November 14, 2015
That “old-fashioned” newsletter is still an important tool in your communications arsenal.
The value of a newsletter is four-fold:
- It permits a school district to communicate about multiple subjects at one time.
- It provides flexibility in distribution (digital and print), enabling a broader reach. Those without access to a computer and the Internet, such as some senior citizens, still have access to information in print form.
- The advent of multiple platforms on the Internet, and the increasing deluge of junk mail, has created “information clutter.” With regular publication, a newsletter provides an opportunity to consistently reinforce key messages.
- Newsletters provide an opportunity to reinforce your brand through consistent messaging. Featuring your brand, for example, “Striving for excellence,” at the bottom of each page drives the message home.
There is also great flexibility in newsletter format and production. Some newsletters are one page, but are issued frequently, usually weekly or monthly. Other newsletters are four pages or more, but are issued quarterly.
The choice depends on how a newsletter fits into an overall communications program. If it is only one of a few communications tools utilized, more frequent publication is more important to ensure that targeted audiences receive news on a timely basis. If it is one of many communications vehicles, it can be issued less frequently, and be used more to reinforce messaging.
Whatever format is selected, it is vital that the newsletter be issued consistently, on a regular schedule.
Effective newsletters respond to a communications need. They target specific audiences, whether students, parents, employees, the media, government entities and officials, or the general public. When planning a newsletter, the following questions should be addressed:
- How will a newsletter benefit the school district? There are many reasons to produce a newsletter. Some use newsletters to create good will, strengthen relationships, or influence opinion. Others want to communicate information they believe their publics should know. Some use newsletters to manage issues and supplement discussion on social media. The purpose should be reflected in the content.
- What does the school district want to accomplish with the newsletter? Newsletters can create a variety of perceptions through content, layout, and design. A brightly colored newsletter, with catchy headlines and enticing graphics sends a message that is much different from a more traditional, black and white newsletter. It is important to decide early on how you want the district to be perceived and then ensure your newsletter reflects that.
- How will the district ensure that the newsletter is meeting both internal (school district) and external (audience) needs? Never assume your newsletter is meeting everyone’s needs. It is important to ask. Regular reader surveys ensure that content is relevant and is accomplishing the intended purpose. Interviews, focus groups, or surveys will determine whether the newsletter is producing the desired result. Use the information collected to plan future issues.
- What content should be included in the newsletter? If the district has not conducted a communications audit, one that identifies communications needs, it might be wise to survey intended audiences, and ask questions concerning content and format. What type of news are your audiences interested in? School board decisions and projects? Issues related to school governance, rules, and procedures? Legal issues related to schools? Personnel changes? Outstanding employees? Would they like the opportunity to ask questions?
- Does the district have the resources to produce a regular newsletter? There is no such thing as a one-time newsletter—those are called flyers! To be effective, a newsletter must be published on a regular basis, usually no less than four times a year. The production schedule usually depends on the amount of information to be included, the size of the publication, and the number of people available to provide content and assist with production. Create a schedule with deadlines for content, production and distribution, and stick to it.
- How will the newsletter be distributed? These days, multiple outlets are available for newsletters. They can be distributed in hard copy or digitally. They can be posted on static websites, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. They may be attached to a newsletter created by local government and mailed to every taxpayer, or distributed to students as a take-home. Copies can be made available in city hall, the courthouse, the public library, in schools, and community centers. Readers can be sent an electronic link through a text or email. Distribution depends on the intended audience. Digital newsletters are cheaper to produce and distribute. However, not everyone has access to a computer and the Internet. Digital newsletters are best for internal audiences. For a broader external reach, both print and digital formats are best.
- Is your mailing list up-to-date? A current mailing list is essential. A poorly vetted mailing list wastes taxpayer dollars. A list of current residents is usually available through local government, but an email list of parents and other constituents may have to be collected manually. The email addresses of parents can usually be secured during school registration, through a return postcard included in a school communication, or through a link on the district website. Members of the general public can indicate an email preference in the same way. Members of the media prefer to receive their newsletters digitally, and those addresses are best confirmed through a phone call. Obviously, the more email addresses secured, the cheaper it will be to produce and distribute the newsletter.
A well-planned and well-executed newsletter gets results. Maybe It’s time to include it in your communications arsenal!