How to Rethink Your Association's Newsletter from the Ground Up

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This is a podcast episode titled, How to Rethink Your Association's Newsletter from the Ground Up. The summary for this episode is: <p>Newsletters are a staple of association life. Members depend on them for news and information, corporate vendors bank on them for advertising and exposure, and your association relies on them for member touchpoints, engagement, and ad revenue. But just because these stalwarts are an institution doesn’t mean they have to read like a history book.</p><p><br></p><p>Is it time to rethink your association’s newsletter?</p><p><br></p><p>This week's episode is from our third and most popular session of The Association Marketers Guide to 2022. This session features community experts Beth Arritt and Annie Henderson. Listen now to elevate your newsletter!</p>
Knowing when to change your newsletter
03:53 MIN
Push out the content your members need
03:53 MIN
Best practices for layout design
02:15 MIN
What should your open rates and click through rates be?
02:24 MIN
What membership highlight is
01:20 MIN

Beth Arritt: Welcome to the Member Engagement Show with Higher Logic, the podcast for association professionals looking to boost retention, gain new members, and deepen member involvement. Each episode, I'll bring on some experts; we'll talk shop about engagement, and you'll walk away with strategies proven to transform your organization. I'm Beth Arritt, an Association Evangelist, with over 25 years experience in marketing and member engagement. And I'm so happy you're here now. Now let's start the show. This week, we have the most popular session from our Association Marketer's Guide to 2022 planning. I'm pretty sure the popularity was mostly because it's all about newsletters, which of course, are a staple of association life. We know your members depend on them for news and for information; and your corporate vendors bank on them for advertising and exposure. And your association relies on them for member touch points, engagement, and ad revenue. But just because these are an institution doesn't mean they have to read like a history book. So another one of my favorite people, the super smart Annie Henderson, who's the Corporate Marketing Manager at ASBO International. And I got together to discuss how you can go about revamping your newsletter to meet modern needs, and still accomplish all your objectives. As always, let us know what you think about this episode; or if you have questions after listening, over on HUG, or in the LinkedIn post for this episode. Welcome to the final session in our three- part webinar series, The Association Marketer's Guide to 2022 Planning. And with me, I have Annie Henderson, of ASBO International. So Annie, do you want to give a really quick intro?

Annie Henderson: Absolutely. Hey, everybody. Thanks for having me. I'm looking really looking forward to talking about newsletters with you guys. I am with ASBO International, the Association of School Business Professionals; and I've been with them for two years. And in my prior life, I was an entrepreneur, as well as, in the association world, in healthcare. So, I definitely have a lot of back experience with this, and I'm just again, like I said, really excited to share some helpful insider information on how to rethink your association's newsletter.

Beth Arritt: And the poll is on," How long has your association had its newsletter?" Do we have results? 10 plus years, look at that.

Annie Henderson: Yeah, that's exactly where we are, too.

Beth Arritt: For those who, the 14% who are zero to three, congrats; you're still at a point where you're getting... You're finding your feet, and figuring out exactly what you need. So we're glad everyone is here. It doesn't matter what stage you're in. Hopefully you'll still get something helpful from here. So good to know. I love seeing that. I love seeing that there's a lot of people like 10 plus years who are still here going," Okay, how can we make it better?"

Annie Henderson: It's not an anomaly.

Beth Arritt: We're going to talk about deciding and proving when it's time to change your newsletter. We're going to talk about what kind of newsletter you need. And then, what are your buckets in your newsletter? And then, are you trying to do too much with one newsletter? And then a little bit about best practices. And then we'll do a little bit of inspiration at the end, to give you some stuff to walk away with and think about. How do we decide or prove when it's time? So, Annie, do you want to talk a little bit through this, with ASBO?

Annie Henderson: Yeah, absolutely. When I came on board to ASBO two years ago, first primary focus I had, was just getting to know the association and the ins and outs. After a while of producing and creating content for our newsletter, I started to notice that we were putting in a whole lot of effort, for not very much return. While our delivery was good, we were... We didn't have very many bounces. Our open rate was just so- so; but our click- through rate, that was really low, not where we wanted on actionable pieces of content that we put time into for the newsletter. So over the course of the next year, I realized," Hey, can we reimagine what Accents is, or what it even means? And that's when I really had to dive in to understanding where did Accents come from, and originally what need is it currently filling, or did it need to fill? And I had to get all those questions asked and answered first, before I even broached the subject about altering it, changing it, or putting it to bed all together.

Beth Arritt: When you're looking at all that, obviously, you want to look and see, are you bringing in fresh eyes? Are you bringing people who haven't read it before? Because a lot of times, especially if you've got a very strict standard title that use every time, the same people are opening it every day.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: So another thing you want to look at is, are you bringing in fresh eyes, and people who haven't looked at it? And are they staying?

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: Otherwise, you're not going to have growth.

Annie Henderson: And along long journey, I learned that Accents was originally a print publication before 2006. So in 2006, when I believe our association signed on with Informs, at the time, that's when they made it digital. So it's been around for a very long time.

