- WHY A NEWSLETTER?
A Chapter newsletter is a form of public relations. It is directed to your most important public-your own Chapter members.
If one accepts this concept, then one can examine the common definitions of public relations in understanding the need for your Chapter newsletter. The simplest of these definitions of public relations is doing the right thing and getting credit for it. Put another way, it is good performance and communication with the public. This easily translates into reporting and interpreting Chapter activities to your foremost public-your Chapter members.
The Chapter newsletter has been termed the mortar that binds the Chapter together. It is the main line of internal communication for your local group. When you consider that many members do not attend every Chapter meeting, then your newsletter becomes the only form of communication with these members over extended periods of time.
Purpose of this Manual
This booklet has three purposes. It is intended to help newly appointed newsletter editors in designing, preparing and issuing their first efforts. Second, it is intended to serve as a guide to Chapters that do not have a newsletter and wish to start one. Finally, it is intended to provide assistance to Chapters already conducting newsletters by offering suggestions as to how these can be improved.
Selecting an Editor
Each Chapter should appoint an editor. Some of the larger chapters may attempt to work through a committee, but you should assure that a specific person has the responsibility of coordinating and conducting the newsletter project.
Smaller Chapters may combine the duties of editor and Chapter secretary, or editor and public relations director, under one person. Combining the functions makes sense, but be sure that one person can handle the load.
In selecting your editor, it is obvious that you should look for someone who has solid basic writing talent. An equally important quality is an inherent discipline for meeting schedules and deadlines. Your editor also should have available the necessary resources, such as equipment, time and interest. Your selectee should be informed on all phases of chapter activities. If your editor does not otherwise do so, he or she should sit in on board and committee meetings and receive copies of reports, minutes and important chapter correspondence.
Even though your editor will probably have had little experience along this line when appointed, the “learning curve” factor will make the production of successive issues easier as time goes by. Therefore, at the discretion of the Chapter president, it is suggested that editor appointments be for at least two years, or even longer. Appointments should be made at least three months prior to the first issue’s publication date.
Some back-up for your editor should the arranged. People do become ill, or go on temporary duty, and it can be very awkward to have your newsletter due, and your editor across the country somewhere on a temporary assignment. If you can afford the luxury of an “assistant editor”, fine. But have some sort of alternate plan against an emergency.
- GETTING UNDERWAY
As with every other venture, a certain amount of advance overall planning must be done before you actually sit down to compose your newsletter.
Probably your first consideration will be the size of the budget that the Chapter will be able to apply to the newsletter. This will have a vital impact on other major decisions that must be made, such as frequency, methods of production, number of proposed pages, etc. In applying your approved budget figures, don’t forget that after an issue is printed, you’re going to have some distribution costs. This will consist mainly of postage, but in a large Chapter you may have to get some outside help with addressing or labeling each copy to your members. You may also have to pay for the labels you use monthly in addressing the newsletters.
Scheduling the Newsletter Production Process
If your Chapter holds monthly meetings, the desirable newsletter frequency will also be monthly, since this is normally the best medium for publicizing your next meeting. Your issue date each month should be fixed so that members receive ample notice of the upcoming meeting through the newsletter. Many chapters devote the first page to a meeting notice and thus skip the need for a separate mailing. Be sure and allow adequate mail transit time here, depending on the class of postal service you use. Third class postage can take up to three weeks to arrive at the members’ desks.
Two points to consider-first, the newsletter should not arrive on a date so early that its use as a meeting notice is lost. Second, you must have the commitment from the Chapter President on down that submission due dates for contributed material will be met. This schedule must be adhered to or the entire production schedule is lost.
Once an issue date is decided upon, you should try and hit that date every issue. A disciplined “production schedule” will enable you to do this. Draw up your “production schedule” by starting with your desired issue date and work backward through the various steps involved, and their required times for putting the issue together. In a simple method of production, your production schedule may then look like this:
Finish writing copy Jan. 10 Finish final typing Jan. 15 Proof final typing Jan. 16 Pages to copier (printer) Jan. 17 Address or label copies Jan. 20 Issue to Post Office Jan. 21
This schedule is hypothetical. The point, however, is to formulate a planned production schedule and stick to it. Every issue!
Some Chapters may suspend meetings in the summer months, and there will be a temptation to stop production of the newsletter during this time. If you can squeeze it into your budget, keep the newsletter going. It is important for members to be kept up to date on association activities, both local and national, and individual, national, and chapter activities and programs seldom go completely dormant even during periods without meetings. The newsletter will be your most important, perhaps the only, communication device during these periods.
Size and Number of Pages
Most newsletters are produced on 8 1/2 x 11 paper. Nonstandard sizes can be more costly, but if you’re after some special effect, you can consider some odd size. If you’re using a relatively large amount of paper over a year’s time, get several bids before purchasing.
