Most reseller business managers think that their organisations are too small to qualify for an in-house newsletter. But how many is enough to warrant the effort? Twenty? More than 50? Two hundred? It?s irrelevant. According to Andrew Rodaway of Oast Communications, it?s not the number of staff that matters but whether they meet regularly to exchange news and chit-chat. If they don?t, or if you have staff who mainly telework or are based at client sites, then maybe it?s worth the effort to produce either a folded A3 sheet or something distributed electronically. But surprisingly few resellers bother.
Often, the decision whether to write and circulate a newsletter falls between the marketing and personnel departments, both of which tend to be extremely small in reseller firms, if they exist formally at all. Consequently, newsletters are often the last thing on the list of priorities for those with either marketing or personnel responsibilities. Yet newsletters can provide the morale-raising glue that holds a reseller business together and helps create the right impression for customers and the press.
Even if all your employees are based at one site and work under the same roof, they can easily lose touch with what the company is up to and who is doing what. A newsletter keeps them informed not only about the ?hatchems, matchems and dispatchems? but also the corporate mission statements and strategic directions. Thus informed, they feel more involved and can help radiate a positive message.
A newsletter can be very informal. Phil Renton, MD of integration and solution specialist Croft Computers, sends out a regular letter to all his staff which he says has a demonstrably beneficial effect. ?The company feels like a happy family and it is mainly because of my newsletter, I?m sure.?
Renton personalises each letter to the 100 plus employees, and they are all sent by post to their homes. ?I have considered email but not every employee has it, and as long as there is the risk that one will be missed out, I?ll stick to the old-fashioned system,? he explains.
Renton takes about two weeks to compile all the information on new staff, babies and other happy events, and reports on the current state of business, new bids which are under way and other company matters.
Sonia Johnson, who works for Croft Computers, says the boss? newsletter is excellent and contributes to the family feeling and sense of belonging which characterises work at Croft. She says: ?We also have a social club which meets at least once a month and we go on an annual weekend away with partners and kids, plus there are subsidised activities. But the newsletter is something personal from the senior management which makes us all feel united.?
Renton adds that he always asks whether people have anything they want to put in the newsletter, and sometimes he is scratching around for copy, but it is worth the effort. ?It doesn?t really take long, and when you have three sites and remote workers it is a crucially important thing to do,? he says. Johnson adds that even those staff based full-time at the head office in Newcastle find it impossible to know what?s going on in other departments, so the newsletter is key in making everyone feel involved and part of the whole organisation.
Mike Copland, managing director of IT marketing communications agency A Plus, believes that traditional newsletters are inadequate, but he uses electronic techniques to keep in touch with his 80-plus staff.
He says: ?The problem is that a paper-based newsletter every quarter is quickly out of date, and people are increasingly familiar with electronic communications. The principle is good and they perform an essential function, but the method of distributing them has to be electronic.?
This view is reinforced by Julian Treasure, managing director of contract publishing house TPD. He says: ?Electronic newsletters within organisations are already fairly common, but so far they have not been given the resources that user magazines have. This will certainly change. There will be a shift in budget allocation, and more will go to the in-house newsletter in future.?
The reason for this, argues Treasure, is that senior managers rightly see their organisations, staff, partners and cus- tomers as part of a single body. ?Board directors increasingly recognise that staff and customers have to have the same information and the same message and understanding of the organisation. There is a lot of repetition and reiteration of information.?
Treasure agrees that some internal information should not be given to customers, but says that is no reason why there can?t be much duplicated copy in user magazines and in-house newsletters. ?People think that there is a lot of extra effort involved in producing an internal publication, but if they already produce one for customers there is not much extra that has to be done to generate a version for the staff.?
In fact, Treasure predicts that internal newsletters will be the next big area for contract publishers like TPD: ?Customer care is a big buzz area at the moment, hence the rise in the number of glossy user magazines, but the next logical step is to give the same care to the internal staff and close partners. It?s all about staff retention and keeping the organisation happy and informed.?
