In tough economic times, people have to wear a lot of hats. You’ve just been handed the job of creating your company newsletter, but you’ve never done anything like that before. So, where do you start?
Before you freak out, consider your own talents versus what the company wants. Do you feel comfortable learning enough about design to design the newsletter yourself? Do you have enough time? Or given the deadline and complexity of the project, does it make more sense to outsource the task?
Newsletters can be extremly simple, extremely complex, or anyplace in between. Get answers to these questions before you start. Will the newsletter be:
- Short or long?
- Color or black and white?
- Printed by a printer or run from your own printer?
- Do you have to take photographs and/or write the text. Or is someone else supplying the content?
The answers to these questions determine the level of project complexity. A 24-page four-color newsletter that you have to create from scratch and that will be printed on an offset press is vastly more complicated than a single sheet black and white newsletter that you run off on a laser printer.
The very first line of a book called Design Sense says, "There are three elements to juggle in every design job: time, quality and money. If you press one, it will affect the other two." It is o-so-true. At some point, reality rears its ugly head on every design job.
How Do I Get Started?
Okay, if you decide that you want to learn more about design and printing and want to manage the task yourself, the first step is the most basic. You have to come up with a clear reason why you’re producing the newsletter in the first place. In other words what is the point?
As an aside, if someone has tasked you with the job, sometimes getting answers to these questions can be a real challenge. However, save yourself a lot of wasted time and aggravation and do not start writing or designing until you get the answers first. Figure out what you are going to do before you start doing it.
What is the purpose of the newsletter? Who is the audience? Is it supposed to sell, inform, entertain or inspire readers? For example, if you are creating an employee newsletter, presumably it is supposed to motivate and inform them. Similarly, if your newsletter is intended go out to clients, don’t forget that either. During the process, always keep the goal in mind. By setting goals you can more easily answer the questions you will invariably encounter as you design the newsletter.
Once you have figured out the overall point, the next step is to think about what you can afford. Will the newsletter be a one page sheet or 12 pages? One color or full color? How many copies will you need? Will it be laser printed or will you have to take it to a printer for reproduction?
Next, think about what the newsletter should look like. Should it be friendly and informal or dignified and conservative? What image are you trying to convey? Answers to these questions will help you select fonts and images later.
Last, but not least, what is the deadline? If your boss thinks that you can create 5,000 copies of a 4-color newsletter in a week, tell her to think again. It’s not going to happen. When you use outside vendors, you have to take their schedules into account along with your own.
Talk to Printers
So, now answers in hand, you know your mission. For example, let’s say that you are going to create a customer newsletter that will be 11 x 17 folded and printed in two colors. You need to have 1,000 of them printed before the drop dead date next month.
Because of the quantity and number of colors, it will be cost effective to get the newsletter printed by an offset printer.
So, your next step is to get price quotes from at least three different printers. You need to ask a lot of questions and consider all your options. When you select a printer, your selection should be based on a lot more than price. Ask to see samples of work that is similar to your job.
Different printers have different types of presses, so in this case, you want to try and find a printer who specializes in two-color work. Also check their turnaround time. After you receive the quotes, make sure that extra costs such as film production, bindery work (folding) and delivery are factored into their quote. Your goal is to try and compare apples to apples. If one quote is way out of line with the others, call up the printer and have them explain. Find out what they need from you to print your job. If they are too busy to talk to you, find another printer.
After you have selected a printer and have some understanding of what they are going to need to print your job, the next step depends on whether you are going to write the newsletter yourself or get information from other people.
If you have content already, you are ready to create a rough layout. Figure out where you are going to place all the various articles and photos. Sometimes you’ll discover that you have either way too much or way too little content for the allotted space. It’s good to know about this problem early on, so you can decide what to cut out or ask people for more material.
If, on the other hand, you are starting from scratch, you should start by coming up with a list of possible articles. You’ll probably come up with more article ideas than you can fit into one issue. Save your list for next time. (One aspect of newsletters is that they are periodicals, so yes, there will be a next one!)
Look around for graphics and photos you can use to illustrate your newsletter. However, always think about copyright laws. If something has been reproduced somewhere else, you do not own the copyright, even if it is off the Internet. Ask for permission. And if you don’t know whether a photo or an article is safe to use, don’t use it. Just because you got it in your e-mail in box does not mean you can reproduce it!