Beth Arritt: I'm trying to think how many places I've worked since then. So, yeah. And so, because you're talking about the fact that it's been around so long; it was print, and then moved to digital. At some point, you've got to ask yourself," Are you just checking off a to- do list item? Or is this just like," Oh, okay, I've got to get the newsletter out." I know that we had one... We had several different newsletters at AAAE; and they served different purposes, and they had different cadences, and things like that. And we had come up, by the time I left, I think we had come up with a good system. And they're still constantly looking at it, and improving it, as you should. But one of the ones we had was the Meetings Update; and Meetings Update was just once a week, every Monday, you'd send out the Meetings Update with the upcoming meetings. It was just basically a checking off a to- do list item. So we made change to it. We tried it monthly instead; and we tried... We added content to it; so if the meeting was about security, then we would bring in some content about security, so that at least... It's a newsletter; it made it more of a newsletter." Here's some information about these topics, and here's the meetings that go with them, basically." Which worked a little bit better, but in the end, I think we ended up getting rid of it entirely, because we just started doing more targeted things, like adding targeted information to the newsletter, doing a lot of web tracking, targeting campaigns instead; which were far better use of the time. That automation ended up being a far better use of the time, and getting better results. So yeah, you really need to look at, if you're checking off a to- do list item, or if you're actually doing something that will help you, or is that time going to be better spent elsewhere?

Annie Henderson: Absolutely.

Beth Arritt: This is my... I actually saw... There's a called What Color is Your Parachute? And it's about career, where your career should be. But I like it for, what kind of newsletter is this? Content- based; is it professional? Or content resource; is it professional development? What is the main, the biggest type of content you're using, the main one? So if you could pick between content and resource- based, is it mostly giving out your content, your resources? Is it professional development- based? Are you talking about things that will help with professional development? Is it like a news briefing, or an aggregation of news? Or are you doing marketing and event updates, kind of like that newsletter I was talking about? Is it an advocacy one?

Annie Henderson: Ours right now, the purpose that it was serving was that marketing piece, to throw everything into a marketing newsletter. And you it's lived its life, to put it simply. And you certainly want to, as a marketer, you want to be able to look things, not with nostalgia, necessarily, but with a," Is this actually doing its job anymore?"

Beth Arritt: So, let's see.

Annie Henderson: Content, resource- based. Wow. That's awesome.

Beth Arritt: Yeah.

Annie Henderson: That is something it's trending towards it. The last couple of years has been very focused on content marketing, so that's really awesome that the majority of you are focused on that.

Beth Arritt: I love that actually not a ton is advocacy or professional development. That's great, that it's not your number one focus. I'm assuming that they all have a combination; most of them probably have a combination: the news and then the marketing events. Yeah. So, that's great. I like those results. Those results are awesome.

Annie Henderson: Yeah. That's actually really telling, too, from this, this poll. So I'm going to take that, and put that in my back pocket, and share that later.

Beth Arritt: There you go.

Annie Henderson: How many... We have over 200 on, currently, so you see-

Beth Arritt: Almost 300.

Annie Henderson: Almost 300? So you could definitely cite that as a resource, in using it as a proving tactic for your decision makers in your association. Give them that snapshot of that poll; that would be a huge selling point.

Beth Arritt: Yeah. Because we're not talking about," Oh, it's 20 people. No. We're talking about almost 300 Association Marketers and Association Communicators." So yeah. There's your evidence if you need to make any changes. Whatever color your parachute is, you still need to know what content goes in it. And we all know, like we've said, that it's probably going to be more info the there than just your... just that one thing. So you really need direction about all content that's going in there. Is that content that your members need? And you notice that I put association in, and then we crossed it out; because it's not about you. It's not about what you need. It's about what your members need. What do your members need, Annie?

Annie Henderson: My members? They need content and actionable resources, especially in our current climate. Like I said, I work for the Association of School Business Officials, and they need to stay up to date constantly on new measures from the CDC, from their local departments, school departments, all of that; because they're managing a whole entire school district, and all the children inside of those buildings. But your association is not my association. And so, you might want to focus on membership highlights.

Beth Arritt: Those are really popular, in general. So, I like to say," Put the membership highlights and the jobs boards at the bottom, because everybody will read all the way through."

Annie Henderson: That's true. And that's another really great point if you're looking at an anchor to your newsletter, as you're going in to kind of alter it; having that high click- through content, you want that to be towards the bottom, because then you're going to get those scrolls.

Beth Arritt: If you've ever... Almost any store that you walk into, the clearance and sales stuff is always at the back; and that's so that you will walk all the way through the store and see all the new stuff, and look at everything else before you actually get to the sales stuff, which is what most people are going in to look for. So, it's the same thing with this. If people are used to seeing some of these things; and it depends on what's getting your most clicks. If you're finding that your member benefits is actually getting the most clicks, move it down a little bit, see what happens. Is it getting the most clicks because it's up higher? Or is it getting the most clicks because people are interested, and you're bringing them all away the bottom? And we'll talk a little bit more about structuring in a moment. This is a big one. What is the ratio of sales to information in your newsletter? And the definition of news can change. But as long as it is information that they can use, and it's not a sales pitch, that's news. Even if it's your content and your resources; if it is things that they can use professionally. If it's news aggregation, anything like that, it's not a sales pitch. It's something that they can use, actual information. This depends on the new purpose of the newsletter. If your newsletter is member focused, then I would have no less than 75% content, and no more than 25% sales or marketing content.

