Awards
Print External Audience Tabloids and Newsletters: University of Texas at Austin - Grand Gold Medal

Category 21A: Print External Audience Tabloids and Newsletters
University of Texas at Austin Harry Ransom Center, Ransom Edition

Contact: Alicia Dietrich, public affairs assistant/editor, PO Box 7219, Austin, TX 78713-7219, Phone: (512) 232-3667, e-mail: aliciadietrich@mail.utexas.edu

Research and Planning: For more than 15 years, the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin has produced an external print newsletter. While the newsletter has evolved over the years, it was time to revisit the goal of the communication piece and to bring it in line with the center’s revised branding and visual identity.

The overriding goal behind creating a redesigned biannual newsletter was to strengthen ties with our constituencies and emphasize the quality and value of the Ransom Center. The challenge with this initiative is that we would need to successfully communicate with our diverse publics, including an international community of scholars, peer institutions at archives and museums, universities, media, individual and foundation donors, the center’s membership group, and general supporters.

The newsletter also needed to effectively communicate the center’s central mission, to advance the study of the arts and humanities, and reflect its broad collections, including art, books, film, French and Italian materials, manuscripts, performing arts, and personal effects. It was also decided that the newsletter should provide backstories, and not simply straightforward news, about important occurrences at the Ransom Center, such as supplementing and researching the collections.

In reviewing our audiences, we determined that a significant portion reside outside of Austin. Recognizing this, we deemed it essential to balance stories that could interest all readers, especially if they were not likely to be physically visiting the Ransom Center. The newsletter is mailed to more than 4,000 readers. We also resolved to aggressively push readers to the center’s Web site if they desired more specific knowledge.

Another objective was to take advantage of the Ransom Center’s connections to prominent figures in its collections and provide readers exclusive content that they couldn’t find elsewhere, such as recommended reading, audio interviews, and unique visuals. The Ransom Center did not want the print newsletter to function as a one-way street, but to serve as a communication tool that could direct and send readers from one medium to another.

We determined that the revised newsletter layout should incorporate several new elements, including:

  • Providing the reader with a “magazine-like” feel
  • Including a cover story with an accompanying image, as well as a screened-back image that relates to the lead story
  • Incorporating a table of contents, a feature absent from prior newsletters
  • Touting a selection of internal stories on the cover
  • Including more feature stories and content derived from “experts,” including those who have used the collections and are involved with the center
  • Changing the name from the generic “Ransom News” to “Ransom Edition,” a take on the Ransom Center’s holding of rare books and manuscripts
  • Pushing readers to the Ransom Center’s Web site (additional content information and entire newsletter contents are available online at www.hrc.utexas.edu/ransomedition)
  • Providing readers with Web content in multi-media formats
  • Using the back cover to highlight a recent event or news
  • Incorporating only senior-level staff announcements and depart from other inclusions of staff/internal news
  • Printing the newsletter in 4-color and a matte finish, similar to other printed pieces
    In addition to these elements, the newsletter page run would be 16 pages while each issue would contain a listing of events, which mirrors the center’s stand-alone calendar piece, to emphasize the diversity of programming.

Implementation: The Ransom Center engaged a graphic designer to produce comps based on the planning and desires for the revised communication piece. Two rounds of meetings and some editing yielded the design that would be the “Ransom Edition.” A palette of six colors was chosen for the accent color on the cover, including the center’s signature PMS red.

A graphic mouse icon was chosen as the visual to alert readers to additional online components on the Ransom Center’s Web site. The icon directed readers to further content for nine items in the summer issue, while the fall issue pushed readers to the Web site seven times.

Some examples of encouraging and pushing readers to visit the Web site for further content included:

  • Linking to The Economist’s review of the Ransom Center’s “Image Wrought” exhibition
  • Directing readers to a Web site with audio interviews and images from Irish writer Sebastian Barry’s visit to the Ransom Center
  • A slideshow of images from the recently acquired archive of photographer Arnold Newman
    With the launch of “Ransom Edition,” a PDF version of the newsletter was included on the center’s website for downloading in addition to the contents of each issue being placed online in HTML.

By including new columns such as “Research at the Ransom Center,” the newsletter could speak not only to academics, but also share with other audiences the type of research that occurs at the center. In “Miss Universe, Mr. Uris, and the Archive,” scholar Ira Nadel discusses his use of the center’s Leon Uris archive and its value. Scholar Bradley Clissold’s “A Postcard for Your Thoughts” explores the cultural impact of sent postcards on 20th-century literature and popular culture.

Such columns as “Research at the Ransom Center,” “Recommended Reading” and “Et Ceterata” are examples of incorporating the content of others, particularly “specialists” in their fields, and providing readers unique subject matter.

Evaluation: Ransom Center director Thomas F. Staley received positive feedback and compliments about “Ransom Edition” from several contacts. The director was so pleased with the revised piece that he approved an additional $4,800 for the production of an expanded spring 2007 “Ransom Edition” that commemorates the center’s 50th anniversary, complete with a foldout timeline.

The director of Emory University’s Robert W. Woodruff Library, a peer institution, asked for copies of the newsletter in an effort to share with his staff, and to guide the redesign of their own publication A reporter with NBC Nightly News emailed to say that the “piece stood out among all the mail he receives.” Perhaps one of the most flattering compliments was when a Ransom Center associate director spotted someone reading the newsletter over Sunday brunch at a popular local diner. Another accomplishment of the revised newsletter is that it allows the Ransom Center to strengthen its relationship and ties with those whose collections we hold.

From mailbox to the Web, there are also some quantitative results for the success of the newsletter, including:

  • Summer 2006 issue received 3,742 Web hits between June 1 and September 30, with a PDF version downloaded 174 times
  • For this same date range, top newsletter stories hit on the Web included the feature story “The Sweet Smell of Provenance” (563 hits), audio interview and images from author Sebastian Barry’s visit (472 hits), and the “Research at the Ransom Center” column about the Leon Uris collection (428 hits).
  • Fall 2006 issue received 2,193 Web hits between October 1 and December 31, with a PDF version downloaded 187 times
  • For this same date range, top newsletter stories hit on the Web included a curator’s “Et Ceterata” piece on silhouette artistry (455 hits), the “Research at the Ransom Center” column about postcards (445 hits), and the Q & A column with Norman Mailer scholar Michael J. Lennon (372 hits).

The popularity of these pieces confirms that our audiences are interested in content that is not only unique, but that exists elsewhere, outside of the print newsletter. Minus the $1,600 expense for initial redesign concepts, the design, printing, and mailing costs for the summer and fall newsletters both fell below their $8,000 budget (annual budget for design, printing and mailing of spring and fall newsletters is $16,500). Approximate per unit cost is $2.

Staff involved with the production of the newsletter includes an editor, a freelance designer, an art director, a Webmaster, and two photographers. Contributors to the newsletter include Ransom Center staff as well as external contacts that have a connection with the center, ranging from researchers using the collections to those whose materials are housed here.