SMS Newsletters to Parent Mobile Phones

Its widely acknowledged that SMS open rates are much higher than email.  In fact some research shows that 95% of SMS are opened in the first 5 minutes.

SMS=Short Messaging Service

It makes sense that we have added an SMS feature to our school newsletter distribution service.

Adding this functionality required some research.  We needed a third party SMS gateway provider to send the SMS on our behalf.

There was a lot more to SMS than we anticipated.

There are many SMS gateways.  Some are located in Australia and others in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, UK, USA and more.

These cheaper gateways would could not guarantee delivery.  Some were 90% efficient.  Some were higher but they were not 100%.

Some of the cheaper gateways would also delay the distribution of SMS.  In other words some SMS might not be delivered for several hours after it was sent.

The less expensive gateways typically were outside Australia and would send SMS for less than 10 cents per message.  The cheapest we found was 6 cents… but we needed better reliability.

The factors which were most important to us was reliability and timing.  We needed a service that could grantee the highest delivery rate and would be delivered as soon as the SMS was sent.

This meant that the price per SMS was going to be higher and the gateway would need to be in Australia and provided by Telstra.

We also needed something that would integrate seamlessly into our current systems that would cater for our volume and provide the flexibility we needed.

We are happy to announce that we have sourced an Australian gateway that fit all our criteria and gave us a very good price.

We are now geared to send school newsletters via email .. and SMS.

The SMS is integrated into our professional suite of features and schools will be billed according to their SMS distribution.  Currently our pricing is 17 cents per SMS message.

We offer superior flexibility and a range of features.

For more information about what we offer have a look at our website



How to Add Subsription Links to a Web Page

Hyperlinks are the basis of the internet.  Its the fundamental building block of the world wide web.  Its the first thing that anyone building web pages learns first.  Without hyperlinks… you don’t have a website.

In the past few years CMS (content management systems) have become widely used.  It makes website maintenance very easy.

During the transition process to a CMS, those training people to use the CMS would often use the cliche;

If you can use a word processor… you can use a CMS

For the most part this is true.  But there are a few exceptions.

Hyperlinks in word processed documents in the past were rarely used.  There was simply no need for them.  As such, few people had experience adding hyperlinks.

Nowadays, hyperlinks are used extensively because your shiny new CMS depends on them.

Because CMS are taught as fancy word procesors, hyperlinks are sometime not well understood.

What is a hyperlink?

Put simply, a hyperlink points to another page on the internet.  When a user clicks on the link they are taken to that page.  They can even point to pages on your own website.

Using a CMS to add a Hyperlink.

First you need some text typed on the page you are editing for the link to attach itself to.  This is called anchor text.

Here’s an example:

Click here to subscribe to our newsletter

  1. Highlight the text using your mouse.
  2. In your editor tool bar you will see a small icon of a chain link or something similar.  Yours may look a little different…
  3. When this chain link is clicked a box will open up asking the address of the link.  (You MUST have your text highlighted first) In other words, where would you like to send the user when they click on your link.  In this case we want users (or in our case parents) to go to a newsletter subscription page.
  4. Rather than type in the hyperlink address, I like to copy the address using my mouse.  This way I’m not likely to make a typing mistake.
  5. I paste the hyperlink (or the Safe Newsletters Subscription page) into the URL field of the dialogue box that open after you click the chain link.Yo can find your subscription links when you log into Safe Newsletters and from the menu select “Parent Signup Form”
  6. Click “Add Link” which should be located toward the bottom of the box that opens up.
  7. Once this is done the Text you highlighted is turned blue and underlined to indicate that its a hyperlink.

Add a link manually

Here’s a great tutorial on adding HTML links manually.

Hope this helps.

Bulk Upload Email Addresses

If you already have a list of parent email addresses, there is no need to add them to Safe Newsletters one by one.

Safe Newsletters offers a smart bulk upload tool that allows you to add all your parent email addresses in one easy step.

NOTE: this works best using internet explorer (usually I do not recommend IE… but for this particular function IE seems to complete the import better than other browsers)

Your spreadsheet (or comma separated vales (CSV) file) should have 3 columns in the following order

  1. First name
  2. Last name
  3. Email address

Delete everything else apart from the 3 columns above.

Before you do anything… we need to organize your data.  In the data industry, this is known as “cleaning” your data.  Essentially this means we make sure all your data in the spreadsheet that we upload is readable by the server.  For instance, the server doesn’t like blank rows in a spreadsheet so these need to be deleted and then the spreadsheet re-saved.  Once “cleaned” we remove any risk that the server will have a “hissy fit” and fail to do the upload.

Accountants do that same thing.  They like your data (or Tax) in a particular way that makes it easier for them to complete your tax return.

The following process of “cleaning” appears complex.  But its not.  Don’t let the instruction list deceive you.