Annie Henderson: Yeah. So making that 25% sales, marketing stuff is... Maybe that's two ads and something in your association that's program- based, where there has to be a transaction made, if you do ads in your newsletter, and you have a program that... Maybe you have a certification program that you need to start pushing a little bit harder; that obviously is going to inevitably translate into a transaction, so maybe that's your 25% fulfillment. But the 75% is focused on," We just updated this white paper. Download it now, for the best practices on X, Y, and Z." That's the kind of content, actionable content, that is going to fill your 75% slot.

Beth Arritt: Yep. Or, in RSS feed with the latest news, the latest blog posts, or the latest news in that particular subject area; anything like that. Or even just news items that you bring in and copy and paste and summarize. If it's sales- driven, like for example, the Meetings Update one that I was talking about; AAAE has another one that's sales- driven, that's literally sales- driven, that's a training one that always does really well. But it's because they're focusing on the fact that it's sales- driven. And they only do it like every three weeks. But at that point, you're going to flip the ratio.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: You still want some content in there, no less than 25%; but, you want to make sure that that content supports what you're selling. Make it about the benefit to the members.

Annie Henderson: Mm- hmm(affirmative). And that's a good point, too, on frequency that you mentioned Beth; the three weeks on a sales- driven newsletter, is they're already a part of your membership. So they're already seeing value in what they're getting out of their member benefit. So if you keep selling on top of that, they're going to get a little eh. So, three weeks out is a great spacing for if you do have that marketing piece; maybe even a monthly sales- driven content, as you're also doing a more content- driven newsletter that's on a more frequent basis, and your sales one is on a less frequent basis, to really help balance it out.

Beth Arritt: Basically, all newsletters, at the end of the day, should be relevant, timely news. Sales can be news. Products can be news. Marketing can be news. Events can be news. Anything; but it needs to be relevant and timely, and you need to explain to them why it's important. I love seeing these emails that come out saying," We would like to announce our Annual Conference, the 98th Annual Conference that will be held in such and such." No, no, no. I'm checked out. Sorry. Tell me why I need it. Tell me the benefits, right there; especially if you're making it a short ad in your newsletter. Say," Hey, you need to be here, because X, Y, Z. See you there. Bye." Now we're going to talk about the buckets. And I do not tire of telling this story. Sorry, Annie.

Annie Henderson: That's fine.

Beth Arritt: So the day before Annie and I met to just kind of walk through her newsletter, because she was talking about restructuring it. The day before she and I sat down to look at her newsletter, I happened to open one of those Valpaks, if you ever get those in the mail. And you go through it, and there's all these different local coupons and stuff like that. And I never open them; but I was like," You know what? I'm just curious to see how much has changed. Maybe there's something I can use." And so I open it, and I was flipping through it, and then we get to Annie's newsletter. I was like," Oh my God. Annie. It's a giant Valpak. You're literally sending them a giant Valpak."

Annie Henderson: But it was, again, going back to this purpose; the purpose of Accents was to fill a marketing component for all the things that we have at ASBO International. But that was back in 2015, when they did a whole restructuring of Accents. The name hasn't changed in 10 + years, just the structure of it has changed. But best practices as we know, well, those also change on more frequent basis. And this is where I was with my story in ASBO, is I took that year to learn and to absorb and to understand. And then when it came time, during my second year, I was like," Okay, this isn't filling its purpose anymore. It's done its job. And we need to shift as all marketers do, or need to do, when the audience is changing or shifting, or needs are shifting, wants are shifting. So this is where we are. We're at that need to shift."

Beth Arritt: So, we basically looked through all of that, and we went into PowerPoint, and we just made a list of the buckets of what was in there." Okay, what actually goes into the newsletter?" And we figure out, okay, A) the banner was confusing. I actually thought it was an ad when she first sent it to me, because it changes every time. The Accents is kind of hard to see; and I didn't even realize... I thought you had no banner at first. And I was like," Oh, okay. I see that when you point it out." So the first thing we talked about was changing to a branded banner, just so that it's instantly recognizable when somebody opens it; that it's not a marketing piece, this is actually the newsletter. And then, the feature article; so that sort of underscores the fact that," Hey, no, this is a newsletter."

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: And then you can throw in an ad. And then, you were saying that the ASBO news was the next important; and then Timely Tidbits was something that you do, that kind of under news, which is why you can see on here.

Annie Henderson: Yeah, yeah.

Beth Arritt: We put them together, and made the color slightly lighter.

Annie Henderson: Yeah. So, Timely Tidbits is that piece of... Is always going to be that piece of information in our association that comes outside of our association, whether maybe it's from the School Nutrition Association, maybe it's from the Pupil Transportation Association. Anything that is in relevance to what we do as supporting the district office, those Timely Tidbits would go under there. If there's a change in what they're doing, or what they're offering; and that we get through our Google Alerts that we have set up.

Beth Arritt: And then, so we talked about the resources and the professional development events and the programs. And then, she was saying that the Member Spotlight always does really well.

