I’m still amazed when I get e-newsletters as attached PDFs sent via email, that arrive with a terse email and a big file. Amazed. Really. That people are spending so much time on putting content together to share – and then choosing to send it in a way that makes it hard for people to digest the content or share it. Sometimes the articles live in PDF exile, hiding out on a website inside gigantic files, but not integrated into a content management system – never living up to being the potential content generators they could be.
When talking with nonprofit organizations or small businesses that are doing this, I often hear a variety of excuses. Sometimes they express worry about retaining their brand look and feel. Often they don’t know a lot about the software and services available now for e-newsletters. Sometimes the excuse is budgetary – they ran out of money to print and mail the newsletter, so they kept doing everything the same (the layout, the formatting for print) and switched to a PDF file delivery system. Hello?! You had a financial crisis so extreme that you had to stop printing your newsletter so you just kept doing everything not involved with printing the same – it’s time to make a change. Doing a PDF file should be a one week stop gap measure, not a by-default shackling to an old way of doing things.
Disseminating a newsletter via pdf file hurts you in a host of ways.
You are setting yourself up for abysmal open rates. A pdf newsletter or news release sent via email can’t be tracked. You won’t know how many people even opened your e-newsletter.
Spam filters will block your e-newsletter. A wealth of spam filters today sequester and annihilate attachments. Your email with a pdf attachment may land in a junk folder and never be seen.
Your email database is a hot mess. Let’s face it – if you are sending out your e-newsletter as a PDF attachment, you are likely juggling an unwieldy email database of some kind. Perhaps it’s an association member database, or an excel sheet you manage. A band aid/homemade email list distribution system is more vulnerable to being labeled spam by annoyed users who report you for spamming them, and could lead to you being blacklisted by Internet Service Providers (which will make it even harder for your emails to reach their destinations).
You don’t know which pieces of content in your e-newsletter are of the most interest to your readers. Even if readers open your pdf e-newsletter and read your content, you have no way to know what they find of interest. Email newsletter software today can give you detailed information on which articles are the most clicked through and elicit the strongest response for your readers. A PDF e-newsletter means you will continue to be in the dark about what your readers truly like.
Shares are limited. If someone reads your e-newsletter and wants to share it – expecting them to forward a PDF attachment hurts social sharing. It’s also more complicated for someone who is inspired to share to post information on social media if it’s tucked into a PDF. Your dreams of going viral are dashed.
Content is less likely to be packaged as digestible nuggets. If you have the option to place a 1,000 word explosion of verbosity in a PDF newsletter, you can – and some will. Sequestering your content in a bulky PDF means you are less likely to structure the information in digestible content nuggets. If you run that article on your website (slimmed down and written in web copy style of course), it would earn a SEO brownie points for you. The tidied up version written in web style would draw more readers and be skimmable – written with headings and bullets to draw out key points. Placing the article on your website would also be more efficient – sparing you from having to excise the copy from the PDF after publication and re-format it for your website.
So what do you do instead of issuing that bulky PDF e-newsletter? An html e-newsletter, sent with a mail service like Constant Contact or Mailchimp, can help you better organize your content, improve deliverability, and provide up-to-the-minute tracking on click-thrus and open rates. So what are you waiting for? Declare yourselves free of the PDF leviathan today.
Resources to Help
The Nonprofit Email Marketing Guide: 7 Steps to Better Email Fundraising and Communications – Network for Good
How to Create an Email Newsletter People Actually Read – HubSpot
Talk to Us
What works for your e-newsletter?
Did you make a transition away from a PDF file type of newsletter to an HTML newsletter? What worked for you?
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media and work-family balance. She also reviews books on her blog. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.