How to Create an External E-Newsletter

Newsletters, when used properly, can be a great marketing and communications tool to keep your audience engaged, grow your brand recognition, and build relationships with other organizations in your field. They are also a large project to get off the ground. This guide is meant to help you through the process of brainstorming, developing, and sending an email newsletter.

This is not an easy or quick process. Creating your email lists, building a template, and maintaining the newsletter takes time and energy. Taking shortcuts can lead to wasted time, poor results, and frustration. We encourage you to carefully consider each of these steps before committing to creating a newsletter.

Step 1: Set your newsletter's goal

Before starting your newsletter, determine your audience and what you hope this newsletter accomplishes. Are you hoping to keep alumni updated on department happenings? Are you trying to get your department’s name and status more widely recognized? Are you trying to keep current students engaged with departmental events? These are all possible reasons for starting a newsletter, and picking your core audience and your main goal will help determine if you need a full newsletter versus just a listserv.

Step 2: Set your publication schedule and collect content for current and map out future issues

Starting up a newsletter if you’ve never had one before is a lot of work and will take a lot of time. Before committing to creating, make sure you will be able to sustain the newsletter. Here are a few questions to answer:

  • What will your sources be?
    • Content created in the department, such as student profiles, articles written by faculty, faculty news and accomplishments?
    • Collecting and sharing content from the field or discipline?
    • Both?
  • How often will you publish?
  • Who is your main editor? Who will support the editor by creating or submitting stories?
  • Who will test and do final reviews before sending? Checking image quality, testing the links, reviewing for spelling errors, etc.

Step 3: Create your mailing list

This is a much more in-depth step than one how-to guide can hold! We have a separate guide for creating and growing your email list

Step 4: Select a core template and brand as appropriate.

You’ve answered the questions above and have a clear plan moving forward for set-up, ownership, and sustainability of the newsletter. Awesome! Now, it’s time to create the newsletter.

EMMA is the university-approved vendor for email newsletters. It has templates and a user-friendly interface to make setting up your newsletter easy, even if you’ve never made one before. Some points to consider as you develop the template:

  • Keep it simple and find one that looks great on mobile devices. Many readers will read on their phones or tablets, not desktops.
  • Ensure the template includes links to “manage your subscription” and clear ways to opt out.
  • Include your logo and keep the colors and fonts as close to the Mason Brand Guidelines as you can.

The best advice we can give is to consider newsletters you receive from other organizations or universities and take stock of what you like and what you dislike about each of them. Do you prefer lots of images? Do you dislike having to scroll too much? Do you prefer when upcoming events are at the top or at the bottom? Borrow layout ideas from others; don’t recreate the wheel.

Step 5: Enter the body content.

All our marketing platforms feed into the website. That’s where the most information about your department lives, it’s where the application and inquiry forms are, and it’s the best tool for showing off all the great aspects of your department.

With that said, your newsletter should be a vessel for your body content, not its home. The content should live on the website as articles or pages. Your newsletter content, then, is short blurbs about each article or page and then a link to the article or page on the website. This not only saves space and prevents a wall of text in one’s inbox, but allows your most exciting stories to live long, fulfilling lives on the website, where they can be repurposed and shared on other platforms.

A common layout for body content is an image, a brief paragraph (1-3 sentences), and then a “Read More” or “Learn More” hyperlink. How many pieces you include is up to you.

Step 6: Upload your mailing list to EMMA

Follow the instructions on EMMA's website for importing email lists.  

Step 7: Choose your subject line and sender name.

Having a sender name from a real person increases opens and clickthroughs. It helps if the name is someone your audience will recognize. Most platforms allow your sender name to be different from the “reply to” name. Consider making the department chair, or another notable person in the department, the “sender”, while the ”reply to” email is your generic department inbox.

Create a short but engaging subject line. A good subject can help improve the open rates.

Step 8: Support inclusion with alt text on images and a plain text version (if Emma requires you to add the plain text yourself.)

  • Alt Text: For visually impaired readers, you need to add a short description to each image. This is known as “alt-text” and it is important to help your readers.
  • Plain Text: Some folks still get emails in plain text. You may need to upload that to Emma yourself, or the system may generate it for you automatically.

Step 9: Test different browsers and email providers.

Make sure what you have done looks good in different systems. There are tools out there that will simulate how the design and content look in various email clients.

Step 10: Send your email!

You’ve done it! The first newsletter is on its way to inboxes around the country...even around the globe! Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

What’s next? We’ve got another guide coming soon for what to do after you’ve sent the first email.