Annie Henderson: Always.

Beth Arritt: And lots of people are interested in it. And of course, the Jobs Board, which is ever popular, pretty much in any association. So, we put those at the bottom, so that people would scroll down to get to it. And then, the way we structured the ads when we looked at it, is we took the place that people want the most, which is-

Annie Henderson: Priority. Priority.

Beth Arritt: Right at the top. Yeah. But then, the one at the bottom also tends to be really popular; so ad two. And then we kind of worked our way in. So if you have to start taking away ads, you're taking away the least important one first.

Annie Henderson: Right. And creating more of that bulky content there in the middle, and it's salesy; we only allow up to five ads in our newsletter. Do we always get five? No, of course not. But if we get one, then we know where the one goes. If we get two, then we know where both goes. They always have that permanent placement, and there's no guessing game. And obviously, the way... When Beth introduced this topic or this information to me, I'm like," Oh, that makes so much sense." So that number two ad, when we talk about what gets the highest click-throughs, I'm like," It's always the Member Spotlight, and it's always the jobs. So let's make that the second priority placement for ads, which is down at the bottom, where we want that to be our anchor content."

Beth Arritt: Looking at it this way, taking out all the content, and just looking at the content itself, and figuring out what buckets each one fits in, is a great way to really assess what's in there. And these all tend to fit. These were all things that," Okay. This could be an easy one; even though it's long." The other idea is to actually structure it like this, too, so it's a little more readable, with the different colors and then they're cleaner; not so much imagery, easier to read, much more-

Annie Henderson: Right.

Beth Arritt: ...responsive.

Annie Henderson: Yeah. But not every single bucket has to be in every issue of the newsletter. And that's what also is brilliant about this, is that you're not going to have content for every bucket that you decipher, that you figure out that you have. And that's OK; but you can create it, you can create the newsletter so it's fluid and dynamic, and it can go with what is happening at that moment.

Beth Arritt: Yeah. And I actually, I kind of stole this concept for something I was doing recently; and I created content layout, custom layouts.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: It worked just like this, with the different colors for each section. It's perfect. Oh my gosh. You can move anything around. It's perfect. You can move things around. You can, oh my gosh. It works. It's so perfect. The whole template is there; you don't have to worry about taking stuff out, or yeah. It works great. You go back and look at that," Are you trying to do too much? Should it be multiple, more targeted newsletters?" So the pros of more focused... Pros of having that are, is it's more focused. It's definitely, you've got more targeted ad revenue opportunity.

Annie Henderson: Yep.

Beth Arritt: The cons of it, is that there's more email. There's also, especially if there's a lot of crossover between the audiences. Yeah. So then you come to," Should it be one, but with story- level targeting?" Well, the pro of that is that it's less emails, but it's still targeted.

Annie Henderson: Right.

Beth Arritt: The con is, you could lose a little bit of credibility if you try to be all things to all people. But if you go back to this and look at it, and you say," Okay. Our programs are only of interest to this subset."

Annie Henderson: Right.

Beth Arritt: I don't think yours is, but just picking that. So I'm only going to target to those people; so only those people are going to get it. So now you sort of say," Okay. I'm going to take away the information that I don't think that is going to be relevant to them, to make it easier for them to read." So when they look at it, they're going to go," Oh. This is news that's specifically relevant to me." Which goes back to our point about it needs to be relevant and timely.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: You can look at those different things and say," Oh, okay. It doesn't matter. This is not going to matter to these people, so I'm just going to send it to those people." You can do that with the advertising, too, by the way. You can actually sell more advertising if you're doing it to target audiences. Because if there's not going to be a ton of overlap, you can put a little more advertising in, because you're not going to get people going," Oh my God, this is full of ads." They're going to get the ads that are relevant to them. For an organization like AAAE, using that as an example, that has such a varied range of people in their audience, that kind of thing can be really important.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: Even the training newsletter I was talking about, is usually targeted; so there might be five different trainings that are coming up, but they're only targeted to certain people, if just for it.

Annie Henderson: Based off job title and-

Beth Arritt: Yeah. Based on job title, areas of interest; we pull in a bunch of stuff. So yeah, it's possible to do more, and yet be less information and more targeted for each person who gets it.

Annie Henderson: Now, obviously, this is a bit more footwork upfront to do when you're separating out audiences. But if you do have your association database linked over to your communications platform, like Informs, like we do. We have iMIS Communicating to inform. It does make it more manageable to do, to separate out these groups when you're doing story- level targeting. Because that's one thing that we are learning as we've opened up a new membership category for us, and that's district membership. So it's not a singular membership, but it's actually membership for all the entire office; which means that it's definitely a lot of different job titles that don't care about the same things that the primary contact would care about. So, we had to do some footwork upfront, to identify what matters most to the rest of the district office, and what they want. They don't want to see things where it's only Decision Maker resources only; they want to see things that's relevant to them, that's going to help them in their current position.

Beth Arritt: Because if they start reading through it, and seeing things that aren't applicable, not only are they going to close that, they're going to assume that it's not applicable, and they're just not going to open it again.