Before uploading your spreadsheet, please check the following:

  1. Delete the column headings from your spreadsheet.  Data should be names and email addresses only.
  2. Delete ALL blank rows from the spreadsheet.
  3. Make sure all email addresses have and @ sign in them.  I do this by changing the color of the cell that contains the @ sign.  This way its easy to spot when there is one missing.
  4. This is easy to do in excel.  From the editing section in the ribbon, click find and select.
  5. In the find what field type @In the replace with field type @Click the Format button
  6. Then choose a color.  All cells without the @ sign will appear white.
  7. Edit each email address and make sure all email addresses are correct.
  8. Next you need to do a find and replace which will delete all unwanted symbols.  To do this, click the find and select button again….In the find what field type in the greater than sign >
    Make sure the Replace with field is blank
    Click replace all.  This will delete all unwanted symbols
  9. Repeat this step for the following symbols
    ‘ (apostophe)
    ” (quotes)
  10. Save your data

After you have cleaned your data we need to copy the data and add it to the Safe Newsletters bulk upload tool.

First copy your parent names and email addresses.  Only copy the data you need.  DO NOT select ALL… because the server sees this as blank rows… and we don’t want blank rows

Notice how ONLY the data we need has been selected.

Copy the data.

Login to Safe Newsletters

From the Menu, select Add Bulk Email Addresses.

Paste all the data into the box provided.  It will look a little all over the place but that is normal.

Click “Add Email”

If you now click “Manage Email” from the menu, you will see all your parent email addresses have been bulk added for you.

If you find that the upload failed for any reason, please email the spreadsheet to us and we will do the bulk upload for you.

How to Get Started

To get started using Safe Newsletters, a key concept needs to be understood first.

The whole safe newsletters concept revolves around a self subscription model.  In other words parents can subscribe to your newsletter themselves.  This greatly reduces the administrative workload in the school itself.

For this to happen, there needs to be a subscription form or link on your school website.  So… the only link you need to remember is your own school website.  Therefore, when parents call you and ask to subscribe to your newsletter, you simply redirect the parent to your school website where they can find the newsletter subscription link.

To add a newsletter subscription link to your website, here is what to do.

IMPORTANT: You need to login to Safe Newsletters do this…

  1. Login to Safe Newsletters here
  2. Once logged in, from the menu select Newsletter Tools >> Parent Signup Form
  3. On the “Collect your email addresses” page, there are 4 ways to add a subscription link (or form) to your website
  4. The easiest way is option 1.  All you need to do is copy the link (make sure you get the whole link including the numbers) and then paste it onto your web page.  Save it.  That’s it
  5. Option 2, 3 and 4 are for people who are familiar with HTML code.NOTE: Some (not all) Content Management Systems (CMS), particularly those from government organisations where security is managed from a central location (eg a head office) will NOT allow you to add code to the source of a web page.  In these cases, the only way in which you can add a subscription link is option 1.  It’s not as “pretty” but it will certainly give parents access to your newsletter subscription pages.If you are able to add code, then you need to add the code to the HTML or source code of your website.  If you are using a CMS, you need to look for a button or tab that says, source code, HTML, Text, code or something similar.  Add the code between the <body> tags in the position where you want to place your subscription form.Save the page.  This will automatically add a subscription form to your website.  This is the most professional

This will allow you to start collecting email addresses from your school website.

If you already have parent email addresses stored in a spreadsheet or MS Outlook, the next thing you will want to do is bulk upload them into Safe Newsletters.  Here is a short instruction list on how to bulk upload your email addresses and get started straight away.

Emailing your School Newsletter and why MS Outlook is a Bad Idea

A little while ago I conducted a webinar for schools to help them overcome barriers which prevent them from embracing newsletter delivery systems.  Below are a copy of the slides I used…

By the way… the bonus at the end of the webinar has expired… sorry.

Twitter for Schools

I was at my daughters school sports carnival recently. My wife and I took the day off, packed our camping chairs and wandered down to the school to watch our kids participate in the carnival.

We were directed to a grassy spot designated for parents to view the carnival. We were handed a program which was used as a rough guide to schedule each race.   Students were allowed to sit with their parents in between races.

The marshaling tent was located adjacent to a school building where extension cords were laid to power a laptop to tally team scores and power the portable PA.

Unfortunately, the PA was too far away for anyone to hear it properly. My wife and I would glance at each other with puzzled looks and ask each other “did you hear what was said?”

We were up and down several times to ask teachers what was said over the PA.

As I looked around several parents were looking at their smart phones. Maybe they were bored.

But then it struck me…

The teacher operating the laptop could have a web browser open and access twitter. As each race was called to the marshalling area…. she could type a quick message on twitter with appropriate hash tags. Parents would receive the message via twitter and send their children over to the marshalling area.

There are many other uses for twitter in schools. Leave your ideas below…

Is Your School Newsletter Illegal?

It is almost incomprehensible to think that a school newsletter could be illegal.

Don’t schools have the right to contact parents??

The simple answer is yes they do… however, it’s the way that the newsletter is delivered and some of its contents that could be considered illegal spam.

If you are sending your newsletter via EMAIL… then your email could be spam, unless it complies with the Australian spam act 2003. It only takes one parent complaint… and then a whole new world of “please explain” will open up… and you don’t want to go there.

