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Quality newsletters capture customers.

Oct 1, 1996 12:00 AM

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They've become sleeker, slicker, easier to read, more graphically attractive, more informative and an excellent place to search for ideas and how-to answers.

A Web page on the Internet? No. It's a newsletter sent to a select audience that is continually updated and monitored. Successful newsletter stories are everywhere, and printers are becoming much more involved in developing them properly instead of merely printing them.

Monitoring the audience is as important as producing the piece. Some newsletter producers send reply coupons to help ensure readers onthe mailing list actually get the publication. Others use telemarketers.

This monitoring has another benefit as well: it elicits responses about editorial material and more ideas.

Unfortunately, not everyone is spending the time to make such promotional ventures work. Out-of-date and archaic mailing lists are still a problem. However, successes far outnumber failures. Chris Berger and Sally Weiss of Advance Printing (Cincinnati, OH) produce one of the best examples of a successful newsletter.

Advance Notice is a quarterly newsletter published for employees and friends, demonstrating the value of timely, well-written articles and attractive graphics. The purpose is to entice new readers and appeal to regulars. The key to the publication's success is the printer's thorough understanding of the audience through good research. Add in a dash of cleverness and originality, and this newsletter is an award winner.

A recent front-page story focused on a crucial topic: "Will Your Direct Mail Piece be Opened or Tossed?" The article zeroes in on some of the difficulties ignored by those attempting to use the highly competitive $350 billion direct mail market.

"Producing a direct mail package can involve handling a lot of details," the piece reads. "Typically, what happens with detail projects? Something gets missed. And all too often, even the most obvious items are the ones that get forgotten.

"To make sure you don't forget some of the most important basics of direct mail, here is a check list of items to refer to before sending your copy to the printer."

The four-page article deals with the nitty gritty that too frequently can ruin an expensive and otherwise attractive mailing piece. For example, is your phone number and address easy to spot? Surprising as it may be, a good number of mailers don't observe this rule. The excuse? No one thinks to check for such "routine" things.

It can get worse, too. One printer recently lamented a slow-down in business. A quick examination of the situation revealed an 800 number that was not being used but was still active and expensive; two Internet addresses being used exclusively by service people, not sales reps; and a telemarketer still using spring advertising copy in late summer.

Advance targets ordinary topics with a twist, making them impressive and important to readers. For example, one issue featured an article titled "Making Envelopes Work Better for You."

"The most important element of a direct mail package before it is opened is the envelope," the piece reads. "If it grabs the recipient's attention and gets opened, it has done its job. From that point on, it's up to the rest of your package to do the selling."

Such advice may sound obvious, but the printer realizes the need to reinforce the message that helps customers get value from the work they do in this day of increased competition.

The publication also pointed out another trouble spot: spelling names correctly, getting the title right and making sure the address will get the envelope to the intended receiver.

On the West Coast, David Caldwell of Pacific New Media (Valencia, CA) takes his newsletter Print Primer a step further. The purpose? "Educate print buyers," he points out. "As informed buyers, they can find more effective ways to use printing, which can result in more value-added sales for the printer. By understanding the process and value of quality printing, the print buyer should be willing to pay a premium. That way, you'll develop more customers, increase sales from existing customers and achieve greater bottom-line results."

Focusing on details and offering readers entertaining information gets attention and creates a good climate for sales as well.

How about your promotions or direct mail pieces? Send samples of what you create and tell how you accomplish your objectives. Don't forget to send background about your firm, too. Send them to me at 57 Stebbins Dr., Clinton, NY 13323.