Annie Henderson: Yeah. And sometimes that means we, instead of doing... We can do story- level targeting, that means we actually exclude them from certain updates. Instead of adding them, we just exclude them; because everything else would be relevant to them; learning about something at ASBO, learning about a new member. That kind of stuff is relevant to them.

Beth Arritt: So, let's talk a little bit about layout design best practices. We talked about that recognizable, consistent, branded header. That's important so that people open it, and they know exactly what it is. Bucketing your sections, so that people know what news is where, is really helpful. If they're is open news-

Annie Henderson: Scrolling down.

Beth Arritt: Yeah.

Annie Henderson: They're not reading a headline, but they're actually reading what it says." Now you're going to be reading updated news." Or something like that, so they know, and it's not just... As ours was previously, you just weren't sure what you were going to get next, as you were going through all of the...

Beth Arritt: All of the Valpak?

Annie Henderson: The Valpak coupons. You just never knew what was coming next. It was kind of exciting.

Beth Arritt: So, yeah. So bucketing them is really helpful. Make sure your text is readable. If you are not a comic book association, please don't send your emails, your newsletter, in comic sans. I'm kidding. I know none of you actually do that. Just make sure it's readable though. There can be this desire sometimes to cram a bunch of text in there; and readable isn't just about font or font size, it's also about how much is there, and how much white space it has. It sounds silly, but text needs a little bit of room to breathe; otherwise, when you try to read it, it feels overwhelming and suffocating, and you just don't.

Annie Henderson: Right.

Beth Arritt: There's a whole psychology behind it. There are studies behind it, everything else. But the gist of it is, it needs room to breathe, so that you feel comfortable reading it.

Annie Henderson: Right. And if you go back to our example with Accents, you can see that there's lots of color with white text; and it kind of gets a little squished, because butting up right next to it, is a 300 x 300 pixel image. So it doesn't provide, and it doesn't give that readability that suits best practices of newsletters. Because truthfully, best practices now, is your image shouldn't be telling story of what you're trying to get across.

Beth Arritt: Right. In fact, if you don't have an image that really compliments the story or gets the psychology across of it, you might not necessarily need one.

Annie Henderson: Yes.

Beth Arritt: Don't put an image in just because there's a spot that says image. There's a reason why there are blocks that say; it informs a real line at both, that say" image with text," and the image is the whole thing, and blocks that just say" text."

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: Multiple blocks that just say" text."

Annie Henderson: And honestly, don't be afraid of just doing text. Beth, I think you showed me a really great example from Rural's Association that is text; it's just...

Beth Arritt: It's text. And it gets across. It also depends on your audience, too. Sarah Sabet, from the LVS, Lymphatic Vein Society, I think it was. I apologize, Sarah, if you're on the call, and I just butchered the name of your organization, I apologize. She has a newsletter that is... It's very long things of text; and they're very scary words that I can't pronounce. But that's her audience; they're used to reading academic journals, they're used to seeing things like that. And so, that's what they're used to seeing, so they feel comfortable with that. Think about what your audience is comfortable reading, because that's going to, in some respects, determine what this should be. Your design and your layout, at the end of the day, the best practice is to make sure it's something your audience is going to want to read, and what they're comfortable reading, and what they're used to seeing. When I say what they're used to seeing, that doesn't necessarily mean your newsletter, your old one. That could be," Oh, they're used to reading this, so okay, we're going to give it to them... I want to say the magazine, but you don't want to try and make it a magazine." That's the other thing. Some people try to make it an actual, just like a print newsletter, or a magazine; and it just doesn't work. But definitely, you want to make sure it's mobile friendly, and that-

Annie Henderson: So again, going through my example, is that because we have such large images, what happens is when someone pulls it up on a mobile, what they get is image, huge image first; and then they have to scroll for a bit longer than is really recommended, to get to the actual text that is the purpose of what we want them to get to. So we have a very low current mobile opening rate. And once we make the change over to the new layout and the new structure with more limited images, I think mobile is going to increase tenfold.

Beth Arritt: Yeah. Well, and even worse, when I opened it on my mobile, it actually... My mobile is set to shrink email. So it literally shrunk it.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: It was impossible to read.

Annie Henderson: Of course. Yeah.

Beth Arritt: Yeah. It was impossible to read. So yeah. And again, you can use color and structure with your graphic design, but yet, as your graphic design, talking about making those buckets with the differentiating colors, things like that. And again, just design to your audience.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: It's going to be a little bit different for each audience. And then, my favorite, KISS: keep it short and simple. Think about it like you're briefing the President; whether it's the president of your organization, the president.... Yeah. Well, the president of your organization, the president of Burundi, whatever. Just keep it simple.

Annie Henderson: Right.

Beth Arritt: In your marketing news, give them a reason to click or not, and move on. They're looking to you to give them a summary of what they need to know. And then, if they're interested in more information on it, they're going to click.

Annie Henderson: Right. And content doesn't have to come from inside your organization. As I mentioned before, we do have Google Alerts set up for specific topics. That comes through a specific person who filters them out. And then, if she sees anything that is of relevance to our membership, she passes it along to me. And then, I can use it in our newsletter that goes out twice a month, in our Timely Tidbits. That's another great way. And then of course, doing which Beth loves, and there's lots of Beth information on this one, but RSS feeds.

