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How to write a newsletter.

In today's market, real estate companies are trying to maintain a level of credibility as well as a clear public profile. Specifically, property management executives throughout the country are striving to retain existing clients and tenants and, of course, obtain new ones. You can reach both your potential and existing clients and tenants through the use of newsletters.

Newsletters can be extremely effective targeted communication tools. By consistently portraying a company or property as active and successful, a newsletter adds credibility and reinforces a dynamic image - ultimately contributing to the overall marketing of the company and/or the property.

So now you may be wondering - how does the newsletter production process begin?

The first step is to establish an overall publishing strategy. Then, in a nutshell, use sharp writing, good design, great photography, skilled production, and knowledgeable consultants to make everything work - all within your budget. Easy, right?

Develop a purpose

and define the audience

First, set down a purpose. Why do you want to produce a newsletter? Every newsletter needs a clear reason for being. When every dollar counts, it is important to develop a cohesive message.

One publisher of custom newsletters suggests that the manager write a simple mission statement of 25 words or less to make sure the publication is well focused. The statement should cover both the publications general content and audience. If you need more than 25 words, the purpose probably is not clear enough.

Questions to answer in the mission statement include who will receive the newsletter. Employees, tenants, clients, members, customers, prospective tenants, and the media are all possible audiences. You must carefully define your audience to keep the distribution/postage, printing, and other costs to a minimum.

Going after "everything that moves" also dilutes the impact of your overall writing efforts. For instance, tenants and investors probably do not want to read the same newsletter. Tenants want to know about such things as building improvements, new tenants, amenities in the building, and so forth. Clients, on the other hand, want to know about real estate opportunities, trends in the marketplace, lending news, or long-term investment strategies.

The best way to make sure you have the right message is to poll your target audience. Surveys and phone inquiries could be very helpful. In your first issue, you may want to add a paragraph inviting your readers to participate as writers or to send you article ideas. Ask your co-workers for ideas and contributions. Communicating your message to the correct audience will improve your image and better yet, your bottom line.

Determine optimal frequency

How often with you produce the newsletter? The frequency of a newsletter is just as important as the content. Newsletters are a sophisticated marketing element that must be used with regularity to maintain their value. The ongoing distribution of a well-written newsletter earns the respect and interest of all your target audiences. When considering how often to publish, you must determine the amount of information you can generate in the amount of time needed to produce the newsletter.

In general, by reducing the number of pages of the publication and by distributing it more frequently, you can save money and increase the number of read-throughs. It is unlikely that you will want to distribute the publication on a weekly basis. Few newsletters have such timely information or the capabilities to sustain weekly publication.

Take the "cost vs. benefits" approach. What is more important to you - having your readers see something from you every month or every quarter? Which is cheaper to produce? Do you have enough information to use while keeping within your working deadlines?

A quarterly newsletter generally takes between four and six weeks from the initial editorial planning meeting through distribution. In some cases, a more specialized, higher quality newsletter may take eight to ten weeks from concept through distribution.

Select an effective

format and content

What will the newsletter's format be? Always keep your readers in mind when developing the format. You should allow your readers to find the information they want as simply and quickly as possible. In addition, once you establish the format, it will be much easier to figure out the information and length of articles needed for subsequent issues.

There are generally three types of readers: 30-second, 3-minute, and 30-minute. Try to satisfy each reader by developing short, easy-to-read items such as pull quotes, digest-like materials, and some longer feature articles.

What will the content consist of? An information matrix may be very useful to help sort out content issues. List the attributes of your audience, particularly their information needs. In another column, list the messages you are trying to communicate to them and the types of information you want this particular audience to have. In a third column, list the types of articles that might satisfy the two.

For example, a tenant newsletter is striving to communicate that management and ownership care about each tenant's needs. It is important to create an interesting mix of news that supports the newsletter's purpose but remains "fun" to read.

All types of readers enjoy seeing something new. Real estate companies have a wealth of topics suitable for a newsletter. Transactions, groundbreakings, expansions, and staff additions all make positive, newsworthy stories. Newsletters can also include such items as testimonials for your company's properties or services, letters of reference, company profile, and so forth.

Highlighting industry trends and showing how your company is handling them is another area of interest, especially to clients. Case studies or "how-to" articles that describe how to make better use of a product or service are always successful. Also, controversial articles or opinion pieces can play a vital role in stimulating readership.

You can inform tenants of amenities and special events available in the property and the neighborhood. News about area restaurant openings is always a good item, too. Tenants should be informed of scheduled building improvement projects, not only to demonstrate management and ownership's commitment to the property, but to eliminate any inconvenience to the tenants' operations.

Involve your tenants and the property personnel in the newsletter. Tenant and building management profiles can be highlighted in different issues. Tenants like to see their names and pictures in print. By doing so, you develop a rapport with your tenants and aid tenant retention.

Many publications are gracious about granting permission to excerpt articles, but be sure to receive permission and give attribution. Also, reading other magazines may give you ideas for stories you can develop on your own.

Always remember to look at things from an editor's perspective. Does it make sense? Does it fit? Does it conflict with other messages?

