September 21, 2011 / by Lauren Bigge

In an industry where print is increasingly being considered passé, associations are producing more newsletters than ever. But like their print brethren, newsletters are evolving digitally and leaving behind paper trappings.

“The trend, if anything, is an increase in newsletters because as print gets more expensive, some people are folding their magazines and going to digital newsletter products,” said Carla Kalogeridis, editorial director of Association Media & Publishing and president of Arion Media Services.

Joe Rominiecki, managing editor of newsletters for ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership in Washington, D.C., also sees a definite trend toward an increase in e-newsletter publishing, with associations producing multiple newsletters intended for more niche audiences. “I think it’s something that pretty much every association is involved in now just because email is ubiquitous. So many people read their emails on their smartphones now.”

The smartphone is among a growing number of electronic formats making newsletter content quickly and easily consumable for readers. “Newsletters are very well suited to the electronic medium, especially if you’re an organization that develops multiple niche newsletters that go to a smaller group,” said Lisa Junker, director of publishing and custom media for Stratton Publishing & Marketing Inc. in Alexandria, Va. “Most associations I know of have chosen to develop their newsletters more on the electronic side.”

Tori Miller, director of marketing and communications for the Global Cold Chain Alliance in Alexandria, Va., expressed similar sentiments. “In my experience, it’s now almost standard for e-newsletters to be compatible with smartphones and tablets,” said Miller. Her association publishes three e-newsletters covering industry news. “E-newsletters should absolutely be integrated so that people can share the newsletter, or the stories featured in the newsletter, on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. I think social media is playing a much heavier role in e-newsletters. It’s not just related to association publishing; it’s all publishing. Everyone’s trying to figure out whether or not print is dead, and if it’s not dead, how does it move forward, how does it change in our mobile age?”

Association Vision president Al Rickard does not necessarily think print is dead, but he definitely sees the trend in e-newsletter publishing as well. His communications company handles the publishing and public relations needs of Washington, D.C. metro area associations. The company currently creates three e-newsletters. “Most association newsletters have migrated to e-newsletters to take advantage of better timeliness, convenience for members who are increasingly reading news online, and lower cost,” he said in an email interview. “They typically cover a combination of association and industry news. Articles are short with links to longer articles and other resources.”

“Clickable” newsletters may be the norm for associations now, but pitching specific newsletters may not be the best approach. Mari Brown, director of communications for the National Business Officers Association (NBOA), noted the importance of pitching the organization as a whole. Approximately 5,000 people receive NBOA’s e-newsletter, Bottomline, which accepts 50-word product pitches from businesses. “These business partners who have products and services that are really great for our members are able to get in front of the members and really show them what those products and services are all about. It’s all about member services,” said Brown.

The emphasis on member services in pitches is critical, Miller agreed. Membership is the lifeblood of an association, so pitching a concept or product that appeals to members’ needs is the best way to ensure the audience sees your client’s message. “I could probably easily publish 10 e-newsletters because we have such a diverse audience,” she said. “I think in order to stay relevant, we’ve really had to do a push to cover the top stories in our industry. We’re talking about an industry topic, and then we’re mentioning if you need more information, you can go to this event, or go to this resource.”

Clearly it’s important to be aware of an industry’s hot topics, as well as the variety of readers an association may have. For example, Rominiecki’s organization, ASAE, publishes 14 newsletters based on areas of professional interest; all are open to pitches from industry experts. “What PR folks need to think in terms of is the association’s overall audience, not the publication,” Kalogeridis said. “Associations publish a lot of different media products – they do blogs, they have Facebook updates, they tweet, they do daily newsletters, e-blasts. A PR person would go crazy trying to pitch a specific publication. That strategic approach is old.”

So when pitching an association, focus on the organization and its members’ needs rather than on a specific newsletter. And keep in mind that like the rest of the print industry, newsletters are embracing digital. “With the explosion of tablets and social media and the trend toward content design for mobile, associations have a lot more avenues to get the information out,” said Kalogeridis. “What’s going on in associations is mirroring what’s going on in the broader media world.”

–Lauren Bigge

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