Beth Arritt: I love RSS feeds.

Annie Henderson: You do.

Beth Arritt: They make it so easy for you. Just curate feeds of trusted sources on the internet. Use keywords, if possible, to automate your curation. Use Google Alerts to figure out what feeds you need, and just make it easy for yourself. Please.

Annie Henderson: This shouldn't be 30% of your time. If you look at your time in like a month, just how much time you spend on one particular thing; your newsletter shouldn't take 30% of your time or more.

Beth Arritt: Yeah.

Annie Henderson: Honestly, it should be very fluid. It should take... It should be really quick and simple, because there's not a lot of extra steps that you would have to take to get approval, graphic design, content. It should be super simple. Keep it short and simple, so that you are getting the most return on your time. Your return should be higher than the time you spent on it.

Beth Arritt: Yeah. Think about ROI in terms of, not just of money, but of time. So then, we already covered the whole thing a bunch about job listings at the bottom; make it known they're there. People will scroll down. Subject lines; so this is a hotly debated topic. And it really, again, depends on your audience. Some audiences do really well with..." Today's Accents for November, 2022," whatever. And then people know that's what it is, and they open it. Others, article titles really, really work for getting people to open it.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: But, a trick I learned from SmartBrief, is if you put the article title, and I've seen it used a bunch of other places too, since then; if you put the article title, make sure the article, that big article that you know that's going to get them to open it, is like the third article in.

Annie Henderson: "Buryingthe lead" is what we like to call that.

Beth Arritt: Yep. In this case, you want to bury the lead; because then they'll scroll for the article, and then they'll be scrolling in, just like putting the stuff at the bottom that they know they're going to go to.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: And you can AB test with your audience, if you're not sure what they're going to respond to and see.

Annie Henderson: And the emoji is not going to fly. And sometimes it does fly in your subject.

Beth Arritt: Especially if it's an airplane.

Annie Henderson: Right.

Beth Arritt: And then again, just make it easy to read on any device; and always put the jobs at the bottom. You notice we keep mentioning that, right?

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: And then, Annie, this is one of yours. Your members want to know members.

Annie Henderson: Yeah. So again, going back to, we call it Member Spotlight. And so we will... We try to make it as simple as possible. We have a five question template that we just send to a member that is interested. They fill it out. We then have our marketing writer flush it out, post it up to our community, and boom. We've got content. And it takes us very little time.

Beth Arritt: And then, again, keep it short and simple. Let them click through from more. So, where can you find some inspiration? If you're a Higher Logic member, we do have the Higher Logic User Group. And there is a whole MA community on there. There are posts of newsletters. We do a HUG Connect every week, on Connect for Marketing on Thursdays, around different topics that you can register for. So, if you have Higher Logic products, please go on there, and check it out. ASAE Collaborate is a good place to go to. I didn't put that in here, but yeah. You can also ask your peers. You can do that on, I don't know. Annie, where do you go to ask your peers?

Annie Henderson: Oh, well, I go to HUG and Collaborate on AFAE.

Beth Arritt: I do that. And I've gone to Association Forum as well, is a nice one. And then, because I was the iMIS user, I have also used NiUG. So that's really more about getting the information out of the iMIS, but still. And then, there's a website called reallygoodemails. com. Not everything on there, I don't think everything on there is really good, but a lot of it is.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: And there's some cool examples on there that you can see, that you can just sort of look through. You can even look for it by subject, like what kind of topic it is.

Annie Henderson: And you know, lastly too, you shouldn't be doing this alone. And if you are ready to make that change in your association, build a team that can be your support in this endeavor; because one person can't do it all, as we know. So, maybe from different departments in your association, grab one person. Don't make it a large team, maybe three individuals that can come together, and share ideas and concepts, to really get this off the floor, and get some footing under it.

Beth Arritt: We've got Question Time. And we have a ton of questions coming in, so this is awesome. So the first question is," What should the open rates and click through rates be? What is considered low and high?" That is a question we get a ton. And anybody who knows me, will tell you one of my favorite answers to any question is," It depends." You want to benchmark against yourself, because if you've seen one association, you've seen one association. Every association is different. Every membership base is different, every topic is; even if you're in the same area. When I was at AAAE, we worked very closely with ACI, Airports Council International, I that's what it's called. And we all also worked with a few other aviation organizations; and we had similar goals towards regulations and things like that. But our audiences were vastly different, even though we were an airport association, and so was ACI, our audience was so vastly different that we couldn't even benchmark off each other. So the best way to figure out if you're doing a good job, and what your click- through rate should be is, the answer is more than it was yesterday, or more than it was last month, let's put it that way. You want to track against yourself, and you want to see improvement. That's how you should be tracking it. You should always want more, unless you've gotten to 100%; if you have, I would really like to have you on for a webinar, so please contact me. I'd love to know how you did that.

Annie Henderson: Yeah, for us, in ASBO, my baseline was, I want to see between 30- 35% open rate, and I wanted to see our clicks go up to 18- 20%. And when we weren't getting that, I was like," Okay. Something's got to change. We're not serving a purpose with this anymore."

