The “Tech Update Today” email newsletter from ZDNet (screenshot below) is, like many others, advertiser sponsored and mixes links with sponsors’ content with news stories. Most such newsletter bore me, but ZDNet has me hooked with tricks as old as the tabloid newspaper.


 First, the layout is attractive, with bold colors and large type. Virtually every story is teased by a dramatic color image. Second, the lead story is clearly identified, and its significance (“…Google +
reCAPTCHA could raise bar in anti-spam battle
”) clearly explained. Third, the reader gets an easily scannable list of alternate content, ranging from brow-furrowing (security questions about cloud computing) to eye-catching (How I Tweeted my way out of spinal surgery.)  Fourth, as the reader scrolls down they’re continually rewarded with a mix of serious (Skype Founders Sue Ebay) and fun stuff (exotic cars at the Frankfurt Auto Show.)

How do you do this in your email newsletter?

1) Invest a few hours, a few hundred bucks or a week of an intern’s time on an attractive design. On-line services offer templates, and an underemployed designer might help for a modest fee and a testimonial.

2) Be unpredictable. Don’t stick with ho-hum case studies, product announcements or recycled press releases. Mix it up with a blog post (even from outside your organization), a “most frequently asked question” feature from your help desk, or even a link to an unfavorable news story or product review with your rebuttal.

3) Selectively use outside talent such as writers, editors or designers to bring the content/presentation up to the level you need. Do as much as possible in-house, but admit it when your inside staff lacks the time or skills to do it right.  

4) Don’t be a slave to linking sponsored white papers to content. It’s numbingly dull to see “Ten Ways to Maximize Virtualized Security” (sponsored by VMware) right next to a news story about “CIOs Concerned About Virtual Security.”) ZDNet drops a light, fun story between the virtual security story and white paper. It also avoids repeating the exact same angle in both. The story might be about virtualization security, but the sponsored link is a Webcast on how Google handles its own cloud security.

Inform your readers, yes, but keep ‘em entertained and guessing about what they’ll see next, even as you’re making your marketing pitch.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

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