Is your newsletter just a waste of your time and money?

So many resources go into your publication that you’d better be doing it right, or your target audience will discard your investment for you. Here are five essentials for success.

Newsletters are junk mail.

Newsletters are items we are quick to pitch or delete. Their value may be that fleeting sense of satisfaction we feel as the trash hits the bin. We’ve eliminated a nuisance, cleared away clutter, crossed off a “to do.”

Why, then, do so many organizations still produce newsletters?

In the past month, at home and at work, I’ve received newsletters from:

alumni associations; community organizations; churches; charitable causes; educators, parent-teacher organizations, schools, and school districts; employers; entertainers and venues; health care and insurance providers; health clubs; retailers and restaurants; service providers like financial advisors, real estate brokers, consultants and home builders; and more.

If not for their intrusion in my inbox, many of these organizations would not connect with me unless I made the effort—and I probably wouldn’t. So, presumably they’ve weighed the options and landed on a newsletter as the best way to reach me.

If your organization has reached the same conclusion, and you’re cranking out newsletters—internal or external, digital or print, frequent or occasional—you’re making an investment. Newsletters cost time and money.

You don’t want your investment tossed into the trash; you want people to read your newsletter.

So, invest yourself in learning these five lessons:

Lesson 1: If the reader isn’t interested, your message doesn’t stand a chance.

Your message might be vitally important to your organization and its leaders, but that doesn’t mean anyone else will pay attention. The only content that will work for your organization is content that works for your reader. To improve the likelihood that readers will take notice—and maybe even take action—your newsletter must:

  • Answer “what’s in it for me?”
  • Connect your facts, ideas and information to human beings

Lesson 2: Design for those who skim; prepare for those who might actually read.

We skim what interests us. We read what matters to us. We ignore everything else. So, when designing your newsletter’s container and writing the content, grab the skimmer’s eye with:

  • Short stories and short line lengths
  • Callouts, headings and visual cues
  • Photos of real human beings
  • Ample white space

For those who do get excited about your message, provide opportunities to dig deeper or take action: a contact name, a place to learn more, a way to get involved.

Lesson 3: Publish often enough to be timely, but not so much to be a pest.

A consistent schedule is a must for those who prepare a newsletter and for those who receive it. Publishing too often creates a burden; doing so too seldom creates a vacuum. Good timing makes it likelier that your newsletter will meet with welcome. To determine the right frequency, consider:

  • What do you want to say?
  • When do readers need to know it?
  • How much can/will readers digest at once?

Lesson 4: Just because you send it doesn’t mean they’ll get it.

Nail all these decisions, and your newsletter stands a better chance of getting noticed. Even perfect execution won’t guarantee readership—or understanding or agreement or action.

Never depend on a newsletter as your sole means of communicating important messages, and never assume that it’s working. Back it up with other channels where you can reiterate and reinforce need-to-know information. Your options might include additional mailings, face-to-face discussion, online content, digital or physical signage, or any other channel your communication culture supports.

Lesson 5: Make each issue better than the last.

Building a feedback loop into each edition gives you a way to measure the impact of your communication. Include a response card, survey question, call for ideas, or even a way to say, “I learned about this in the newsletter.”

At every opportunity, notice who responds, how many respond, how they respond, how quickly they respond, and the substance of their responses. Use what you learn to adapt and improve your newsletter-and strengthen your business.

Newsletters cost time and money to plan, write, design, produce, distribute and sustain. Don’t waste that investment. Give your business the benefit of a newsletter that people will read.

Beth Nyland is a communicator, leader, advisor, teacher and founder of Spencer Grace, helping people improve their communications. Learn more about her work and her ideas at, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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