Treasure also believes that the electronic publishing of newsletters is a huge goldmine, which exists as much for the resellers to tap into as for the contract publishing houses like TPD. He says: ?Producing an interactive site which is updated daily, with bulletin boards for small ads and information about the company, is a function which requires creative and technical skills.?
Many resellers which are building intranets, extranets and Web sites have those skills, and can develop and maintain newsletters for their customers as part of their services portfolio.
James Smith, Attachmate business development manager, is not convinced that the future of internal newsletters lies with electronic versions. He says: ?In large organisations like British Airways, for example, there are so many diverse staff and departments and sites and locations that you need a paper-based newsletter to make sure that it gets to everyone.?
BA produces a weekly newspaper which is distributed to everyone, and Smith says it is widely read. He says: ?Electronic distribution is fine if everyone is connected but in many organisations there are some staff who are not, and it immediately becomes pointless to use the electronic method.?
Smith adds: ?Of course, the main advantage of electronic distribution of an internal newsletter is the speed with which people get the information, and the frequency with which it can be updated. ?There is no doubt that electronic is best, not least because it can be interactive and allow a discussion, a conference or a bulletin board.?
Attachmate uses one of its own products, Remote Lan Node, to make sure that all of its staff, including the remote workers who rarely get into the office, get the newsletter.
Smith says: ?It?s not possible to give tangible measurable benefits of an in-house newsletter, but the fact that the sites are regularly accessed indicates that they are popular, and the consensus is that those organisations which have a newsletter in some form or another are happier places to work.
He continues: ?The Attachmate site is available to all 45 UK workers including the chap in Scotland who works entirely on his own, as well as the 1,600 based in the States. It provides a continual update on corporate information, details about the current company structure and strategy, product information, as well as technical support information and information about future products.?
Attachmate also has a UK specific site, says Smith, which has more local gossip and information. ?We are able to put up our own small ads if we want to sell or buy something,? he says. The small northern UK office of Attachmate, with nine staff, produced its own photocopied newsletter recently, which Smith says was welcomed by the rest of the company. ?It?s good for us all to see what the northern office is up to, and I think it shows good initiative.?
Mark Andrews, marketing manager with networking reseller BTN, believes that a newsletter performs a dual function in pulling together and informing staff and customers. One product can go to both groups, he believes. The BTN Bulletin contains information about new products, new contracts and sales as well as information about profits and how the company is doing.
Andrews does not include detailed information on staff changes, and feels that the newsletter is suitable for both staff and customers. He says: ?As with any form of promotion, it can be difficult to quantify the results and value of a newsletter, but any organisation which gives its staff a newsletter will have more control over the message that it gives to the market. Moreover, the message can be complex and detailed. Newsletters can be very illustrative and give the reader an obvious and a hidden message about what the company does and how it works.?
However, the problem with internal newsletters, says Andrews, is that they are often produced in-house on a negligible budget and it shows. ?Newsletters are frequently poorly designed and amateurish in appearance, and they are often written by technical people who have no idea how to write,? Andrews says.
Geoff Ellis of Metro Media Services agrees. ?You need to treat the in-house publication as an active marketing tool, not just a newsletter. You need to regard it as a way to support the branding of the company and its services.?
Oast Communication?s Rodaway believes that the key to a successful newsletter is content. ?It has to be a good read,? he says. They have to compete with a lot of professionally produced publications and they have to be good or they go straight in the bin. Many companies produce newsletters which have no reader value and are just exercises in corporate pride.
?The most important aspect is content, followed by pictures and illustrations. The design and format are not crucial, and neither is the material used to print it on. It?s definitely content, content and content.?
John Allsop, information saviour at The Media Crystal, agrees. ?I get terribly downhearted when I see most in- house magazines and newsletters. They seem more about self-aggrandisement than about initiating com- munication.The point should be about dialogue, getting people involved in something and building a community spirit.
?A newsletter should be produced for the same reasons as a user magazine, and it will pay for itself in the sales it helps create.?
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