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September 8th, 2008

Don’t bring out the band to save your newsletter

Once upon a time, there was a newsletter publisher who bemoaned the trouble he had keeping his readers’ attention.

There was but one solution–ask the town’s citizens. So, he wrote up a proclamation and posted it around the town: “Wanted: Ideas for writing a better newsletter. Prize Awarded for Best Solution.”

He received suggestions from kingdoms far and wide. Some of the suggestions were downright silly: “Write the newsletter on candy-flavored paper,” and “Write the newsletter articles in fireworks.”

Others sounded like too much work like: “Spend more time writing the introduction paragraph,” or “Write about topics your readers are already interested in.”

Just when he had begun to give up hope of anyone ever submitting the just-right solution, he received a submission that sounded like exactly what he was looking for.

“The key to getting and keeping your readers’ attention,” read the entry, “is to send the newsletter as a singing telegram accompanied by six professional bugle players.”

Confident that this was indeed the solution to keeping readers’ attention, the publisher found six talented bugle players and a singer to sing each issue. When it came time to send his next issue, he could hardly contain his excitement.

The singer went out into the land singing the newsletter, accompanied by the bugle players. Five days later, the group returned, covered in sticky red tomato seeds.

“The town’s residents paid attention all right,” reported the singer. “Just long enough to pelt us with tomatoes!”

Bugle Player #1 added, “They said that if the newsletter was worth listening to, it would be worth reading!”

Bugle Player #3 said, “And they said that your newsletter was decidedly not worth listening to *or* reading!”

The publisher was aghast. Not only had he spent a lot of money on the singer and the bugle players, but he had also been quite sure that this was the key to getting readers’ attention. He’d been so sure that all he needed was something splashy and attention getting.

“Sing me the newsletter,” he said to the singer. “And play your bugles,” he told the bugle players. He wanted to hear this for himself.

And five minutes later, he knew his readers were right–his newsletter was simply not good enough. Sure, it wasn’t awful. But, it could be much, much improved.

He dug out those suggestions he’d originally thought were too much work and decided to try them out with his next issue.

With just a bit more time, and perhaps an extra re-write or two, he knew his newsletter would be more relevant and useful for his readers. And he wouldn’t need a single bugle player. (He wasn’t quite sure he was ready to give up the singer just yet.)

He smiled as he contemplated the lesson he’d learned:

Catch the reader’s attention with good writing
and save the money on the bugles.

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