Most people think they know what spam is and how to identify it. Most people will say its unwanted email… you know the emails about viagra, vitamin supplements or the Nigerian General who has left millions in a trust fund. Most likely its spam… but it may not be either.

So.. what is spam?

“The Spam Act 2003 prohibits the sending of commercial electronic messages with an Australian Link.” Australian Communications and Media Authority

The good news is that government bodies are partially EXEMPT and educational institutions are exempt from 2 of the 3 conditions under the spam act.

Charities, charitable institutions, religious organisations and educational institutions are exempt from the Spam Act. If an organisation falls into one of these categories, then any commercial electronic messages it sends are exempt from the Spam Act’s consent and unsubscribe conditions if, and only if, the messages relate to goods or services supplied by the organisation that authorised the message.ACMA

The key part here is

…the messages relate to goods or services supplied by the organisation that authorised the message

Essentially a school newsletter must be factual to be exempt from the consent and unsubscribe portions of the spam act. But what happens when the newsletter contains content that promotes the goods or services of someone else?? If you don’t have consent or an unsubscribe facility… then it could be spam.

Commercial email must contain 3 distinct elements:

Consent – the message must be sent with the recipient’s consent. The recipient may give express consent, or under certain circumstances consent may be inferred from their conduct or an existing business or other relationships
Identify – the message must contain accurate information about the person or organisation that authorised the sending of the message and how to contact them
Unsubscribe – the message must contain a functional ‘unsubscribe’ facility to allow the recipient to opt out from receiving messages from that source in the future. The unsubscribe requests must be honoured within five working days. Australian Communications and Media Authority

When is a school email considered commercial?

Essentially school newsletters are not commercial by nature. School newsletters will contain school achievements and operational information for parents. Of course school newsletters may contain information about other organizations, but it must be limited to the business name, the logo and contact details of the business in order to be exempt. As soon as you publish any more than that … the school newsletter is no longer exempt and must comply with all conditions of the spam act.

The spam act states….

Most electronic newsletters do not constitute ‘purely factual information’. While their content may be largely factual, their purpose is usually to promote an organisation’s products or services.

If the newsletter contains any more than the limited allowable commercial information outlined above (business name, logo and contact details), then it falls under the heading of a ‘commercial electronic message’, and must comply with the consent, identify and unsubscribe conditions of the Spam Act. ACMA

So whilst schools themselves are largely exempt from the spam act 2003, parts of the school newsletter may not be.

What about Inserts, Catalogues, Promotions and Flyers?

If you are emailing commercial material either attached to the email or appended to the newsletter itself, then this could push your email toward the realms of a commercial message. If you don’t have consent, identify or unsubscribe provisions in your email … then it could be considered spam.

A traditional paper copy school newsletter will contain school achievements, operational information and school based editorial. Schools might also send home other material bundled up in the newsletter such as commercial catalogues, sporting fixtures, software catalogues and other school based promotions. Whilst these things are directly related to school students, they are commercial in nature. If you were to translate this to an electronic medium… then it could be considered commercial and would require all 3 spam provisions in the email.

Some Bad Examples…

Schools are exempt from consent and unsubscribe provisions of the spam act. But they are NOT exempt from identity. Identity means including contact information in the email.

Here are some real examples…

Come and see SBSS play, Masquerade. The play is full of music, dancing and fun.
Tickets on sale at office window on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8am to 10am only, until sold out. $5.00 per ticket. The venue is at [venue withheld] and begins at 7pm till 8.30pm on Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th of December.

This email didn’t have a salutation nor did it have who it was from or how to contact them. It must contain adequate identity information.

Dear Parents,

Please find attached the flyer regarding our up and coming fundraising event. This should be a great night out, come along with your dancing shoes and have some fun!

See you there,
P & C Committee

This email identifies who sent it but does not contain information on how to contact them. It must contain adequate identity information.

URGENT: Help Needed Sunday 2nd October

The Bunnings Fund Raiser will be cancelled unless more helpers commit to raising valuable funds for the P & C. The school may have a loss of approx $1500 if volunteers do not come forward.
Please call Diana on [phone number withheld] no later than 1200 tomorrow Saturday 17th Sept.

Our last newsletter for Term 3 is on the website, click on the quick link: 15th September 2011

Happy & Safe Holidays
Newsletter Team

Is this commercial? It’s backed by a commercial enterprise. Does not clearly identify who sent it nor does it contain contact information. It must contain adequate identity information.

To all parents/caregivers,

With the continuing rainy conditions, and the heavy weather approaching, I wish to inform you that I have made the decision to approve early collection of children.

You may collect your child/children as soon as you have received this notification.

PLEASE see your child’s teacher who will have an early release form for you to sign your child out of the class.

[Name Withheld]

This particular email had ALL parent email addresses in the TO line of the email!! Serious privacy issues here. No contact information. It must contain adequate identity information.