Now you are ready to start making up a few rough layouts, so you can start figuring out how long your articles need to be and start writing. Remember that it’s easier to write more than you need and then cut than it is to create really short articles and try to think up ways to fill empty space.
If you have defined the style for your newsletter body text in your desktop publishing program, here’s a trick. Import some junk text into the box you have drawn for an article in your rough layout. Copy the amount that fits in the box back out into your word processor and run a word count on it.
As for photographs, take every opportunity to take pictures of people and events when they come up. Try to get on the "A" list of folks who know when big things are happening at your company.
The basics of layout are mostly common sense. You can do many things with software, but a lot of them are really ugly. So, if it looks strange, don’t do it. Everyone sees examples of design every day. You know what looks good and what doesn’t. For example, lots of "award-winning" design is unreadable.
The primary purpose of your newsletter is to communicate an idea. If you find your newsletter pleasing to look at, others probably will too. If no one can read the newsletter, your idea is lost and your design has failed. If you don’t feel like you have a good "eye" for design, get as many design books from the library on design as you can find. Spend a lot of time reading and absorbing the traditional design "rules." If you still don’t feel warm and fuzzy about your newsletter layout, find a premade template that works with your desktop publishing software or hire a designer to build one for you. Then add your content and make every effort to refrain from changing or deviating from the defined template styles.
After you have your content assembled and laid out, you need to think about color. Part of getting something printed means you have to understand a little bit about the printing process. Hopefully, when talking to printers, they’ll give you a little education in the process.
Basically, when you print in more than one color, the printer has to run the paper through the press multiple times. For two color printing, there is one printing pass for each color (i.e., you "separate" the colors). Full color printing is done using what’s called 4-color process. The desktop publishing software splits color information you define into the four process colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). These four colors can be combined to make up virtually all the colors in the rainbow.
For a two color job like our fictional newsletter, you need to specify the colors in your layout. This is called "spot" color as opposed to "full" color. Most printers use the Pantone Color Matching system to define colors of ink. They have swatch books you can look at to see what the ink colors are (or you can buy your own, but they are somewhat expensive). For example, our Logical Expressions logo uses PMS320, which is a shade of teal. You specify the colors in your desktop publishing software. Then the colored items can be printed out on separate sheets of paper which the printer uses to make the plates that they put on the press.
This brings up a point however. Not all software understands 4-color process printing. Low end desktop publishing software and word processing software cannot realistically be used to create 4-color artwork. Technically, you can do spot color separations in Word, but it’s a somewhat tricky process and definitely not built into the program. The major desktop publishing programs such as Quark XPress, PageMaker, and InDesign all handle color separations as that was part of the reason for their existence from the beginning. Talk to the printer and find out what software they can work with and how they want their files prepared. (Be advised that this can be a complex process.)
If you don’t have software that does handle color, you can do spot color separations the old fashioned way. Basically print out an extra copy of your layout on your laser printer and tape a piece of tracing paper over it. On the overlay, indicate which text should be in color. For example, if the headlines are teal, on the overlay you would circle them and write PMS 320. Don’t scan photos yourself, but draw boxes in the layout and indicate on your overlay where they go.
To do 4-color process printing, you really do need to invest in good desktop publishing software like XPress or PageMaker and buy a book on graphic design and production. However, one caveat: having a computer and desktop publishing software does not make you a designer any more than owning a paintbrush makes you an artist. Learning takes time. Read everything you can find and talk to people, especially printers, to learn more.
Get Final Approval
After you have your layout set up and colors spec-ed out, proofread it. Print out copies and get everyone who cares about the finished product to read it. As noted, the whole point of a newsletter is to be read. Typos and grammatical errors reflect poorly on you and your company. When proofing, try following this 6-step approach, which we’ve paraphrased from Elaine Floyd’s classic book, "Making Money Writing Newsletters":
1. Read everything through for flow.
2. Read for punctuation and spelling (especially proper names, which a spell checker won’t pick up)
3. Read the articles out loud.
4. Read just the headlines
5. Read the headlines and other large text holding the page upside-down
6. Verify phone numbers and dates.
After all the approvals have been given, and the piece is as good as you can get it, take it off to the printer.
When it returns from the printer, start distribution. Ask people for feedback and think about what you’d like to be different next time and how you can improve the next newsletter.