Strategic communication can encompass so much. In this brief tip sheet we focus specifically on e-newsletters. However, they can be helpful for any strategic communication.
1. Start with a creative brief
A creative brief clarifies what you’re going to develop and why. Even if you think everyone’s already clear about what you’re creating and why, write it down – and refer back to make sure you are staying true to your intent. Decide the sequence of topics in a series so they build on future ones.
Example: If your organization is writing a monthly e-newsletter, ask everyone involved to comment on a creative brief, plan out the year, and keep that creative brief handy as the letters are crafted and edited. If the intent doesn’t stay crystal clear to you, it won’t to your readers.
Key Items in a Creative Brief
- overall aim of the communication
- intended users
- desired action(s) for users
- tone/ look/ feel of the communication.
The brief may also include other items such as key promise to users and obstacles they might face.
2. Anticipate your readers’ time constraints
People are overloaded with information so keep your communication short and the size of the average computer screen. The subject line should be the most important information you want to convey; something that makes the reader want to open your email. Write main points first, so readers do not have to scroll down to get what you want them to learn. Add links to additional information at the end of your content.
Example: If you have a longer topic to write about, create a blog post and link to it in your e-newsletter. Videos should also be a link and not included in an e-newsletter.
3. Give them something
It’s tempting to try to persuade people and sell things to them – especially when we feel passionate about what we are selling! But, people tire of that and may unsubscribe permanently. They are most drawn to communications that give them something they want. What would entice your clients to keep receiving your communications over time? What would be truly useful and/or inspiring for them? Balance that with messages you want to send or things you want to sell.
Example: If your organization has helpful resources, make them available to people virtually – even if just a snippet of something they’d enjoy, use, or pass on. End your email with a thought-provoking question, quote or action item.
4. Make it easy
We get so much to read each and every day, no one will complain if you make your communications easy to digest. Follow a few basic Plain Language guidelines, and check for readability.
Example: As you draft e-news, follow the guidelines in the box. Ask two people to review it and mark out anything they feel can be simplified further.
Five Plain Language Guidelines
- Write content the way you would say it.
- Keep sentences short; divide longer sentences.
- Be concise; go back and remove unnecessary words and phrases.
- Speak in active voice versus passive voice (ex: the Board will present the strategic plan vs. the strategic plan will be presented by the Board).
- Share with one other person to read for understanding before sending out
5. Time it right
There’s a lot to consider on the topic of timing! On one level, think about when the focus of each communication could best lead the user to take an action. For example, if there is a deadline for an application, send the communication so that it is received in plenty time for them to decide and complete the application – but not so far in advance that they might set it aside. Finally, think about when you can send a communication ahead of other, similar communications.
Example: If your organization is writing a newsletter to solicit end-of-year funds, best to get it out well before the deluge of solicitations hits them late December. You can send a very short reminder email closer to the date that refers to the previous email.
6. Test it out
Usability tests can sound quite complicated and costly, but they need not be. Even if you have one person use it, you can gain valuable feedback on its usability. Make little tweaks based on what you discover.
Example: If you are sending e-news with hotlinks send it to a few people and (if possible) watch what they do with it. Do they click? If so, where do they go? What do they do next? Is that what you intended?
Once you get going with your e-newsletters, you can keep an eye on what percentage of people are opening it, when they open it, and what they click on. You always have opportunities to continually improve the effectiveness of your emails.
Which tip is especially helpful in your work? What new tip can you add?
Valerie Uccellani (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Rachel Nicolosi (email@example.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about strategic communication.