A Note from Your Obligatory Agency Newsletter Editor

By Christina Stephens

I have a very smelly story for you. It was the mid-1990s. Coolio topped the charts with a rap about living in a Gangsta’s Paradise and young Gen X women everywhere were dyeing their hair as red as Angela Chase’s on My So-Called Life.

I was a freshman at St. Joseph’s Academy with C in Biology Honors and a dream – to grow bacteria on a hotly advertised new “antibacterial” sponge. Through some less than sound science (I basically just let the sponge sit in milk for days at a time) I did just that. My project, dramatically titled “They Said It Wouldn’t Grow: Life on a Sponge,” got an honorable mention at our school Science Fair, largely because of my natural ability to tell a story, beautiful signage printed on my parents’ dot matrix printer and the fact that I stayed after school each day adding to the cesspool in which my sponge samples sat.

Here is the thing: I didn’t grow E. coli on sponges because I cared about bacteria, or even science. (Sorry Mrs. Ales!) I picked my topic because it was a challenge. The ads said I couldn’t grow bacteria on an antibacterial O-Celo sponge and, by damn, I did. Give me a ribbon.

So, when Covalent Logic’s owner told me last March that there was no way our company could keep an email newsletter going for longer than a couple of months, she pressed that button that the antibacterial sponge people did so many years before.

She was just being honest. The company had tried several times to launch a newsletter, but the effort always fizzled. The oft-quoted Proverb fits: “The shoemaker’s children go barefoot.” Companies like ours sometimes let our own marketing and public relations slide because we’re focused on our clients’ campaigns or Twitter accounts or websites. But when we do that, we’re selling ourselves short and missing out on potential work or partnerships.

One common communications strategy is to “Show, not tell,” which just means it is more powerful to demonstrate a strength or skill instead of saying, “We’re good at this.” For me, that’s what a Covalent email newsletter was about. Demonstrating that we could curate industry news, write witty content, design appropriate images and package it all in a format that we released on a regular basis. If we don’t do it for ourselves, how can we sell it to you?

And just like my smelly science project, our company email newsletter was born.

The Obligatory Agency Newsletter was named right before the first edition came out when, during a fruitless brainstorming session (seriously, no one believed we’d do more than one of these newsletters), I threw out, “Obligatory Agency Newsletter” as a joke name. It fit with my major argument in favor of this newsletter, which was that every other agency did one, so we should too.

The name set the tone of the writing – self-referential, slightly cheeky – and also poked fun at the things we do as marketers and communications professionals just because we feel like we should. You can see nods to this in each issue: “Here is where we read blogs so you don’t have to,” for example.

Our newsletter is like all of the other newsletters, except for the fact that we tell you, right up front that we’re doing this because we feel obligated to. We must communicate with you, so you will remember us when you want a new website or have a marketing, design or public relations need. We tell you about industry trends so you think we are smart and will hire us.

We’re the emperor, standing here, saying that in case you didn’t notice, we have no clothes on.

Though this newsletter has been a Labor of Stubbornness at times, I can honestly say our marketing is better for it. We see more than a 20 percent open rate. We’ve made sales based on its content and used it to start discussions with potential clients. People routinely bring it up in conversation with our CEO Stafford or other members of our team. I knew we had a winner on our hands when Stafford introduced herself to a stranger at an event and he said, “Oh yes, I read your Obligatory Agency Newsletter.”

Covalent Logic is better positioning itself in the marketplace through several efforts, including this Obligatory Agency Newsletter, which turns one this month, even though they said it would never last. Give me a ribbon.


Christina Stephens serves as the Sr. Public Relations Manager at Covalent Logic. She is a seasoned crisis communicator who brings nearly a decade of experience in media relations and government communications.

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