Content That Works

Next time your company newsletter comes out, surreptitiously watch a few people as they read it. If everyone just flips through the pages quickly and tosses the publication aside, then you may have a problem.

Now the fact that people take the time to look through your newsletter is good. It means they want information. But too often newsletter articles come across as lectures from above. It’s easy to fall into that trap when you are trying to deliver a message. Unfortunately, the point you want to drive home gets rejected when the reader feels they are getting the same old sermon in a different format. It’s just like that classic cartoon. Your readers say it’s spinach, and then they say the hell with it.

To keep your audience reading so that they actually absorb the information you are offering:

Be the reader. The only true measure of an article’s success is whether it satisfies the reader. Hitting all the key points? Making sure the right executives are quoted? That is important to you — and a completely separate issue. Sure you check for those elements, but if the resulting story reads as if a zombie put it together, then you do not have an effective communication. Would you read your story if you didn’t have to? If not, then why would anyone else?

Cut the jargon. It makes no difference how specialized your readers are. An overload of company jargon turns a story into just another corporate memo. Eyes will glaze over if you overdo the corporate-speak.

Show, don’t tell. This is the classic writer’s rule. You want to emphasize customer service as a goal for your employees? Profile an employee who is known for going above and beyond in helping customers. Even if the phrase “customer service” never appears in the article, the meaning will be clear.

Keep it short. Okay, sometimes an article really does need to offer readers basic do-this, not-that information. If possible, make a bullet-pointed list that delivers that information in easy-to-digest bits. Ramble on for too long about the whys or hows and — flip, toss — message not received.

Involve the reader. Ask for comments. Run a contest. Give readers a way to submit story ideas. Open up a dialogue, and you force your way out of giving a lecture.