[Email address withheld]

to undisclosed recipients
Junior Swimming Program 2011_ Claims for Credits.doc
24K View Download

This particular email ONLY had an attachment. No salutation, not identifying information, no contact information… nothing… It must contain adequate identity information.

The Fine Line

Sometimes schools walk a very fine line when sending emails. Staff usually have good intentions and do a fine job… but sometimes the best intentions can result in serious breaches.

Cover Yourself with Best Practice

Personal Email

When sending email from school, always include a signature block with your name and contact information. Schools provide you with all the tools to do this… but time and time again I see emails with just a first name at the end. Schools don’t need to provide or prove consent or include an unsubscribe facility… but they must provide IDENTITY. If someone really wanted to get picky… they could flag the email without proper identity as spam. It might seem low level… but its the law.


This is where things can get a bit grey. Sometimes your newsletter may contain commercial information. Most of it will be factual relating to school matters… but on occasions… there may be something commercial. In these cases, the full spam act may apply. As such you need to have consent AND you need to able to prove this. You need to show identity and you need to have a functional unsubscribe facility.

Consider it an Insurance Policy

If you could completely cover yourself against spam… then why wouldn’t you??

So why not just include all parts of the spam act and protect yourself?? Well… you can and its easy.

To do that you need to provide

Consent. A subscribe form on your website will do this.
Identity. This is easy enough… and if you could automate this you could set it and for get it. This way identity will always be displayed. This is the part school often miss.
Unsubscribe. Add a link or a button to each email that removes subscribers from the email list. If you could automate this, it would be brilliant, otherwise you need to pay an employee to manage the unsubscribe process. If it took someone 10 minutes each week for 40 weeks it could cost around $500 in wages.

You could then include the commercial content in your newsletters if you needed to and cover yourself against spam because essentially your newsletter now meets all commercial requirements set out in the spam act 2003.

Should I use a 3rd party Email Service Just for Spam Protection?


You should use a 3rd party Email Service such as Safe Newsletters because its ultra convenient and will save you time, money and reduce paper consumption. Spam protection is just the by product of the service.

A 3rd party email service such as Safe Newsletters automates lots of things which would take a long time using something like MS Outlook. Setting up the service is quick, time efficient and ultra professional. We even give you the forms and links to put on your website so that parents can subscribe automatically to your newsletter.

We also include tools geared just for schools. These tools galvanize each and every email with information that will enhance your parent communication strategy. And of course we provide all the elements of the spam act to protect you.

That’s why Safe Newsletters is becoming the preferred option for schools to manage their newsletter distribution.

We send more email in a single day than most people send in a lifetime. We service school across Australia from primary to secondary, public and private. We include your school header and logo in each email to personalize and professionalize your school and we can even segment your distribution to smaller lists to include things like year levels, sporting teams, performing arts groups and parent groups. We even provide you with stats on how many parents open the email.

So… try us today. Its free. Go Safe Newsletters and on the right you will see a trial form. Fill it out and get started to experience a new level of convenience and freedom that results from emailing your school newsletter.

The magic behind a good school newsletter

If your school newsletter had magic fairy dust, what would you  like to see happen?  Seriously… WHAT??

Hold that thought for a moment.

This article will explain what makes a good school newsletter and how to write it.  It will outline publication guidelines, advertising guidelines, distribution methods and content as well as some suggested software.


  1. The purpose of the school newsletter
  2. Audience
  3. Shareholders v Stakeholders
  4. Leadership
  5. Authority and Engagement
  6. Operations and Logistics
  7. Achievement
  8. Publishing Guidelines
  9. Advertising Guidelines
  10. School Speak
  11. Software
  12. Refinements
  13. Templates
  14. Naming Conventions
  15. Distribution Methods
  16. Conclusion


Your experience as a leader, community complexity, and school size will determine how you will approach the writing of your school newsletter.  The framework for writing your school newsletter will essentially stay the same.  The execution and style will be different but if you keep yourself to a proven formula then you will quickly consolidate and maximize the impact of your school newsletter.  That’s when the magic happens.

Before we dive into the nuts and bolts I want you to forget about all the school newsletters you have written.  Not because they are inferior but because you may need to shake off some bad habits.  You may need to move out of your comfort zone.  You may need to dismantle some thought patterns and reassemble them.

As with any good communication style you first need to consider your purpose and audience.  Purpose and audience are the key ingredients in crafting a meaningful school newsletter.  Without these your school newsletter becomes meaningless and a waste of time.


What is the purpose of your school newsletter?  What value are you giving parents by sending them a newsletter each week?  Most school leaders I talk to look at me carefully when I ask this as though its a trick question.  Usually its met with discomfort and is seen as some sort of test.  More often than not its followed with a nervous laugh, a short answer then a glance to see if the test was passed. Typical responses are : “to inform the school community”, “to educate the school community”, “to show case the school” etc…  All these responses are correct but in isolation the newsletter cannot weave its magic.  The purpose of a good newsletter is a concert of 3 distinct parts:

  1. Leadership.
  2. Operations and logistics
  3. Achievement

There are many more elements that make up a school newsletter… but they can all be grouped in the above three headings.  More about these in a moment.


