Client newsletters are an effective method of maintaining regular client contact. Their popularity with attorneys is growing, and they are proliferating because people everywhere demand specialized news, hence the tremendous amount of special-interest publications. Successful newsletters require equal attention to content, production, and distribution.
This article discusses the role of newsletters in attracting and retaining clients, three methods to produce newsletters, sources of information for newsletters, standards for effective content and high-quality appearance, and recommended frequencies.
Attorney newsletters are best when they contain specialized information, presenting timely information to people who can use it and benefit from it. Newsletters can make an attorney stand out from the crowd and demonstrate his or her client focus. They can help attorneys establish themselves in an area of practice for which they are relatively unknown but in which they have genuine expertise.
Individual attorneys have three choices of getting a newsletter to send to clients: They may 1) initiate their own newsletter, 2) participate in the preparation of one through their firm or department, and 3) purchase a preprinted newsletter.
In this last option, the newsletter is purchased from an outside source. It contains information on general topics on a broad range of subjects, presumably of interest to a great number of readers. The attorneys or their firms simply add their own names and distribute it.
The first two options are discussed in detail below. Preprinted newsletters, because of their impersonal nature, are generally not too valuable for attorneys. They are useful for reminding a client (or potential client) that the attorney is actively practicing. Personalized methods of client contact, including direct mail of all sorts discussed elsewhere in this book, are much more effective.
There are essentially two kinds of newsletters-those presenting general ranges of issues and single-subject issues. Research has shown that individual attorneys have the best success with single-subject newsletters. They have greatest value to a narrow client group with narrow interests. But one of the greatest marketing benefits from general newsletters cannot be overlooked-cross-selling. An attorney who is well known as a land use attorney who produces newsletters solely on land use issues will have great success and build a strong reputation in this area. But very few people may ever know that the attorney is also skilled and experienced in other areas of the law. Newsletters can help to bridge this information gap.
Excellent sources of material for newsletters are internal memos and research work developed for a particular situation. Most attorneys, whether in larger firms or small, conduct research frequently; with extensive rewriting into simple English, it is ideal for client communication.
Maintaining reader interest
A main challenge for any newsletter writer is to attract and hold reader interest. Brevity is critical to this, realizing that the newsletter will not be the last word on the issue.
Another method is writing articles in a style that allows for "callouts" and "subheads." They make the newsletter scannable, that is, with headlines that catch the eye. One in-house counsel, who receives no fewer than five unsolicited newsletters each week, says "I give these things 30 seconds each, if they don't have me by then, that's it."
An example of a "callout" is text alongside an article in a size 50 percent larger than the main text. If the article was on new tax legislation, the "callout" could say "This affects companies with profit sharing." That would catch the eye of any corporate treasurer!
Regarding other kinds of content, attorneys are cautioned to use sparingly personality features on individuals or information of personal activities. Yes, they give a flavor and personality to the firm, but they smack of self-aggrandizement and can easily irritate a client. The best advice is to stick to business to maintain reader interest.
Another effective method to hold reader interest and demonstrate attorney expertise is to develop a "point of view." This technique is used effectively in business management to initiate discussion and show leadership. Managers come to meetings or write memos espousing one point of view, instead of fence straddling and arriving at no decision.
A "point of view" can be taken in attorney newsletters on any number of subjects. Instead of taking an issue that is beaten to death in many publications, attorneys can delve into one aspect or creative element of the topic and draw conclusions. Of course, no attempt should be made to give legal advice in a newsletter. But the point here is that readers appreciate knowing the attorney position and beliefs on current issues.
The first issue of a newsletter, with a masthead and printed in newspaper- style columns-will require the services of a graphic designer or a good printer with graphic services. The newsletter design should conform to the existing graphic style of the firm. It should use the same type styles and colors of ink and paper in use for the firm letterhead, and so on.
Desktop publishing is growing in popularity, and it will soon find its way into more firms and ultimately onto lawyers' desks. One of the reasons for the growth in newsletters and publications of all sorts is the tremendous change in the graphic design and printing industry in recent years. Now, computer software with "templates" of newsletters is much easier to buy and use than ever before; therefore, costs have dropped and older methods such as typesetting and paste-up are no longer required for the quality of work usually needed in an attorney's newsletter.
A good printer can reproduce a quality newsletter directly from documents produced by a laser printer. Some offices with certain types of high- quality photocopiers can produce the newsletter in-house. Quality must be the deciding factor on final selection of method of production.
Newsletters should be prepared whenever there is something to say; some firms have a standard, easy-to-use format and have produced as many as two newsletters a day. More common is monthly or quarterly publication. Issues must be published at least three times a year. If this seems like too large a task then the project scope should be reevaluated. Three times a year is a minimum to maintain continuity.
Of most importance is to establish a comprehensive program at the outset that includes equal time devoted to production and distribution so that the newsletter not only looks good but also is delivered to the right people in a timely manner.
Quality must prevail. Conventional wisdom rings true here: "If you are not going to do it well, don't do it at all."
In sum, the experience of most law firms is that newsletters have their greatest value in two areas: in cross-selling and in combating the out-of- sight/out-of-mind problems for attorneys who have infrequent contact with existing or recent clients. Most attorneys and firms realize that in the end, newsletters will not bring in new business. They won't necessarily change buying decisions, but--like so many other client communications-- will reinforce those who already bought, building and maintaining strong client relationships