Beth Arritt: So meanwhile, at AAAE, with our audience, anytime our opens got into the twenties, we were happy. And if we got a double- digit click, we were thrilled, for most things. The newsletter was a sort of a... The newsletter is usually, I think, in the twenties; usually like 25- 29% open rate. We all know open rates are going to go up now with the Apple thing, but yeah. So it's vastly different for each one. And all we wanted to see, all I ever looked at was their growth.

Annie Henderson: And I did that too, Beth. Remember a while ago, you showed me how to look at the report?

Beth Arritt: Oh, yeah.

Annie Henderson: Instead of just for one particular email you sent, for one issue of your newsletter, but for like a time span? That, in Informs, was completely and utterly invaluable to me, as I was looking at," What is happening overall?" And so, I encourage you, if you have Informs, I'm sure Real Magnet also has a tool like that, to pull an overall report, as well, to look at your open rates and your click- throughs, to see where the trend lies.

Beth Arritt: Yeah. Definitely. I'm making a note right now, to create a quick video about that. What was the next question?" What does color of parachute mean?" It's just kind of, it's my kind of way of saying," What are your buckets? What are the different areas?" If you think about a parachute, with a bunch of colors on it, what are the different areas for each color that make up the full organization, the full support for your organization? I guess it's," What color are your slice of the parachute?" In that case. So, yeah. What are your different buckets? What are your different areas in your organization that people are interested in, that should go in your newsletter? It's a colorful way to look at it, no pun intended. So, next question," Is it bad to try and cover all of these topics in your newsletter?" Not necessarily.

Annie Henderson: If you have the content to support it, go for it.

Beth Arritt: Yeah. Try it, and look at your, look at your rates. Look at, are people getting to the bottom? Are there sections getting missed as they get to the bottom? Are there sections that aren't doing very well, that you think should be doing better? If so, should they be pulled out? Do you want to cover all those topics, but target a lot of them? Story- level target them, dynamic content, whatever you want to call it.

Annie Henderson: And that's the great thing about email marketing, or newsletters, is as a marketer, it's trial and error on a daily basis to see what is working well, especially when it comes to your specific audience and association. As we mentioned before, you can't compare against another association, because they don't have your same audience.

Beth Arritt: Right.

Annie Henderson: You only have your audience. So don't get stuck on the hamster wheel. Allow things to be fluid, move around. If you want to try all content and all buckets at all times, go for it. And if it's not presenting the results that you want it to present, then change it. Say," Okay. You know what? We're only going to limit it to five stories." Or," We are going to try story- level targeting." And give yourself a time span of when you do it. I personally love a three month time span; that gives me a really good snapshot of human behavior in our membership.

Beth Arritt: Yeah. I don't think you should go any lower than two months. Two months, it can be okay; but you go any lower than that, you're not getting enough of a snapshot. So let's see. Next question." How do you define membership highlight?" We got this twice. Yeah." And what constitutes a membership highlight? Can you give examples?" So I know Annie gave the example of the Spotlight that she uses; and that's always good. It's always fun. People like, as you put it, people like to know other members. They like seeing information about them. The other thing you can do, is kind of like a movers and shakers section. Airports, people move around a lot in the airport community. I know people do in the marketing community, as well. So, their colleagues might like to know," Oh, so and so has left this position for that position." Those used to be really, really popular in print magazines for associations. Associations used to have pages in a print magazine, yes, I'm old, that showed all of the different changes people had made. Because that's the only way you found out about at the time, really. You didn't have Google Alerts. Well, make it easy for your members to know that; just a quick list of," So and so has done this. So and so got this award. So and so won this honor." Stuff like that; all of those things are super helpful to your members, and they show that you're highlighting the membership, which makes them feel warm and fuzzy. And you can even them a way to send that in. What's that?

Annie Henderson: And a part of something.

Beth Arritt: Yes.

Annie Henderson: They're a part of the membership, part of the family that your association is.

Beth Arritt: Yeah. So, you can also provide right there," Thinking you've got some news for us to share? Go here." Not only does that make them able to go and share their news; if that news is that they've changed, hey, guess what? You get to update your database. So," How should content be arranged? Content first, sales last, or intermixed?" Absolutely intermixed.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: If you've got more than two. If you've only got two pieces of sales, then top and bottom. I tell you that as an advertiser, too, that that's the preference. But yeah, you want to intermix it. If it's a picture ad, then it breaks up some of the content. If it's a text section, then you can still put it in the middle. You do want to highlight the fact that it's an ad, if it's paid for. Oh, somebody asked what HUG stands for. HUG is the Higher Logic Users Group. It is a community. If you are a Higher Logic user, it's at hug. higherlogic. com. They asked for the address." What platforms have Beth and Annie used for their company's newsletters, and why?" I'm just going to say that I've been an Informs user since 2015. And I brought that in to AAAE before we even finished our integration with iMIS, because they integrate with iMIS. And I've been using that ever since. And I brought in Community as well, to help with some of the data stuff. So I'm a big Informs user; but I love it so much that I actually came to work here. So, Annie, you can talk a little bit more objectively about it.

