May 15, 2001
How To

Top 10 Tips on Outsourcing Email Newsletters

SUMMARY: Almost 50% of corporate marketers outsource email newsletter writing to their PR firm, a freelancer or an email newsletter consultancy.  Read this article to learn how much outsourcing costs, and how to select the best writer for your needs (#1 tip -- only hire people with Web writing experience, print experience won't cut it).
We contacted Tim Smith, Principal The Stencil Group (who's created several, much-lauded, newsletters on behalf of B-to-B technology clients including the Portal V Letter) to get his tips for marketers considering outsourcing:

1. Hire Web Writers: Don't hire someone who's never written for email before. Smith says, "I would insist on Web writing expertise. It's a whole different beast."

2. Get Samples: Ask to see a prototype up-front of the kind of thing they will create for you, especially if they've never created something close to your requirements in length, layout or originality.

3. Expect Brevity: A corporate communications or marketing newsletter should be "shorter than you think." Executives don't necessarily want to read something that's longer than a page or two in an email environment. A consultant who pitches you on a much longer letter may not understand email writing.

4. Get to the Point: Does the writer start each article with a paragraph of intro copy, or does he or she cut to the chase? Long intro copy is generally for print-only.

5. No Rewritten Press Releases: Much of old-school B-to-B journalism relied on rewritten press releases as content. Before the Internet, business readers didn't mind because they couldn't get that news any other way. But, these days your content better be truly original. (Or a truly useful collection of links to original info elsewhere.)

6. Ask for Six Month Bids: The first month of any newsletter is "pretty painful" for the writer. They have to establish sources, work out production knots, and thoroughly understand your readership. If you only contract for 1-3 months at start, prices will be higher accordingly. Best practice - contract for at least six months. You'll get better prices, and let the writer know it's worth doing that harder start-up work for you.

7. Pricing varies: Although some pitch on a per-word basis, most writers quote prices based on how many hours they expect the work to take them. Original writing and reporting will cost more than a recap of what's in the news. Costs range between $100-300 hour. Expect a regular flat fee based on those average hours. Set up a payment schedule up front as well -- and be honest about how long it usually takes accounting to process invoices.

8. Agree on an Editorial Calendar: Before the first issue is written, you need to agree on a six-month editorial calendar with the writer. Yes, things can change as the market changes, but that doesn't mean it's not critical to start with a road map.

9. Plan Reader Surveys: Include some sort of reader feedback process in your editorial calendar up front because it's easy to forget to get around to it later on. Easiest way: email readers a link to a quick online survey. Smith also runs a live, in-person, event six times a year for one client, which about 200 subscribers attend for free to meet industry experts and analysts, and incidentally share their feedback on the newsletter.

10. Own Copyright: Make sure the contract states that you own copyright for the content in all formats, otherwise you could find yourself paying another bill when you use it someplace else -- such as on your Web site or in your annual report.

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