Electronic newsletters have come a long way since they first made their appearance on the corporate communications scene some eight years ago as simple, e-mail message supplements to the ‘real’ full-colour, printed newsletter.
Today, the printed newsletter is heading for extinction and the electronic newsletter has evolved into a professional, well-designed, smartly-written tool which is rapidly gaining in stature as the most effective medium for both internal and external corporate communications.
According to Deidre Dawson, director of Technology Concepts, a leading provider of electronic business solutions, the widespread adoption of the electronic newsletter has been driven by fact that today's electronic newsletters can convey the same slick, professional corporate image as their printed counterparts.
"This is reflected in the changes of the newsletters' format: from the humble text e-mail, through a PFD version of the printed edition to today's bandwidth-friendly, full-colour, dynamic editions which the editor can virtually update at the click of a mouse.
"In addition, the electronic version has the added advantage of being considerably less expensive to produce (there is no printing required) and disseminate: no postage or delivery. In addition, it is easy to ensure it reaches the desktop of every individual for whom it is intended," she adds.
Dawson admits that initial uptake of the electronic newsletter was slow. "There was a variety of reasons for this, including fear of technology and reluctance to change. It should also be noted that many people prefer the 'touch and feel' aspects of a printed document.
In addition to this, there were questions as to who should be responsible for managing electronic communication on a company's behalf - the marketing department or the IT department?
Typically, communication was territory of the marketing department but because IT owned the infrastructure, this department took ownership of electronic communication, from website development and content management to electronic newsletters.
Today, because the Internet and e-mail are more widely accepted and users have a better understanding of technology, Dawson believes that marketers and IT personnel can co-operate within their own areas of specialisation to drive corporate communications.
"Marketing and IT must reach an understanding which leaves the latter in charge of ensuring that IT infrastructure is in place and that it works, while marketing handles the aspects relating to corporate communications. Marketing needs a friendly, easy to use 'tool' which gives them complete control of creating and dispatching the newsletter timeously. That is the only way to ensure effective communication that builds the brand and image of the company," explains Dawson.
However, to be successful, electronic newsletters must actually deliver news and information that is relevant to the user.
Dawson has the following advice for editors and companies sending out electronic newsletters to obtain maximum effect and avoid annoying the recipients:
* They must be personal and individual in tone.
* They must arrive in the user's inbox with a reliable frequency (weekly works, monthly at least).
* The content should be presented in a format that is quick and easy to read.
* The design should reflect the image or branding of the company.
* Content should be relevant to the targeted user.
"Used properly, the electronic newsletter is an extremely powerful and inexpensive marketing and communication tool that is fast gaining momentum among companies for whom quick, targeted and cost-effective communication with employees or customers is a priority. But used badly, the electronic newsletter could be consigned to the spam scrap heap," concludes Dawson.