Annie Henderson: Yeah. I started out with Constant Contacts in 2009, maybe; a long time ago. And then we, my first association, we shifted to Informs; and then I also used MailChimp. And then here, they already had Higher Logic Informs. So I'm like," Oh. I know this. It's easy. I'll just jump right in." And so, yeah.

Beth Arritt: I love the drag and drop of it. I love how both the emails and the campaigns. I did so much with Higher Logic, with Informs Campaigns, when I was at AAAE. I loved the support and the team here. Again, that's a bigger reason why I wanted to come work here. I loved the product. I loved the support. I loved HUG. I met so many people on HUG, going on there, and doing some of the events and stuff like that. I just loved the support system that exists.

Annie Henderson: Yeah. And speaking of support, because I jumped back into Informs after, I want to say, almost seven years, and being absent from association work. HUG and Informs and Higher Logic, all of them combined, have a lot of tools and knowledge- based libraries and videos to learn. Because there was a lot of new updates, too; so when I jumped back in, was I proficient? Eh, I could muddle about; but I did all the trainings again, and I relearned. And I'm kind of constantly going back there as well, to learn; because it's a living, breathing platform; and there's lots of changes all the time, and things are constantly happening. I know that one thing in 2022 I'm actually super excited for, and that's the Survey feature; that's getting an upgrade. So I'm stoked to go through that training to learn that, because that's going to be a gold mine, compared to what we have now.

Beth Arritt: We have only a few minutes left." Does anyone work with the younger Gen Z audiences? Are there any specific newsletter suggestions for this audience?"

Annie Henderson: No. You get to be more fun with that audience.

Beth Arritt: Let's talk about the absent elephant in the room, meaning that they're not necessarily going to read. We all hear that Gen Z doesn't like to open their email. Or a higher percentage, they just feel like... If you've been around a little bit longer, email to them is like a fax machine would be to Gen X. It's just outdated and antiquated. One of the things that I've been working on, is turning email into RSS feeds. So when you have certain emails that you want to put out, basically sending it to an address that turns it into an RSS feed. And for those, I've actually been looking at that feed as a feed of some kind. There are other ways that you can do that as well. You can turn it into a feed. But creating a feed, basically, that goes out to places that they might be, like Discord or on GroupMe. I actually have GroupMe set up so that I'm using the RSS feed on the HUG community. And anytime somebody posts on the HUG Community, it goes to my GroupMe group, and then sends a text message to my phone, so that I see the post; just because I've been trying to test some of this stuff out. I also have it call me. Literally, when somebody posts on HUG, I get a phone call telling me that there's a post on HUG. Because I like to play with that stuff. So, the thing about Gen Z is that you've got to go where they are. And I don't know how else to do that inside of a newsletter itself. But if you do, it needs to be quick. It needs to be brief, and it needs to give them a reason to open it, because they don't always open it.

Annie Henderson: You want to keep it short and simple, for that.

Beth Arritt: KISS times 12.

Annie Henderson: Yeah.

Beth Arritt: Somebody says," In regards to the Timely Tidbits, is it best practice to send your audience away from your content? I've always been told that you should always use your own, but it seems to be going more towards a digest of different related sources."

Annie Henderson: We definitely curate our own content. It's not that we don't; it's just, we don't have the manpower to do it consistently for everything that happens on a daily basis. So, we actually have a daily news briefing, called School Business Daily, that aggregates top headlines from around the world for our members; and none of it comes from inside of ASBO. And then, for the Timely Tidbits, that's for from our sister associations, like the Consortium of Network Schools, which is more the technology side of it; or School Nutrition Association, of course, which is more meal planning, or the Pupil Transportation Association, which is about bus drivers and students; all of that. We can't provide expert content on that, but our members might not be members of that association, but it might be timely information for them in some manner. And so, we still want to be that source of leading the industry; and we're more than happy to share others' information that they worked on if they want to get it out. That's that's actually really good. That's building relationships outside of your association as well. So when we do large tool kits, we just did a huge technology tool kit with us and COSEN. It went over so well, because it went to their audience plus our audience, and we got major media attention from it.

Beth Arritt: Well, and the other thing is, just to remember, this newsletter should be a member benefit. And if your members count on you to give them a roundup of news from other places, then even though you're sending them out, it's a benefit to them. They're getting the news. They're going to come back, and they're going to open it, and they're going to continue to renew. So remember that. And I think that's actually a great thing to end on. This newsletter, at the end of the day, should be a member benefit. It is not a marketing tool for you for specific products. It is a marketing tool for you to show how much benefit you bring to their lives, and keep them there. Thank you so much, everyone for coming; really appreciate your time. And I hope you guys have a great rest of your day.


Newsletters are a staple of association life. Members depend on them for news and information, corporate vendors bank on them for advertising and exposure, and your association relies on them for member touchpoints, engagement, and ad revenue. But just because these stalwarts are an institution doesn’t mean they have to read like a history book.

Is it time to rethink your association’s newsletter?

This week's episode is from our third and most popular session of The Association Marketers Guide to 2022. This session features community experts Beth Arritt and Annie Henderson. Listen now to elevate your newsletter!