Should our association save our failing newsletter?

Newsletters are probably the most common association publication. Ironically, and unfortunately, newsletters are also the association publication most likely to carry little information that is of great interest to the average member.

The reasons are myriad, but often boil down to a lack of timely, relevant and interesting articles. This is especially true if:

– The association has only a handful of events throughout the year, or if the events are thoroughly covered via other media such as printed or emailed meeting announcements.

– The association does not have a natural role in writing strong, original articles. For example, the association may be a chapter or regional version of a larger national or international association

-The association does not have the staff resources to create original, groundbreaking articles, and volunteers do not have enough incentive to write strong articles for a simple member-focused newsletter.

Given this situation, one possible option is to simply eliminate the newsletter altogether, perhaps in favor of more timely, less expensive, more focused emails from the association. While doing so would eliminate one of the more tangible elements of the association member experience, the loss may not be critical.

However, before taking that drastic step, the association should ask itself if the newsletter could become a new member benefit by changing from an internal member communications vehicle to an outwardly focused marketing vehicle. Moreover, rather than thinking about closing down the newsletter to save money, the association should consider just the opposite: investing money to upgrade the publication to a magazine format. If executed correctly, these two changes might be able to turn the publication from a money-losing newsletter to a money-making magazine.

For example, some state associations have met with great success by reporting very little, if any, internal association news and instead sharing information by and about its members with key audiences. Their new association publications typically consists of two major elements:

– An in-depth cover article that features one of the association’s members. Not only does this provide excellent exposure and serve as an outstanding marketing tool for the member, but it also gives other members a better understanding of what others in the association are doing.

– Expert articles written by association members with proven talent or skills in specific areas. While these should never be “sales brochures”, these articles would nevertheless help to promote the careers and/or businesses of these members by establishing their credentials and status. Moreover, sharing their expertise could help to build the stature of the association.

Who is the target audience for this new publication? While members would certainly receive copies, the ultimate target audience may be prospective customers of the members. By focusing on this target audience, the members have an incentive to provide information, photos and authorship for both the cover feature as well as the expert articles. The association may also find that a broader cross-section of the membership is willing to advertise in this newly-focused publication, increasing advertising revenue.

The end result is a publication that is no longer boring to the members. In fact, they look forward to reading it for the insights about their fellow members, and they look forward to using it for their own marketing efforts.

What should your association do if its newsletter is failing? Sometimes it is best to put it out of its misery. But sometimes the association can reinvent the publication, turning it toward a completely new use that not only reinvigorates the publication, but also provides an important new member benefit.

Has your association had to deal with a failing newsletter? What do you decide to do?

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