Your number of pages per standard issue will be governed by your budget to a large extent. If you have an unlimited budget, you may have to consider how many pages you can effectively fill each month. Some Chapters may have larger issues in particularly active months, with fewer pages in issues during slower periods-in the summer months, for example.
Method of Production
With respect to a decision on the method of production of the newsletter, you’ll have to shop around and see what your budget will buy. Mimeographing or producing a stencil on ditto paper are probably the most economical methods, but the quality is often poor. Next best is to type a good quality master and run your copies in the number required on a Xerox-type copier or duplicator. Your finished results will depend on the quality of typing and the type of reproduction machine available.
You may wish to take your typed “master pages” to a small job printer and have them offset-printed. You can depend on good quality by this method, as a usual rule, and the cost should not I>e prohibitive.
The ultimate method, of course, is to have your type set by a professional typographer, followed by a professional makeup and printing job by a commercial printer. This becomes rather costly and time-consuming, however, and only the most affluent budgets will permit consideration of this method.
No comparative prices have been listed on the above methods, since they will vary in different localities and will be affected by the number of copies needed. Again, shop around within your budget. Any of the methods will suffice as long as your issue is clear and legible.
A final decision you will want to make during your advance planning is on a standard “masthead”. Once designed, you may wish to get a number of your “masthead” pages done up by a professional printer. In this way the front page of your issues will be in a readily-identifiable, attractive format, and the cost of a quantity of “masthead” pages is not excessive.
You may wish to get assistance in designing your masthead: one of your members with an imaginative and artistic talent, or an ad hoc group from the chapter membership.
Hold a design or name contest, if you go for that sort of thing. If you use a printer, his graphics section may be glad to give you some tips (but be sure you have an understanding over any charge for this help).
Your masthead may be completely in type, or may incorporate artwork as well. Many chapters work in the ASMC logo somewhere in the masthead (the ASMC National office will be glad to furnish you camera-ready proofs of the seal, or electronic files, in several sizes, on request). Samples of chapter newsletter mastheads are also available.
- GATHERING THE NEWS
You will learn that one of the major problems for editors is gathering news. Remember that ASMC headquarters sends out communications to Chapter presidents that contain a wealth of information. You will be doing fellow Chapter members a favor by keeping them informed. Also it is important that you know what is going on in your own Chapter. You should sit in on board and committee meetings or, if unable to attend, receive copies of the minutes. All chapter officers and committee chairmen should keep you informed of their activities.
Ask all members to give you news, but insist on contributions in writing. This is a time saver and assures accuracy. You are not asking them to write an article, but just to give you the germ of an idea. Insist on deadlines for submissions. When you see an item in the paper about a member, cut it out and put it in your news folder. You may also develop a “postcard” method of having members submit information about themselves and others on a pre-addressed, pre-stamped postcard. By the end of the month your folder should be bulging with all the material you have gathered from these sources. But if all these sources fail and you are still short of news, get on the telephone and do some first class reporting. Always remember to make your newsletter interesting to members by emphasizing people.
Develop a Checklist
In order to achieve broad coverage in each issue, it will help your planning to develop a checklist of possible news items. You may wish to consider the following:
- A “President’s Message”, or equal. If your president has no “message” for a particular issue, coordinate the planning of the issue with him to assure that all significant items are included.
- A “Technical Feature” section, offering members the opportunity to contribute a short technical piece for publication.
- A run-down on each National Office Memo received, with comments on Chapter response, or the impact at Chapter/member level.
- Member profiles; this can be done on Chapter officers, to introduce new members, or on anyone.
- Chapter committee activity. The secret here is not to wait until a committee volunteers to report its activities: instead, let them know that you’re reserving a spot in the next newsletter, and give them a copy deadline. If nothing more, this will motivate an otherwise inactive committee.
- Information on other professional activity and upcoming events in event local area.
- Information and details on the meeting for next month, or for the next two months, if available. Many members possibly miss meetings through lack of sufficient advance notice and planning.
You may wish to develop regular “Departments” for each issue such as: “Committee Activities”, “Meet our Officers”, “Meet our Prominent Members”, “National Office Notes”, etc.
Suggested additional items are:
- Chapter and National elections
- Committee appointments (Names make news!)
- Special appointments
- Organization changes
- New projects or programs
- Progress reports
- Program announcements
- National meetings
- Public events
- New publications
- Increases in membership
- Office moves
- Awards and honors
- New members
- Community activities
- Article or books written by members
- Seminars and workshops
Add your own ideas to the lists suggested above. As you plan each issue, use your checklist to assure that you’re not overlooking anything.
Once your copy is prepared, you must decide where the individual pieces will appear in your newsletter. This will take some juggling and fitting if you want to improve the appearance of the finished product, but with a little practice it becomes easier.
In placing your various stories, you may wish to place major recurring items-your meeting notice, “president’s message”, etc.-in the same spot in each issue. Your readers will grow accustomed to this layout and will know where to look for items of special interest to them.
