Designing a Noteworthy Newsletter

Overhauling your organization’s newsletter is no small feat. Content is and always will be king, but design is important, too. Whether you’re starting a new newsletter or sprucing up an old one, give your newsletter a fresh new look with these tips.

 Keep it simple.

Create a nice header to attract attention. If you don’t have a program like Photoshop to create your masterpiece, PowerPoint can be a great tool for creating your main image. Stick to basic shapes like squares and circles to create a clean, cool design. Remember, people like to see pictures of other people. Make sure the photos you select complement and relate to your text; include the head shot of the person you are writing about or who is penning the piece, or include photos of event attendees — not just the pretty centerpiece on the table. Make sure your photo doesn’t overpower the newsletter by limiting the length of your photo to about the size of your first paragraph of text.

Don’t serve the whole pie at once when a slice will do.

Link to longer articles on your website rather than including all the text in your newsletter. Newsletters are especially helpful for driving traffic to your website, so giving people a few sentences of text to summarize the article and a link to the full text can be helpful. This is will keep your readers from scrolling through a long email and tracking how many clicks each link gets can help you get an idea of what people are most interested in reading about. The same goes for your subject line. Try to avoid a standard “this month’s newsletter” subject line or anything longer than 50 characters. Also use a call to action or a catchy phrase from one of your articles to give your readers a reason to open it.

Add some color.

Even your most loyal followers can be turned off by something that is hard to read. Use color to flatter your logo by selecting a complimentary color from the old-fashioned color wheel. If your logo is light blue, maybe a light orange would add some pop. Adobe Kuler is a great tool to help you pick the perfect hue. Then alternate divider colors, or add a light shading to a text box to make it stand out.

Make your newsletter font-tastic. 

Zone in on what is important by making your headlines bigger. If everything in your e-newsletter is the same size, your readers won’t know what to read first, and a quick glance will become a blur. Increase the size of your headlines and make captions smaller. Also choose a font that fits your medium; a good rule of thumb for choosing your main font depends on if your reader will see it online or in print. San-serif fonts are easier to read online, whereas serif fonts are more appropriate for paper. To maintain consistency, avoid using more than two different fonts in your newsletter design.

Track your progress.

You won’t be able to tell if your redesign has had an impact if you won’t measure your readership before and after the change. Email marketing platforms like Constant Contact and Mail Chimp make it easy to track how many people are opening your newsletter and clicking on a link within it.

Need a little inspiration for your e-newsletter? Here are a few noteworthy examples and articles to check out:

Visit Fort Worth

Your Health, John Hopkins Medicine

City Winery Newsletter

The Non-Designers Design Book by Robin Williams

Principles of Design: Check Your Documents for Balance, Alignment, and Other Principles of Design

What tips you have for e-newsletters? Share your suggestions with us in the comments section below.

This post was written by PPRA Newsletter Chair Katie Grivna. Katie is a Development Associate at Covenant House Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization that serves Philadelphia’s homeless, runaway and trafficked youth. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Member Spotlight: Katie Grivna

The following is part of our Member Spotlight series. Twice a month, the PPRA blog will feature a profile on one of our members. Today’s post highlights Katie Grivna, chair of PPRA’s newsletter committee.

Katie Grivna

So, how long have you been a member of PPRA?

Since Summer 2012.

I joined PPRA before I had even moved to Philadelphia! After chatting with Jessica Lawlor (now VP of Communications for PPRA) via Twitter, I knew I wanted to join PPRA. I knew being a member would be a great way to establish a new network and familiarize myself with job opportunities. I moved to Philadelphia that fall, and attended my first PPRA event: Test Your Fear with PPRA at Terror Behind the Walls! Trust me, there’s no better way to connect with other pros you just met than going through a spooky haunted house! We also got a “behind the scenes” tour, which was awesome.

How did you get into PR?

I loved writing for my high school newspaper, so when I started college at the University of North Texas, I knew I wanted to do something that involved writing. After my first “Intro to PR” class, I felt like PR was a great intersection between business and storytelling. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I worked at a boutique PR firm. Later, I worked at a regional office of a large corporation. Both experiences taught me a lot about how to write with a targeted message, and I’m really grateful to have had great mentors along the way.

Tell us a little bit about your current position.

I am a development associate at Covenant House Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization that serves homeless, runaway and trafficked youth 21 and under. In that capacity, I coordinate the agency’s special events, visit corporations during employee giving campaigns, serve as the liaison to our Young Professionals group, manage stewardship communications, prospect new donors and more. Working for a nonprofit, you have your fingers in a lot of different pies, and I really like that aspect. Initially, you might not think that fundraising is related to PR, but in reality, nonprofits still manage mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders; your stakeholders are your supporters rather than customers or members of the media.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?

PR pros wear a lot of different hats, especially when they work for a nonprofit organization. Every day is different, and I love that. In PR, you can not always measure the effect of your work. But in my role as a development associate, I love seeing the direct impact of what I’m doing; I’ll never forget the excitement and satisfaction I felt the first time I saw donations come in because of an email that I created. Our development office is located within our Crisis Center, so I also get to interact with the youth that our agency serves. Staff members eat lunch with the youth in our cafeteria every day, so I really enjoy getting to know the young people who are getting the tools they need from our programs and fundraising efforts.

What social media platform do you use the most in your personal life? What about for business purposes?

I use Twitter quite a bit in my personal life. While I’ll check Facebook every day, I don’t post much. Since Facebook has become more family-oriented, I think Twitter is more useful in the PR profession. With Twitter, you can connect with people who are talking about the same thing (hash tags help with this…I’m still getting used to  seeing “trending topics” on Facebook mobile). For example, that is how I met Jessica Lawlor and learned about PPRA.

At work, we use Facebook and Twitter regularly, and the platforms’ messages vary based on our end goal for that post/tweet. We use Facebook to post pictures and tell stories, whereas we will use Twitter to tap into a particular conversation that is already going on.

If you could give one piece of advice to current PR students about getting into the industry, what would it be?

My advice for current PR students is to do as many internships as you can. Don’t rush through college so you can graduate and get a job; in my experience, it is much more difficult for recent graduates to find employment if they don’t have relevant internship experience. Don’t be afraid to post-pone graduation a semester if it means access to hands-on work experience. In my opinion, graduating early is not worth it if you sacrifice opportunities to gain practical experience.

One of the many great things about PR is that it touches so many industries. Experiencing multiple uses of PR can inform students about which career paths seem the most interesting and viable. So intern at a boutique firm, corporation, and a nonprofit because you’re only a student once, and it’s all a part of the learning experience.

What is your favorite thing about Philly?

I love touring the historical sites! I’ve done the double-decker bus tour more than a few times, and I’m always up for doing it again because you learn something new about the city every time you do it. Parallel parking, on the other hand, is my least favorite thing… I’m still learning how to do that.

Anything else we should know about you?

I also serve as the chair of the newsletter committee for PPRA. If anyone is interested in helping out with the newsletter or has a suggestion for something they’d like featured, please don’t hesitate to contact me at I’d love to hear from some of my fellow members.

Interested in learning more about what it is like to work in development? Have any parallel parking tips? Don’t forget to connect with Katie via email (above) or on Twitter (@KatieGrivna).