communications

Don’t miss out with your church e-newsletter

Why using a PDF for your church e-newsletter is a mistake. Image by Sarah Killian, Unsplash.
Why using a PDF for your church e-newsletter is a mistake. Image by Sarah Killian, Unsplash.

"Why can't I attach a PDF of my church newsletter in an email and count it as my e-newsletter?"

That's the top question I'm asked by church leaders in my email marketing role at United Methodist Communications. And I get it. Someone spent time assembling content and photos into a design that was printed, mailed or handed out. It seems efficient to repurpose what already exists. But is it?

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One of these things is not like the other

PDF stands for Portable Document Format, a downloadable file type for letter-sized documents. (Think contracts and product instructions.) It's designed as a print format, not digital. Furthermore, emailing a PDF introduces concerns for:

  • Missing, incompatible or outdated PDF reader apps.
  • Font errors or substitutions that change the appearance of the e-newsletter.
  • Usability, especially for those unfamiliar with downloading or navigating PDFs.
  • Deliverability since the file may:
    • Be too large to send or may exceed the recipient’s inbox capacity.
    • Be deemed suspicious by email providers, spam filters and firewalls.
    • Hide or perpetuate malware.

Since an e-newsletter is sent through email, it should be in a digital medium designed for on-screen reading

If these concerns and form-follows-function distinctions fail to convince, you still need to ask: Is a print format (PDF) as effective as a digital one for an e-newsletter? That depends on your expectations.

Research by industry expert Jakob Nielsen shows "forcing users to browse PDF files makes usability approximately 300% worse. No matter how tempting it might be, you should never use PDF for content that you expect users to read online." 

Almost persuaded? Here's the kicker.

If you hope to measure interest in your content or refer readers beyond the e-newsletter by tracking opens, clicks or shares, a PDF is not your answer. It doesn't record any of these analytics or lead anywhere but the document. Only an email sent through a service provider — like Mailchimp, Emma or Constant Contact — delivers insight into who's reading what, clicking links and when.

Thanks to simple email editors and template choices offered through these providers, an attractive e-newsletter is easy and quick to build without knowing a line of code. Today's templates guide your design to its professional best with drag/drop modules for images and text that invite measurable and clickable calls to action

Email still matters

Church leaders are interested in using email as a distribution tool and a creative one. That's great because the 48-year-old technology is back — in a big way.

Email is declared the "hot new channel of 2019 for reaching real people" by the technology editor of the Wall Street Journal — the very paper that pronounced it dead 10 years prior. In fact, email is defiantly thriving with both recipients and professional communicators. 

The time recipients spend reading email is up, and they aren't just skimming content as early research indicated. According to a survey by Adobe, more people report routinely reading email at all hours of every day, combining email consumption while... 

  • Watching TV (41%).
  • In bed (31%) or the bathroom (21%).
  • Walking (22%) — Risky! I once walked into a pole doing this.
  • During a meal with others (19%) — Don't be that person.
  • Driving (8%) — Please don't!

Church communicators need to consider data from the marketing industry and be aware of what's working and where marketers are investing. Currently, that's email.

Email newsletters matter more

"Your e-newsletter is no longer important — it's vital," says Ann Handley (@annhandley), author and chief content officer for MarketingProfs. "What should you obsess over? I'd suggest starting here: Your email newsletter," she tweeted when asked about the best content strategy to keep people engaged.

Think of your e-newsletter as a letter about the church to people with a vested interest in your news. As Handley states, "It's an opportunity to connect one-on-one in an inherently personal space: the inbox. Write accordingly. Treat email, especially an e-newsletter, as a letter from one person to another."

All age demographics (including 65% of millennials) prefer receiving news and information from nonprofits through email. An e-newsletter provides both the most preferred experience for your members and a cost savings for the church as there's no printing or postage involved. 

An e-newsletter can also boost your other communications channels by providing connections to their content. For example, use a short e-newsletter article with a "Read More" link to refer readers to your website, blog or your social media posts. This reminds readers of your other content channels and increases traffic to them.

Increase engagement through commenting and referrals to friends of friends through social sharing. This can expand the audience for your content.

It all begins with an e-newsletter.

Email is omnipresent

According to Google, there are about 2.6 billion email users worldwide, owning more than 4.3 billion email accounts. 99% of us check email every day.

Voice-activated devices and wearables like Amazon's Alexa and the Apple Watch are becoming more common, bringing the inbox as close as your wrist, car or even refrigerator. The future for email accessibility is very bright, indeed. 

So, while you test and adopt new ways to communicate digitally, don't forget the original, the tried, true and everywhere: email. Be mindful of the increasing concerns and unreliability of PDF attachments. Then craft the e-newsletter your readers want and need.

Even in our ever-changing landscape, an e-newsletter offers the most trustworthy, preferred opportunity for connecting with, nurturing and measuring the content interests of your community.


Jane T. Massey

Jane T. Massey is unreasonable. She still hopes for a Minority Report-like experience, swiping midair to move emails and web pages around. Jane expresses annoyance daily that we don't have personal jetpacks yet. When not doing these, she works as the email marketing manager for United Methodist Communications.