Thursday, June 13, 2013

Readers want to hold and fold

My earliest PR successes came from creating newsletters for business-to-business clients, alumni, and employees. These publications -- semi-weekly, monthly, and quarterly -- each helped grow relationships between my clients and their constituents (customers).

And none of them exist today.

Casualties of the digital age? In some ways. In the 1980s, desktop publishing gave almost everyone the power of the press. And some resulting newsletters were ghastly, much like some of today's blogs. But, as the internet grew, printing and mailing costs increased, and managers and marketers switched to online content: e-newsletters, or some other digital solutions.

Those managers overlooked an important factor: their audiences. People who view a newsletter as an emblem of a relationship. They're accustomed to physical connections, and willingly invest their resources and time to support those relationships. After spending their workday staring at an optically challenging computer screen, they prefer something they can hold, read, fold, revisit, and cut up to share.

In business environments, we are swamped with e-mail and e-newsletters. Am I devoting my limited time to reading a newsletter from some other business?

Think about your audience. People with discretionary income don't read everything on an iPhone. They don't drink from the fire hose of social media the way you do. They don't connect with a digital file the same way they do with a physical publication.

And I'll bet you don't, either.

E-publications don't live in customers' homes for days or weeks, either. They become lost in the e-mail torrent that floods our accounts every day. Digital articles and e-newsletters don't build conversations. Or relationships.

These two newsletters offer different approaches. The Preserve, a publication of the Genesee Land Trust, uses an effective mix of evocative photography and short articles to reach its audience. It helps drive supporters to an engaging, easy-to-read website. Meanwhile, the physically larger Community Connection focuses on the contributions of its members as philanthropists.

Community Connection isn't a better newsletter. Its photos and prose are somewhat ordinary. But it's bigger, and for a good reason: its readers are older. The type is larger and easier to read. Its editor understands this demographic and respects their needs by tailoring the publication accordingly.

Social media is powerful, without question. But it can only drive readers to content that exists in another digital form. Digital content has a long way to go, in terms of building relationships with people who have deep pockets.

Toss out newsletters? Not yet. For many stakeholders and customers, a physical publication, created with readers' needs in mind, can foster conversations and relationships in ways that Twitter and Facebook cannot achieve.