What’s A Nice Video Person Like You Doing In The Newsletter Business? Making Money!

By Steve Yankee

I know exactly what you’re thinking. “I’m in the video business. Why should I choose a print vehicle, like a newsletter, for my promotions?”

Good question. And what follows are some good general reasons that I’ve gleaned from my 20 years of experience writing and producing newsletters for others –and some very specific recommendations and tips we’ve learned from publishing our own.

First, a bit of history. For the past six years, my partner and I operated a “full-service” video operation in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. We offered everything from complete production to duplication to film transfers to PAL/NTSC/SECAM conversions to equipment rental. In spite of the dubious economic conditions one finds here in the Rust Belt, our business grew 500 percent in five years. (The business still exists, although I sold out my shares).

We attribute our steady growth to several factors; we ran lean and mean (a maximum of five full time employees); we worked long hours; we weren’t afraid to do whatever the client desires, whenever the client would like it done. And, most importantly, we promoted ourselves like a couple of madmen!

In addition to a large-scale Yellow Pages campaign, and seasonal newspaper and magazine advertising, we also published a quarterly newsletter. Several reasons: it’s a relatively cost-effective way to reach both existing clientele and people you’d like to have be your clients. It’s a great way to tout your challenging projects, your rates and services, your fantastic clients, and introduce the various personalities that make up your staff. And importantly, it’s a communications tool that can provide you instant feedback – feedback that can make a real difference in your bottom line.

We published six editions of The Volume in an 18-month span – one issue a quarter. It was bulk-mailed to an ever-growing list of clients and prospects – around 1,500 at maximum. And it was very effective. In fact, our first issue resulted in $20,000 worth of business for us. When you consider the fact we spent about $1,000 for designing, creating, producing and mailing that first issue, it provided an awesome return on our investment!

What do you write about? Basically, anything you can think of that will be of interest to the reader. We took half of the front page one issue to let people know we had just added in-house film transfers. We regularly reported on production, giving people an idea of the scope of the projects we work on – both small and large. We have introduced our employees and their specific areas of expertise, given news on facility updates and equipment upgrades, and given case histories on unusual film transfer projects and the like. Just take a look around your shop; there’s probably half a dozen stores waiting to be talked about at this very moment!

We tried to keep production simple, too. We settled on a four-page, 8-1/2″ x 11″ newsletter, folded for mailing convenience. We normally used two colors –always black, and a second color that either supports our main story, or has some sort of seasonal tie-in – green for spring, yellow for summer, that sort of thing. We used as many pictures as possible – ones taken on location, or in our facilities – and we tried to keep things breezy, personal and upbeat. If our business was going down the tubes (which fortunately, it wasn’t), we’d never let on to our readership. For many readers, the newsletter is a very real indicator of our corporate success and our individual personalities, and we don’t care to broadcast our flops and our foibles.

So, interested? Let me give you some of Yankee’s Rules for Successful Newsletters.

1. Establish a regular publishing schedule and stick to it! People appreciate stability and regularity – and if you do a good job with a newsletter, you’ll find your audience starts to look forward to them.

2/ Be a name-dropper! Oh sure, I know – your competition will read the newsletter and start calling all your clients. Well, if you’ve done a good job keeping said clients happy, there’s no problem. And we’ve found that clients are like everyone else –they love to see their names in print. It helps build loyalty –and loyalty is hard to buy these days.

3/Include useful information! We told readers why film and slide transfers make great holiday gifts…why they should buy good tape, and tape in SP speed…and gave them helpful hints to follow when they’re preparing to produce a video. As well as tell them when we were ready with our new rate cards. News they can use.

4/Don’t get too technical! We all know what a DVE does, and how to use a vectorscope. But do they really care? What your clients are looking for is results! In most cases, they’re really not interested in whether your camera has one, two or a dozen chips. They simply want to know if you can get their VP of Marketing on tape, and do it right the first time.

5/Use a return card! Never EVER send out anything –a letter, a rate card, a refrigerator magnet or a newsletter –without asking for the order, and making it easy for prospects to respond to you. Otherwise, you’re just wasting money. And while we’re on that thought…

6/Make yourself accessible! We included a postage-paid return card with every newsletter we mail. On it, we asked people to let us know what they’d like to hear more details about. We asked if we should call them and, if so, when was the best time to call? We mentioned our phone numbers in nearly every article, and told readers specifically who they should contact to get more info on our various services.

7/Give them away to everyone you know! It does you no good to print a few thousand newsletters to take up room in the editing suite. Give ’em to your friends, your family, your clients, your clients’ friends, your kids; mail copies to every editor of every newspaper and magazine in your area. For that matter, send a copy to every national video or communications publication you can find. Put a copy in every order you fill, every box you mail, and give one to every person that walks in your doors. Remember that just one good order can pay for the newsletter many times over – and you never know where that order is going to come from.

8/Use pictures! Minimum of one per page. Black and white reproduces best, unless you’re printing in four-color, of course. And don’t forget to ALWAYS put a caption under (or next to) the picture. People read these things. Take pictures of your equipment, your staff at work (especially on location shoots), and your clients. You can even shoot stills off the screen of some of your best work. Wherever they come from…USE them!

It’s really pretty simple to put a newsletter together. You’re already a communicator, so you should have some idea of how the process works. Here’s how we do it. As the official writer, I kept an open file for possible stories and topics. When I had an idea –maybe for a case history of a client, or an interesting client product we just shot for a production, or some new capability we’ve added –I threw it in the file.

When it came time to publish the newsletter, I sat down and wrote it directly in my computer. It got printed out, checked, proofed, and we decided on photos. Some may have already existed, some may have needed to be taken. If so, we took them. If you’ve got a background in electronic publishing, you can put yours together easily, using one of the myriad software programs available for that sort of thing.

Being reasonably (and deliberately) ignorant of them, I simply gave a corrected disk (and all the photos) to a computer publishing friend who put the newsletter together for us. We proofed it again, made any necessary changes, and sent it over to our printers. (Note: we always got three quotations for printing our newsletter and you should, too; keeps those printers honest!)

After printing, the newsletter went directly to our mailer for folding, stapling, mutilating, addressing and mailing. It’s as easy as that.

Well…maybe not quite that easy. But the bottom line is that thanks to computer technology, a self-promotional newsletter can be assembled relatively easily and inexpensively. And you’ll find that overall, it also can be one of the most profitable sales tools you can use.