Published: 01/09/2005, Volume II5, No. 5971 Page 21

'We have got to tell everyone about something, so let's have a newsletter.' It is a familiar cry in management teams up and down the country, but before you rush into print, consider whether a newsletter is what you really want or need.

Is there a better way to communicate? Will your news affect everyone in an organisation or just a few? Can you tell people face-to-face at meetings, as part of team brief or in an open forum?

You also need to think about distribution. Are you going to mail the newsletter out and, if so, do you have the addresses or are you going to deliver it in bulk to one or two people and expect them to organise distribution for you? There are NHS postrooms all over the country piled high with newsletters that have never been distributed.

If you decide after all this that you need a newsletter, keep it simple.

You do not need a complicated design: think about what newsletters and magazines you read regularly. Which are easy to read?

Look at their style and imitate it.

Keep the language plain. The aim is to produce something readable, not an epic tome which will put people off before they start.

Keep articles in the newsletter short and break them up with interesting and eye-catching headlines and pictures. Pictures should be active and able to tell the story almost without words. A cheque presentation with a line of men in suits is boring, but if the same suits are seen using the equipment that has been bought with the money, you will have an interesting picture.

When we read our daily newspaper, whether it is The Times or The Sun, our eyes are first drawn to the pictures, then the headlines and finally the story. If we do not like the picture or the headline we will not get as far as the story and even if we do, we are unlikely to reach the end. Own up - how many articles in today's newspaper (or even in this copy of HSJ) have you read all the way through? That is why newsletters need to be just one part of a proper communications campaign.

Claire Austin is the former communications director of University Hospital Birmingham foundation trust and is now a freelance consultant.

claireaustin1@hotmail. com