Who is your audience?  Knowing your audience will influence content and the way in which its delivered You may also need to apply cultural, religious, ethnic and other sensitivities. You will also need to be aware of political and local factors that will help you deliver appropriate, timely and meaningful content.  Inadequate knowledge of your audience will place you in a vulnerable position leaving you open to all sorts of scrutiny if you newsletter is poorly written.  If you are new to a school community… always do your research first.

Knowing your audience is powerful.  It means you can connect with them in a very personal way. The is is where the magic is.

Shareholders v Stakeholders

I like to think of a school newsletter in a similar way to a shareholders stock progress report.  If you have your own money invested in a company, you want to know that your money is working for you.  You want to know that the leadership of the company will steer it through good times and bad.  You want to know the company operations are sound and you want to see the company grow and achieve its goals.  Sound familiar?

School Students are an investment too.  They are your assets.  Nurturing and maintaining your student assets by educating them will yield results.

This is where your school newsletter can provide updates and “stock” information on the way in which your school is moving to achieve its goals.


Goods leaders use their available communication channels to motivate, inspire and lead.  There are more channels open to schools these days than ever before.  Industry for instance, now employs specialized social media experts to work in companies to connect with customers, seek new potential prospects and gauge the market “temperature” using the wealth of social media platforms.

Because the internet has connected us in more ways than ever, the school newsletter reaches more people faster, easily and more readily than ever before too.  This means that everything that is written in your school newsletter can be archived, accessed, searched and read very very quickly. That being said… only those who want to read and have a stake in your school will actually read your newsletter.  Of course this can quickly change if something controversial or offensive is written… then everyone will want it.  So be careful.

There is a difference between “putting something out there” and having the courage of your convictions to follow through on what you have written.

This makes knowing your audience even more important. Do NOT be controversial for the sake of being controversial.  All it does is create tension for no real value. Its far better to be strategic about what you write.  If you know that something will be “bumpy” … then plan for it.  Have a systematic plan for dealing with it.  Otherwise you will just place your school in an unnecessary crisis.

Good school leaders realize that the humble school newsletter is no longer at the finger tips of their school community… but at the finger tips of anyone who wants it.

Imagine the power of your school newsletter if it were well written, easy to read and presented to people who actually want to read it?

So what should the leadership component of a school newsletter contain?

If you don’t know where to begin, have a look at your school vision and the goals that your school has set to achieve its vision.  Your leadership section of your newsletter might report on the journey taken to achieving these goals.  It might also reinforce your expectations on such things as behaviour, uniform, academic rigor, resilience to name just a few.

The most effective school leaders are those who are the most effective communicators.  They know what to say, when to say it and how to say it.  The school newsletter is one of the most powerful tools a school leader has.

Authority and Engagement

Sometimes I hear school leaders say “I’m not in this job to make friends”.

That may be true but there is a clear distinction between friendship and leadership.

Leaders develop authority when people trust and respect what they say.  And when people trust what is said by school leaders, the readers of your school newsletter tend to READ what is written.  Readers will identify with the messages and take action where necessary.  Readers will then… dare I say it…begin to LIKE you.  And when people like you… a greater leadership influence will result.  The school leader may not necessarily be friends with everyone but they may have influence because they have developed authority through newsletters engagement.

In developing authority and engagement, school leaders ought to, but not limited to:

  1. Avoid making empty promises
  2. Avoid waffling on and on and on…
  3. Avoid making the newsletter all about you
  4. Sprinkle some personality
  5. Avoid using school speak
  6. Avoid using clever language   You might be clever but your readers may not have the same education you do.  Don’t dumb it down but re-adjust your language so that its understood the first time its read.
  7. Be careful with humour.  Interpreted the wrong way, it could come across as rude or offensive.  If you are unsure, don’t use humour.
  8. Avoid alienating your audience.  Be inclusive.
  9. Be clear.  Don’t over simplify but don’t leave things out either.
  10. Proof read.  Before publication, have someone proof read your newsletter, preferably by someone who doesn’t work in a school but at the very least by someone who will give you honest feedback.

Obviously there are more ways… please share your experiences in the comment box below.

Operations and Logistics

This is the part of the newsletter which makes the school operate smoothly.  Your school of course will have its internal timetables etc… but the school newsletter will often be the reference point to marshal students and parents when things are happening at school.  It means that logistical elements must be:

  • easy to find in the newsletter
  • easy to read
  • easy to understand (which is different from easy to read)
  • accurate
  • contactable (ie have the name and contact details of a staff member)


Schools are all about achievement so celebrate it!  A good school newsletter will have a section dedicated to achievement because invariably this is how parents measure your school success.  Think back to your shareholders report.  Those who have invested in your school (parents) want to see achievement.  Even if its a perceived achievement… parents still want to see it.

