Quarterly Newsletters and other widow makers

Last week I was talking to a client about the frequency of a regular publication. Monthly issues were out of the question, he pointed out, because it was hard enough finding enough material to fill a quarterly. I understand his thinking, but reality in this case is counter intuitive. It is actually harder to fill a quarterly.

Why is it like this? The reason is that as the frequency of publication goes down most of the "news" is either too old or too new. Try this simple exercise. If the Washington Post were to be a quarterly what would you put in the fourth quarter 2007 issue? As long as it is a daily they can talk about a speech that Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver tomorrow. But if it were a quarterly you could only really talk about historical election campaigns. It's unlikely that any article you commission today about the 2008 election could be relevant in three months time.

But the emphasis on the struggle to "fill" the newsletters of companies, schools, charities, government agencies and so on reflects a much more serious problem: the belief of managers and administrators that they need to have one and that they have enough content to fill it. So many newsletters are frankly a waste of time and trees. And they are often widow makers for the poor staff who have to turn them out every month.

My advice to young "mentees" is usually to stay away from this kind of work if you can avoid it. And my advice for managers is to think very carefully before deciding that a newsletter will solve the staff morale issue or declining sales. Very often the best way to improve morale is to scrap the newsletter. And if you must have one then be realistic about the production needs. A regular newsletter is not something that your assistant can put together in his spare time, and other employees will not spontaneously deliver publication quality copy and pictures a week before your deadline.

To be honest, unless you have a suitably dimensioned communications department to do this work you should be considering outsourcing it completely. And don't forget that the nineties are gone now. You should be thinking in terms of a blog or a podcast. Forget the paper bulletin shipped out every quarter a month after the target date. Whatever it contained is either too late or too soon or worse.

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