Once you have developed the content of the newsletter, you should organize an editorial schedule or calendar. Try to keep ahead of the game. Remember, it generally takes four to six weeks to produce a four-page newsletter. Production and printing may take five to ten additional days - so work within that timeframe when you are establishing a schedule.

Keep the design simple

Now that the publishing strategy is in place, you need to consider the actual design and production of the newsletter. Businesses are deluged with junk mail, so you have to be especially creative to break through and get noticed.

Remember your mission statement (your overall objectives) when deciding on the newsletter's design. Content and good design work together to achieve a unified communication. A Class A property generally justifies the additional expenses of ongoing professional design, photography, and high-quality paper. Smaller properties may be served with an economical, desktop-generated newsletter.

Some organizations hire professional designers to develop the look of their publication, while others rely on their own staff. Professional design may be costly, but in the long run, your newsletter will have a more polished look. No matter who designs the newsletter, always remember to keep it "clean," with plenty of white space and graphics.

Do not forget any photographs or graphics needed to go along with the editorial when you plan each issue. Graphics and photographs are very important in a newsletter because they break up the editorial matter as well as keep the reader interested. You can either have a co-worker who is a photo buff take pictures or hire a professional photographer. Usually a professional photographer will cost between $75 and $100 an hour. Clip art is a good resource for graphics, too. You can find this in any art supply store.

The first issue is always the most difficult to design. But once that is in place, you should have the existing layout to work from for subsequent issues.

It is also a good idea to involve your printer early in the design stages. The printer can help you determine the cost of printing the newsletters, taking into consideration the design elements you have chosen, or even suggest ways to keep printing costs to a minimum. Such design elements include the use of color, overlays, tints, and halftones (photographs).

Budget will become a factor when choosing the type of paper. Keep in mind that higher quality paper and unique sizes will be more expensive.

More and more marketing professionals are relying on desktop publishing systems such as Aldus Pagemaker and Ventura Publisher. Software programs for desktop systems range from $79 for the simplest of newsletters to over $500 for magazine publishing. Advanced desktop programs provide "camera ready" pages for the printer - eliminating much of the traditional time-intensive and costly steps of typesetting and keylining before printing.

Templates, examples of design layouts, are included in most software packages. These templates assist people who have minimal design experience. Once you establish a template, you can save it for subsequent issues.

You also have flexibility with desktop programs. For instance, you can create "what if" scenarios while placing the text. If you do not like the way the page looks, you can easily change it.

Keep in mind that a desktop design can only be as good as the designer. If no one on your staff is a qualified designer with desktop experience, consider hiring a freelance designer to develop the publication's look and format and to be a consultant for future issues. If you cannot afford an outside consultant, take a desktop publishing course. Desktop tutorials are another alternative and extremely helpful. Remember to keep in mind the time needed, usually one to two weeks, to design the newsletter.

Plan quality editorial

When planning your specific editorial material, remember that gathering information will be your most difficult task. Research other industry and company newsletters for ideas.

If you cannot rely on in-house staff, freelance writers can help, but you will have to pay for their work. Negotiate a fee based upon estimated hours (with time for rewrites) or a per-article fee. Hourly rates may range from $20 to $100 depending upon the size of the market, the writer's credentials, and so forth. Freelancers are usually easy to find. Check advertising and public relations professional associations, advertising agencies, or co-workers.

The best way to organize your newsletter content is through following an annual editorial plan. This will help you map out just what articles and other materials (photographs and artwork) you will need to prepare for each issue of the publication.

Establish a production schedule in advance as well. Your company will establish credibility ff your readers know they will be receiving your newsletter on schedule. If senior management must review the copy, remember to leave time for them. By planning ahead, you can avoid costly errors.

Another time-saving tip is to prepare articles that can be published at any time. Then if an article you are planning falls through at the last minute, you are prepared.

Organize distribution

Once the purpose, audience, format and content have been determined, you must decide: How should you distribute the newsletter? There are several ways to get your piece mailed, from self-mailer, through billing inserts, to first-class, oversized envelopes. You must consider your audiences' expectations as well as your budget when determining your method of distribution.

A bulk mailing is always a good and inexpensive way to mail the newsletters. Or, better yet, hand-deliver them, especially to your tenants. In this way, your building manager is in constant contact with the tenants.

Do not forget to review your mailing list. Useless names on the list mean printing, postage, and other incremental expenses. You should qualify all your names and addresses before printing the first issue and then double-check them again before each subsequent issue is produced.

Use reader feedback

Now that the newsletter has been mailed, what comments have you heard about it? Reader feedback is very important for a successful newsletter. Remember, you can ask readers to offer their ideas for your publication and suggest article topics through surveys, questionnaires, or even telephone follow-up calls.

You will receive valuable information that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the newsletter. And by responding to your readers' needs, you will continue to build an effective communication tool for your organization.

Cyndi Ehrlich is a marketing specialist for Baird & Warner Commercial Management Services. She writes several property newsletters as well as Added Value, the division's in-house newsletter

Headquartered in Chicago, Baird & Warner, Inc. is one of the nation's largest and oldest diversified real estate organizations, with 136 years of professional experience.
COPYRIGHT 1991 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Ehrlich, Cyndi
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:May 1, 1991
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