Achievements can be things like, but not limited to:

  • Placings in academic competitions such as spelling, writing, maths, science and technology competitions etc…
  • Sporting teams
  • Arts and music competitions, eisteddfods and exhibitions
  • School exhibitions in shows, shopping malls etc…
  • Outdoor education camps
  • Student awards
  • Teacher professional development and awards
  • Bronze medallion
  • NAPLAN results
  • Volunteer programs
  • Community engagement programs

Please leave more achievement examples in the comment box below.

Publishing Guidelines

If you don’t have a set of publishing guidelines for your school newsletter… then you really should develop one.  Without publication clarity, messages get lost and buried in clutter.  How many times have you heard a parent say “I never saw that in the newsletter”.  If you are hearing comments like this regularly, then

… its probably not about what is written… its about how its presented.

A publishing guide standardizes everything so that the newsletter is themed and easy to read.  Too often I see newsletters that have been assembled my multiple authors all using different fonts, different colours, sizes etc…  It looks awful and its difficult to read.  These newsletters tend to be skimmed and core messages are missed.  A publishing guide is very important.

Your publishing guidelines ought to contain, but not limited to criteria on the following aspects:

  • Font.  This includes headings, paragraph, list, and caption size, weight, font family and colour.
  • Layout.  ie 1 columns, 2 columns etc… with padding, spacing, line height, line spacing etc.  Photos  should accompany segments where possible.
  • Clip Art: this should be banned.  We have much better visual ways to convey meaning these days eg photos.  Clip art makes your newsletter look like it was produced in 1989.
  • Contact information.  Should be on the first page only either at the top, the footer or in a side column that is easily seen.  Each author of the newsletter should have contact info at the end of the segment.  For instance if the PE teacher is writing a segment, include their name and how they can be contacted.
  • Images.  Need to be a particular format, file size and dimension. (eg JPEG, 100KB or less,landscape) I tend to use landscape images because they don’t require further editing ie rotating etc…  High density images also require editing and scaling.  If you stipulate 100KB images… all the editing has to be done by the person submitting the images.  This will save you time.  Images should also have an appropriate contextual caption.  Don’t just place an image in a newsletter for the sake of inserting an image.  Make it mean something.
  • Photographic permissions: this is where students require parental permission for their photo to appear in the school newsletter… or any media for that matter.  A database would make the lookup of students quick and easy.
  • Tables: column headings, borders, padding
  • Achievements: each should have an accompanying photo with caption.
  • Dates: ought to be in consistent format eg Day, Date Month eg Monday 8 October.  Writing the date in long format like this forces staff to check dates so that there are no errors.  This minimizes the publication of corrections.
  • Links: ALWAYS send parents to the EXACT page of a website that you are referring to.   Remember you are providing convenience as well.  Sending parents to a site home page and expecting them to find it is NOT convenient.
  • Positioning: leadership items ought to go first, followed by logistical information them achievement items.

Advertising Guidelines

Adverting ought to be supplementary to the newsletter.  The core purpose of your school newsletter is school related content.  Advertising should not clutter the core messages being presented to the school community.   A structured advertising system will make it clear to everyone who wants to place ads in your school newsletter that there is a distinct process to follow.  This makes it fair for everyone and will prevent ongoing complaints.

There are a few advertising issues that ought to be considered when formulating advertising guidelines:

  1. Should advertising appear on your front page?
  2. What types of advertising should be accepted.
  3. How is advertising prioritized?
  4. How is advertising handled?
  5. How is advertising presented?

Advertising Structures

  • Inline: This is where advertising is completely removed from the newsletters itself and is displayed alongside the newsletter.  This can be done electronically using a rotational technique that allows schools to have more advertisers than a traditional newsletter might have.  This allows the newsletter to be entirely school content without the clutter, yet still provide quality advertising opportunities.
  • Size: This is where advertising is ranked according to size eg full page, then by half page, quarter page etc…  Have a look here for international standard ad sizes for the internet.
  • Slot: this is where your school newsletters has the same sesize standard slots in strategic positions in the newsletter that do not change.
  • Banners: this is where the school newsletter runs banner ads horizontally across the top or footer of the page or smaller square ads or vertical ads at the side of the newsletter.
  • Text Ads: this is where ads might be smaller and compiled into a single page similar to a classified ad.
  • Random: this is where ads are distributed randomly across the newsletter wherever space is available.

