to take over writing the company’s internal newsletter. “It’s really boring,” she told me. Apparently, the latest issue focused on telling employees where they should be parking their cars. “I really believe,” I began, “that with the right approach, pretty much any topic can be made to be interesting.” Silence. When she spoke again, she said, “They tried humour. It didn’t work.”
Newsletters, particularly internal company newsletters, particularly in large corporations, can be very challenging. Their goal is to inform employees of rules, infractions, products, promotions, you name it. Imagine if those topics were people … sitting with you … in the lunchroom. Life of the party? Not quite. Still, it’s vital that the author(s) find ways to make the newsletter engaging, interesting and, dare I say, fun. It’s an idea that’s not often addressed, but the newsletter, whether directed to customers or employees, is one of the keys to high engagement and morale.
So, in an effort to help, I decided to ask a seasoned newsletter-writer for his tips. Tod Stewart has been a writer and publisher for decades. He dabbles in design, publication development and any other troubleshooting his clients might require.
How do you decide what stories should be included in each newsletter?
This depends on the nature of the newsletter. If I’m working for an external client, they might have some specific stories or topics they’d like to have addressed. If I’m working on an internal newsletter, I try to have a balance of business news stories and employee interest stories. I’ve found that, for the most part (and depending on the company), employees don’t really want to read about work. They often like to hear about what people are doing outside of work, or read about things they have an interest in. So, the challenge is making it interesting while keeping it a business publication.
How do you decide the order of stories?
If it bleeds, it leads! Seriously though, I actually choose the story that has the most eye-catching visual accompaniment. If there’s a good human interest story with a photo of people (preferably three people), I’ll run that on the front page. Little snippets that are sort of common to every issue usually go on the back. Placement of the rest of the stories is generally based on length and accompanying visuals. I try as best I can not to have large swaths of text-only. I always prefer a bunch of short stories over a couple biggies.
How do you determine how often a newsletter should be published?
Mostly by how much material is available. You can either publish when you have something to publish, or come up with a hopefully reasonable recurring schedule. Obviously, if you’re selling a paid subscription, your subscribers will expect to receive it on a regular basis.
What’s the most frustrating part of the process?
Probably asking the client to proof the publication. They say it’s good; it gets printed, and then they call you saying there are typos. Make sure the client signs off on a proof! And be very clear what you mean when you say “proof”. Explain that this means reading the document cover to cover.
What do you enjoy most about writing newsletters?
I’m typically involved in the whole shebang, including writing, researching, editing, design, layout, graphic and photo element treatment, print coordination, etc. I find the whole process very gratifying because it utilizes all my creativity. But, if I were to stick to writing, I’d say newsletters allow me to address a number of different topics, employ different styles and write shorter, more concise pieces.
Tips for other newsletter writers?
Depending on who you’re writing for, the sensitivity of the material, and who you are quoting, you might want to play it safe and run the final edits past those you are talking about or quoting in the story. In many cases, to speed things up, I put words in people’s mouths, then just have them approve the quote I made up. For God’s sake, hire a proofreader. If it’s an external newsletter, ensure you are clear with the client that you are NOT going to proof it, either the client can, or you can hire one and build that service into the final costs.
Over to you – what tips can you offer from your own experience?