Remember to allow a blank panel-depending on how you fold your newsletter for mailing-to carry the member’s mailing address and a postage stamp. If you mail in an envelope, this, of course, is not necessary.
What you should try to achieve in your makeup is readability-the art of catching the reader’s eye and holding his interest. Look at your daily newspaper with a critical eye and see how they do it: through headlines, varied type styles and sizes, photos, use of “white space”, etc.
Most chapter newsletters, of course, will be produced by means that will not permit the sort of flexibility available to the daily newspaper. But there are a number of things you can do to improve readability when you are working with only a typewriter. Some of these are suggested below:
Single-spaced lines running the full width of a page can make for hard reading. Imagine a daily newspaper running its lines clear across the page! This is why most newspaper columns are only a couple of inches wide-to make things easier for the reader.
You won’t want to try two-inch-wide columns, since the letters produced by your typewriter are larger than newspaper type, and optimum column width relates directly to type size. But try two columns to the page, perhaps, instead of those long horizontal lines to type. This also gives you more flexibility in your makeup.
Size and Style of Type
Make type size easy to read. Standard size for body text is 10-12 pt. Headlines should be larger to grab the eye. Limit font types to no more than two or three, so as not to clutter the newsletter and take away from the content.
Boxes and Special Effects
Remember that everything doesn’t have to be typed. The copier will reproduce any solid black mark you place on the paper. Use graphics as accents to articles or to draw attention. Place a box around a short article or around a special announcement. Ruled-in lines or borders may be used to break up type or separate your articles. Or you may have some talented member do some free-hand art work or other special effects for you.
By all means, use headlines on your various articles. Make them interesting to catch the attention of the reader. Use active verbs in your headlines for more impact.
If your story is lengthy, break it up every two or three paragraphs with a sub-head. A good device is to pick up a catchy three or four-word phrase from the ensuing paragraphs for your sub-head.
Don’t feel that you must fill every square inch of your available space. Use adequate margins on all sides, and leave some room between articles. The “white space” thus created is much more appealing to the reader’s eye than a crowded, cramped page.
And a Caution-
Use your imagination in your makeup. You can do a lot with only a typewriter. But don’t overdo it. Stop short of clutter, and don’t degrade your professional image by excessive frivolity. Stand back and take a look, and try to achieve a fine balance between under and over-doing it.
Most chapters will of necessity use a newsletter production medium that will make the use of photos rather difficult. However, some high-quality modern copiers will do a reasonably acceptable job of reproducing a well-exposed, contrasting black-and-white glossy print. You may wish to try it.
Almost without exception there is an amateur photographer somewhere within every chapter. Find him-or her-and arrange to capture some of your chapter activities.
A Few Photo Tips
Tell your photographer what you want-don’t let him just flounder around.
Don’t try to crowd half your chapter into a photo. No more than five or six people is optimum.
At the time you shoot the picture, jot down the names of your subjects to assure future identification.
Avoid the “firing squad” pose-have your subjects doing something if possible. And describe in your caption what they’re doing, or operating, or looking at.
Vary the photos in each issue
Your photo will have to exactly fit your space, since you can’t shrink or blow it up the way a commercial printer does. But you don’t have to use the whole print. Crop the superfluous parts as necessary, if your picture so permits.
In all but the very smallest chapters, addressing the newsletter to each individual member can become a chore each month. Plan this in advance.
Gummed labels can be a great device. They can be prepared in advance, ready to be applied as soon as your issue is completed. Most office supply stores sell these for laser printers.
There are a number of other means of addressing or producing labels by machine. Check around and see what might be available to you.
Most chapters will have to resort to first-class postage for mailing their newsletters out, since only mailing of 200 pieces or over qualify for bulk rates.
At the present time, one or two devices can save you a little on first-class mail. If you pre-sort your pieces by zip codes, you can (currently) save a cent on each piece. Check your local Post office on this. If your newsletter runs more than one ounce in weight, remember that additional ounces are at a cheaper rate.
Large chapters which quality for bulk rates can enjoy considerable savings by using this mailing class. But there are some disadvantages. Transmit time is significantly longer than first class; you must secure a bulk permit, and comply with rather rigid rules on sorting and delivery to the Post Office; certain forms must be accomplished on each mailing; and you can’t mail out those few supplemental pieces you missed in your “big” mailing (except at first-class rates, of course).
The savings may be worth your trouble, however. Again, talk to your local postal people before you decide.
This short how-to booklet was designed to bring a few helpful tips to the relatively inexperienced editor which, it is believed, will be found in most ASMC chapters. Your National Headquarters Committee will welcome your comments and suggestions for improvements in future editions of this manual.
One glaring omission from the manual will be noted: no attempt was made to include a section on writing style. This is an entire topic in itself, and is hardly susceptible to the superficial treatment that would have been necessary. All ASMC chapter editors were appointed for their writing talent, anyhow. Good Luck!!