The following needs consideration

  • Approval.  Make it clear that ads undergo an approval process.  Not all industries should be accepted such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pharmaceuticals just to name a few.  Make sure that all ads are appropriate and are a good fit for your school.  Ensure that if you reject any ads, give the advertiser a reason why and how they can adjust the ad.
  • Positioning.  There are several ways to position ads in your school newsletter.   See above.  Positioning is important to every advertiser.  Having a clear statement on the way positioning is organised will reduce the number of phone calls requesting clarification.
  • Images: To make things easier  all ads ought to be an image.  This way images can be simply dropped into the space in the newsletter without having to manipulate any text.  Images ought to be JPEG, 100KB or less in a specified dimension eg 300px x 300px.  This way all ads are sized appropriately by the advertiser and do not required sizing, rotating etc which save the school valuable time.
  • Spam: Do Not place ads such as get rich quick, free quotes, be a winner etc… It will cheapen your newsletter and make the newsletter trashy.
  • Rates and pricing: be clear on pricing and post it your your school website.
  • Frequency:  Explain to advertisers how often your newsletter is distributed
  • Distribution methods: Explain to advertisers how your newsletter is distributed.  eg via email, print, Facebook,twitter etc…
  • Readership: explain to advertisers how many families your newsletter is distributed to.  You might also outline your community demographic so that advertiser have a good idea of their market.
  • Submission Dates: be clear on cut off dates for ads to be submitted and don’t provide exceptions.  It needs to be a hard and fast rule for everyone.  This will prevent complaints.
  • Parent associations: be clear to your parent associations where they can advertise.  A dedicated segment in the school newsletter might be the best place to keep all parent association news together including their promotions and notices.
  • Refunds: develop a clear refunds policy.  This might be for advertisers who have submitted and paid for a place in the newsletter only to find later they don’t quite fit the school criteria eg the ad might be about alcohol etc…  This way the school can reject the ad, provide a refund and minimize complaints.

Assembling the Newsletter

Often the school newsletter has multiple contributors and in these cases contributions need to be managed to make the newsletter easy to compile.  To make compilation more efficient, all contributions  :

  • should submitted electronically either via email, network folder or external storage device.  No exceptions.  This makes an easy copy and paste.
  • should be spell checked and grammar checked BEFORE submission
  • should adhere to the publishing guidelines.
  • images should NOT be embedded into the submitted document.  All images need to be submitted separately from the text document and adhere to the publishing guidelines.  This way no further editing is needed and can be easily placed into the newsletter.

After receipt of the newsletter submission, invariably the contributor has added their own formatting to the document somewhere.  You don’t want this.  You need to open the document in MS Word (or something similar) and clear all formatting.  To do this, select everything in the document (control A) and then MS word provides a button in the font toolbar to clear all formatting.  All text becomes plain text.  This is whats needed.  Copy and then place the text into your newsletter as plain text.  Then apply the necessary formatting outlined in the school publishing guide.

This is particularly important when publishing a HTML newsletter.

TIP: Add all text to the newsletter FIRST and then do all the formatting in ONE go last.  It will save a LOT of time.

School Speak

Avoid school speak.  Because schools are immersed in what they do, often they use school speak in newsletters.  This causes a level of frustration because not everyone understands the terminology of schools.  It places parents in a position where they are almost expected to know what it all means.  Break down the school speak or at the very least explain to parents what the terms mean… every time.  This will make the school newsletter more enjoyable to read, reduce anxieties and the level of understanding will increase.

Interaction, Comments and Surveys

The wonderful thing about electronic newsletters these days is the ability for parents to interact and leave comments.  Parents can fill out micro polls, vote and a gamut of other ways to provide feedback for the school.  Managed properly, schools can measure the mood of new changes and other innovations across the school.  The best platform to do this is WordPress which allows schools to build in feedback components right into the website.  Wordpress is free.  Its used by millions of sites around the globe.  If you can use MS Word… then you can use WordPress.  If you are looking for a new school website… wordpress is the only way to go.


There is some great desktop publishing software on the market.  Adobe In Design is the industry standard followed by few others such as Corel Draw, and QuarkXpress.  The best of the free software available is PagePlus Starter Edition and Scribus.

Notice that MS Publisher is missing.  Its not considered an industry standard.  Far from it.

The problem with dedicated publishing software is that requires a level of specialized skill.  Even MS Publisher requires a different skill set.  This becomes a very BIG problem when that person leaves your school.

Schools are much better off sticking to MS Word or Open Office.  This way the expertise needed is easier to replace if and when new people begin working in your school.

Better still is Google Drive which is the old Google Docs.  Google Docs are known as SAS  (software as a Service).  This is the future.  Google Drive is free to use.  It doesn’t require software  to load locally and everything can be done in a web browser.   Multiple collaborators can edit the document and it can be made public by emailing a link that Google provides to open the document in a browser.

Which ever software is chosen, it is best to first consider how easily it is to replace the skills needed to produce your newsletter.  If people resources are limited, avoid the temptation of fancy software that makes your newsletter look like a magazine.  It will be short lived and a headache when forced to make the transition to another platform.


Templates can be reused over and over again so it makes sense to make a newsletter template.

There are plenty of templates sites on the web.  Microsoft has one here 

There is no need to reinvent the wheel… but really you should make your own template.  Its very easy to do.

Before we start, its easy to get carried away with fancy stuff such as columns and range of other things to make the newsletter look like a magazine.  Resist the temptation for a moment.

Multiple columns can be a headache when pressed for time.  Some times the photo won’t fit in the column properly or the text won’t flow into the next column properly… you get the idea.  Too much time is spent formatting and aligning things when it should have been distributed 15 minutes ago.  Sound familiar?

