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Taking the plunge: Diving into an agency e-newsletter

Taking the plunge: Diving into an agency e-newsletterLast month, we talked about the importance of transparency in government, and this month’s e-news expands upon that expectation. By formulating an agency e-newsletter to disseminate information to concerned constituents, you’ll be fulfilling your transparency promise in yet another way!
We understand that jumping into the e-newsletter scene can seem a daunting feat, especially if a newsletter to constituents isn’t a usual part of your agency’s many responsibilities. Have no fear – we’ve compiled a few tips and timelines to get you moving in the right direction:

Three months before you plan to launch your e-newsletter:

  • Plan out your strategy regarding how your agency will manage its new communication channel. According to the Congressional Management Foundation, governmental agencies should consider a few questions when honing in on its e-newsletter approach: How often will you send it out? What are its goals? How will content be developed? What will the review process be? How will the office manage new incoming collateral, like e-mail, a growing list or a more involved constituency?
  • Identify potential online e-newsletter management services and, if required, develop an RFP for the service. Using such a service allows for expedited delivery, handling all of the work for you for a relatively low cost!  When evaluating options, look for features like e-mail collection forms that can be added to your website, creative templates or custom uploads, list population and management, and sending options for both plain text and HTML e-newsletters. You may need to run the terms and conditions of the service by your organization’s attorney to make sure they comply with your agency’s legal requirements.
  • Most e-newsletter services allow you to send newsletters in plain text, HTML or both. Plain text can be read by all e-mail programs, whereas HTML offers more image capabilities. If an HTML e-newsletter is in your plans, decide how to handle e-newsletter design:
    • Design the template and write the HTML code yourself (or have a staff member do so internally, if the capability exists)
    • Hire an outside firm to design and code the e-newsletter template
    • Use an existing design template provided by your e-newsletter management service

Two months before launch:

  • Begin collecting e-mail addresses from constituents via your website or e-mail. Also consider inviting constituents to mail in an updated information card, with a field for e-mail address included within. For local municipalities, these can be included with utility mailings. Include the self-mailer card with your print newsletter (if your agency has one) to make it easier to return, along with a clever e-mail-themed giveaway, like an @ sign Letter Opener, Pen or Paper Clip—all imprinted with the URL where they can register online. If possible, send an immediate (within a week) follow-up e-mail after they’ve given you their address – this will ensure you stay out of spam filters once you send a real e-news, and that they’re anticipating its delivery when the time comes.
  • Create an in-agency go-to station where visitors can register their e-mail address and pick up any information related to the new endeavor. Let those who sign up keep the pen they use as a reminder of the launch. Imprint the expected start month, your logo and website onto bright-colored pens like the purple Epiphany or yellow Cobra to keep the info top-of-mind!

One month before:

  • Secure your e-newsletter schedule and topic list for the first six months of content. What theme will each newsletter take on? What topics will articles be about? Include relevant, timely information that citizens care about, rather than what your agency may find particularly interesting. By providing constituents with another form of communication like an e-news, you’ll likely be cutting down on incoming calls or visits from uniformed or concerned citizens if your content is spot-on.
  • Begin drafting your content for the first e-newsletter as well. In reading e-mails, people tend to skim, so keep articles short and sweet, with the most important information at the top. Entice them to open the e-newsletter by writing a catchy headline for the subject. Also include links to your website to drive traffic and add value. Finally, be sure to include a link to your agency’s privacy policy (or, applicable laws) as well as how users can easily unsubscribe in each e-newsletter.

Two weeks before:

  • Hold a staff training session on how to create, update, send and track your e-newsletter. This session should include at least two teammates, so one can fill in if another is absent during an “e-news emergency.” Consider pulling together a step-by-step training manual, too, to accompany the session for later staff reference. Upload it onto a USB drive or Recordable CD, imprinted with your logo and “Operation: E-news” for easy finding later.
  • Notify all constituents a final time of the intended date your e-newsletter launch. Remind all employees with a memo or mass e-mail. Simultaneously put up Indoor Sail Signs, Retractor Banner Displays or Countertop Banners for both constituent and staff benefit that say, “Launching our first-ever e-newsletter on August 1! Register your e-mail at www.AgencyName.com today!”

And, finally, on the day of launch … take a deep breath and release your first e-newsletter. Be proud of your agency and contributing team members – you’ve taken yet another step toward positively upping the transparency factor and increasing your constituents’ experience with your agency!

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