Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
September/October 2006, by Delia Venables

Sending Out Email Bulletins
by Nick Mundy

Four years ago Mundys, www.mundys.co.uk, was a medium sized general practice covering the usual range of business in a large county town. There were two partners and four assistants and we covered the gamut of client matters from Legal Aid to wills.

In 2002 however we moved to Licensed Conveyancer status. The reasons were many and not really relevant to this article but one obvious consequence was the need to emphasise our competence and quality in terms of property transactions. To that end we took a number of decisions in terms of marketing in general and branding in particular and we contracted with a local marketing consultant to provide advice and services on a retainer basis. We revamped our website with a redesign and much new content, including a plain-English guide to buying and selling property for the layman and an extensive collection of verified links for the would-be buyer, seller, developer and other interested parties.

At the same time we developed an email newsletter for distribution to present and potential clients, industry partners (mostly estate agents and financial intermediaries) and the press (local papers and websites, property-based freelance journalists, and the trade press).

The newsletter had several functions. Primarily it was intended to demonstrate our knowledge of the market. It was to be a genuinely useful service, with the implication by extension that Mundys can offer a similarly valuable service. It would promote the Mundys name. It would be used to feed information on to the website (the main article is posted on to a web page every month) and to notify our public about new developments in the practice - everything from new conveyancers and new services to Christmas closing times. And it would be a conduit for new business.

How we did it

We decided that we needed a specialist to design and implement the newsletter, and we approached the local web designer who was revamping the website. Dennis Jarrett is a journalist by training and he also has web expertise. In the course of two or three meetings and much email correspondence we hammered out a format and on 1 August 2002 the Mundy Morning Mail was launched.

The structure was simple enough - an editorial comment from Mundys followed by a summary of the month’s property news in the form of two-or three-line items with a link to the original source.

The ‘comment’ usually provides the background to a particular newsworthy subject - the pros and cons of HIPs, for instance, or changes to Stamp Duty - sometimes with a personal view. In general it is drafted by Dennis and edited by me with the subject decided in advance at one of our monthly meetings.

Dennis finds all the news items and summarises them. He has identified a wide range of sources of online property news and verifies the back-links before he assembles a particular issue. For that he uses a web editor, Macromedia Dreamweaver, and each newsletter is prepared as an HTML-format web page.

After despatch to the subscribers, the whole newsletter is uploaded to an archive on our site and the comment is uploaded to www.mundys.co.uk/news.html.

We have outsourced the whole despatch and subscription management to our newsletter editor. He handles all requests to join the subscription list (which is of course free) and to leave it (all unsubscribe requests are honoured immediately); and when a particular issue has been approved by me, he actually despatches it to the subscription mailing list.

Software used - and the merits of HTML as against plain text

The list management and the despatch are handled by a program called Group Mail, www.group-mail.com. There are many such programs on the market, but this one combines a commendable degree of simplicity in its operation with a useful level of automation - for instance, it will automatically remove from the subscriber list anyone who sends an email to unsubscribe@mundymail.co.uk. And unlike most of its competitors, Group Mail Pro is not American (it hails from County Sligo in Ireland). The current version of this package, GroupMail 5.0, is available for $99.95, and we think it’s a bargain; a free trial version is available from Group Mail site.

There’s some debate about the relative merits of HTML versus plain text. With HTML you can use text and page formatting like colours, specific typefaces, boldening and so on; you can also include images, though usually we limit that to blobs for bulleted text and an animated Christmas tree at the appropriate season.

The arguments in favour of plain text come down to economy - no fancy formatting means a much smaller document size, which translates as a faster send. Some people react against formatted newsletters and prefer Spartan simplicity; some email servers automatically blacklist HTML-formatted documents on the grounds that they may possibly include embedded viruses and malware.

We elected to go with HTML partly because one function of the newsletter is image-building, and the visual appeal seemed relevant to that. We can also embed links, so that we don’t have to spell out the full URL that would take the reader to the original news article; instead they can just click on the bold headline. And the mailing program automatically sends a plain text version of the newsletter if the recipient’s email system is not set up to receive HTML - the formatting is lost, of course, and translating from HTML to plain text can lead to some odd layouts, but at least all the information does arrive. One issue that potential newsletter owners should consider is the disposition of the subscription list; in our case, we are happy for our contractor to maintain this list and guarantee its integrity, but in general we would recommend that you don’t let such a potentially sensitive entity out of the office.

Another issue is the need to ensure that all subscriptions are requested. This is now a requirement of anti-spam legislation throughout Europe; and while there are some grey areas about what email messages you can send to clients and others, it makes sense to play safe and get the recipients’ approval. We invite subscriptions from the website, and we encourage readers to recommend the newsletter to others. But in the case of our potential and actual clients, we always ask whether they would like to receive the newsletter; and for all readers we point out how easy it is to cancel their subscription.

The Mundy Morning Mail is now in its fourth year. It is now quarterly rather than monthly; this removes some of the pressure to come up with so many comment pieces, and it allows us to include longer, more thoughtful analyses of news. The newsletter was also redesigned a year ago, partly to refresh the ‘look and feel’ but also to establish a cooler, more thoughtful image.

And the results?

Well, right from the start we felt that direct response would be unlikely, and so it has proved - we have received only a handful of new instructions that can be attributed specifically to the newsletter (the website is a much more effective tool for that).

The real value has been seen in the attitude and response of the people we deal with. It is difficult to quantify intangible benefits like perception and goodwill, but we do get a favourable response from subscribers: and from that we deduce that we must be doing something right.

Nick Mundy is founding partner of Mundys, specialist property lawyers, www.mundys.co.uk in Hereford.

email nick.mundy@mundys.co.uk.

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