Start with a single column.  There is a lot of research that suggests columns are easier to read and that’s why newspapers do it.  Right?  Well… how often is the newsletter read as a paper copy these days anyway?  You will notice that news web sites are a single page width rather than columns.  Single columns are much easier to read on mobile devices too.  There are some good reasons to stay with a single column.

There are several ways to make a template.  Often each software application has an inbuilt template function to save templates.   Because all schools are different, shown here is a universal “Old School” way of creating a template.

To get started on a windows computer:

  1. open a blank word processing document.  Do NOT format anything yet.
  2. Add you school header logo at the top
  3. Add all your major headings eg Principlas Report, Event Calendar, Achievements, PA and C section, Advertising etc… leaving a line in between each.
  4. In the blank line between the heading type in “insert text here”
  5. Add a coloured page border themed to the school colours.
  6. Format the headings according to your publishing guide
  7. Format the lines that say “insert text here” according to your publishing guide.
  8. Save the Document as SchoolNewsletterTemplate.docx to folder where is accessible by those who need it.
  9. Browse to the folder.  Right click on the file SchoolNewsletterTemplate.docx
  10. Choose properties
  11. In the attributes section at the bottom, check the box read-only.
  12. Click OK
  13. This means that the document has to be saved as a new file name, leaving the original template document always in tact.

Mac an linux platforms will vary slightly but the methodology is the same.

Naming Conventions

This is important.

Newsletters should have a consistent naming convention so that they are easy to find and organise.   Include the date in the file name eg 20121009Newsletter.pdf

Notice that there are NO spaces in the file name and a capital letter is used to delineate the beginning of a new word.  This is deliberate because when placed on the internet, some web browsers DO NOT like SPACES and the page breaks and the parent receives an error page.  Not good and very embarrassing.

This goes for images too.  DO NOT put spaces in the file name. eg 20121001SchoolSportsDay.jpg

Be consistent with your naming convention.  eg DatebackwardsIdentifier.pdf

Distribution Methods

There are lots of ways these days to distribute your newsletter.  Traditionally a photocopy of the newsletter would be sent home with the student.  Technology has introduced more ways to distribute such as, but not limited to:

  • Website.  post the newsletter to the school website
  • Facebook.  Add a link to the newsletter on a school facebook status update
  • Twitter.  tweet the school newsletter link via Twitter
  • Email.  Sent the newsletter link via email or Email the entire newsletter as HTML.
  • SMS.  Send the newsletter link to phone or mobile devices.
  • YouTube.  Video newsletter posted to YouTube
  • iTunes.  Audio newsletter posted to iTunes
  • SlideShare: Add the newsletter as powerpoint slides
  • RSS (Really Simple Syndication)

Please list further ways in the comment box below.


There is a skill to writing a good school newsletter.  It comes with practice but nonetheless… its a learned skill.  One that can be mastered over time.  The good news is that with a few simple cues we can speed up the learning curve. And when you do, you will have a new rigor to begin the task of writing your school newsletter. Just remember NOT to:

  • write a newsletters for the sake of writing a newsletter!
  • fill your newsletter with out of context guff
  • pimp your newsletter with advertising
  • add content with out first verifying its source, reliability and accuracy
  • use fancy software with a high learning curve and specialized skill set.


There IS magic in the school newsletter.  Once leaders grow into a writing style and set a standardized method for producing and distributing the school newsletter, schools will find that readership engagement will increase.  In other words parents will READ the newsletter… not just skim it but actually read it.  It will be pinned to the fridge rather than dumped in the bin.  Confidence in the school will grow and the magic will follow.

For more information on distributing your newsletter via email and SMS, visit Safe Newsletters

Keeping Your Systems in SYNC

I little while ago I was asked by a school if Safe Newsletters could notify them each time a parent unsubscribed from your newsletter.  The school wanted this so that they could synchronize their school systems.

We have now added this feature.

To activate it, login to Safe Newsletters and hover over the Accounts Menu and select settings.  Check the box “Notify by email each time a parent unsubscribes”.

You will then be sent a short email telling you the name and email address of the parent that has unsubscribed.

Please let me know if you would like further handy features installed.





Parent Brochures

With new changes to the way in which spam filters operate around the globe, Safe Newsletters has made some changes of our own in response.

Our new authenticated framework is designed to maximise the delivery and reliability of email to parent in boxes.  Even though we pass all the tests and protocols, sometimes email is filtered and parent newsletters get “stuck” in junk folders.

Spam filters are a necessary evil these days to immunize ourselves against spam.  Whilst spam filters sometimes filter our legitimate email… I still wouldn’t be without one!

To minimise the risk of email getting “stuck”, I have made an A5 brochure for you to photocopy and distribute to your parents.  It wouldn’t hurt to leave a few of these on your front counter.  You may even like to include it in your enrolment packages and student handbook etc…

Download the brochure here

We have some instructions on how parents can add to their contact list here

Feel free to add this link to your website or anywhere else parents might find useful.

If there is anything else you would like us to do to maximise delivery and open rates, please let us know.


Director, Safe Newsletter
Ph 07 3102 3385