Agricultural Communications, Purdue University
An electronic newsletter with communication tips and information

October 1997

Super Newsletters: Part I

(The following was adapted from: "Creating Super Newsletters: A Training Curriculum for Cooperative Extension Staff, Module 1," University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service, June 1997)

What's a Newsletter?

There are so many newsletters, and they range from one-page flyers that list birthdays and other social events to 20-some page year-end reports. The one thing they all have in common is that they are produced regularly, and they all include some newsworthy information.

Beyond that, they inform, educate, entertain, announce events, communicate, and sometimes they sell products or ideas.

Newsletters are developed for a targeted audience. They are an inexpensive way to deliver information to that targeted audience. Sometimes they deliver information to people who would otherwise rely on receiving that information at a workshop.

It's important to produce newsletters that are effective. Even if you've been producing your newsletter for years, you may want to think about your purposes and objectives. In the process, you may find that your newsletter can be improved or even that it's not the best way to deliver your message.

Define Your Audience

Think about your audience's gender, age, family situation, educational levels, income, beliefs and attitudes, racial and ethnic makeup, and location. What makes your audience want to read the newsletter? The challenge is to find out about your group and what they're interested in. In the process of defining an audience, you may discover special sub-sets of your audience, which can lead to some interesting story ideas.

Identify Your Purpose

As with the audience definition, you'll want to be as specific as possible in identifying your purpose. The statement of purpose will help you generate article ideas and make editorial choices. It will help you have a positive impact on your readers. Your readers will have a sense that the newsletter staff knows what they are doing and why.

The important thing to remember is that you are doing a newsletter for your readers. Ask yourself, "What's in it for them?" Answering this questions should help you generate ideas for copy.

Remember, you are competing for time with a lot of other newsletters.

Look for another installment of "Super Newsletters" in next month's issue.

Make Email Work for You

Email is a great communications tool in the 90s. Here are some tips to help make this tool work for you and not against you.

Accentuate the Positive

Most email messages tend to come across as less positive than the same message delivered in person. For one thing, the recipient must interact with the computer and read in a format that is not necessarily very friendly. It is more difficult, for instance, to show a smile in email, even with the :-).

That doesn't mean stop using email to send positive messages. Just consider whether or not you can deliver the message in person. If you have decided email is the best communication device, try to make your positive message extra positive. To get your point across, use a shorter message with very strong and active words, such as "Wow! What a great job you did."

Think Twice About the Negative

While positive messages seem less positive via email, negative messages become even more negative. For the recipient, there's no context, no body language, no give and take. The message can even be experienced as an attack. The opportunity for an honest conversation to resolve unpleasant or awkward issues is lost.

So, if your message is negative, reconsider whether email is the best communication method. It probably isn't.

Take Your Time

We use email because it is fast. But this quickness can cause problems. It's never a good idea to send an email in the first flush of anger or annoyance, for instance. Remember, negative messages are magnified.

Email's quickness can also promote incomplete or inaccurate messages. How many times have you gotten email messages that gave only the time of the meeting, but not the place? Or been left guessing about the meeting's purpose?

Take the time to make your email message complete and accurate. If you can, consider sending the email to yourself and reading it after lunch or the next day. Check it, and then send it.

This is just a variation on the old writing rule of putting something you've written in your desk and rereading and refining it the next day. It's a good rule.

Maybe we can't do this with every email. But some messages deserve this kind of time and attention. And we owe everyone the courtesy of at least "shooting through" our messages before we send them.

An Internet-Research Map

Before you embark on an Internet-research trip, make sure you have a road map that answers these time-saving questions: ("Communication Briefings," February 1997, Volume 16, Number 4)

A Simple PR Test

(The following was adapted from "Communication Briefings," August 1997, Volume 16, Number 10)

True or False: Public relations for your organization is best left to a professionally trained PR staff.

If you said true, you are shutting Purdue off from one of its most effective sources of PR: you and your colleagues. Too many organizations make the mistake of seeing effective PR as the responsibility of a single person or department. More enlightened organizations know that good PR starts with employees who know the customer comes first.

Test yourself with these two questions.

  1. How do you know if you have a PR-minded staff (department or county office)?
  2. A. We always agree on everything.
  3. B. We socialize with one another often.
  4. C. We practice the Golden Rule.
  5. D. We put people before our work.
  6. PR-minded groups follow the Golden Rule. They treat others as they would like to be treated. They're not necessarily pushovers or party-goers, nor do they let their work slide while solving office social problems. Firms with better-than-average PR profiles are filled with employees who show respect for everyone under any circumstances. If they disagree, they do it agreeably. Good public relations always starts with the staff.

  7. How do you increase the public understanding of your organization's mission?
  8. A. Provide the public with accurate and timely information.
  9. B. Keep internal communication open and honest.
  10. C. Strive to BE good rather than just LOOK good.
  11. D. All of the above.
  12. All of the above enhance your message and your image. If your organization is open and honest and keeps everyone informed, both employees and customers become priceless spokespeople. Your people endorse your enterprise. That makes marketing magic that money can't buy. Commit to the highest quality, and you'll earn public trust.

Grammar Trap: Adapt vs. Adopt

There's more to the difference between "adapt" and "adopt," two words that are sometimes confused, than the second vowel.

"Adapt" means to take something and make it fit, to modify or adjust it.

Examples: It's a good idea to adapt yourself to your situation. Two articles in this month's issue were adapted from other sources.

"Adopt" means to accept and approve something formally, to take something as one's own.

Example: Her parents adopted her when she was a baby. The constitutional amendment was adopted.

If there's a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like me to discuss or you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one, please let me know.

We want to hear from you. Do you have a communication question? Do you have a comment on this issue of "On Target"? If so, please e-mail any of our writers.

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