Publishing for Duffers

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted August 30, 2007

At a golf club, communicating with members is a vital task. Lose a member and you don’t just lose a single sale, you lose a whole year’s worth of sales. And if you lose one member, you risk losing more. They’re the life blood of the business.

The Ames Golf & Country Club in Ames, Iowa, a city of about 50,000 located 30 miles north of Des Moines, is fairly typical. Its 335 full-time members generate most of the company’s $1.2 million in annual revenues. 

The club maintains an 18-hole, 114-acre golf course laid out in 1971 by Donald Sechrest, the former PGA pro who designed 90 courses across the Midwest. It boasts lush fairways, tees and well-manicured greens, surrounded and irrigated by a few small, well-positioned lakes. The club also has a pool and tennis courts and offers a full slate of activities including tournaments, lessons and meets.

Like any other small business of its size, the AGCC is cost conscious. The 20 core staff members – the head count swells to 90 in the summer with seasonal and part-time workers – sometimes have to wear more than one hat. When the club’s membership and marketing director left last year, for example, the all-important communications role fell to business manager Nichole Kayser.

The job mainly involves producing print publications – a monthly newsletter and regular e-mails that go out to members, monthly calendars distributed to staff and board members showing upcoming events and activities, flyers announcing meets and outings to post around the clubhouse, post cards for direct mail campaigns and more.

Small-Business Unfriendly
When Kayser took over, she immediately struggled with the Adobe PageMaker desktop publishing program that her predecessor had chosen and was using to produce the newsletter. PageMaker, the original desktop publishing program, is really a professional tool and makes few allowances for the needs of non-expert small business people.

“My degree isn’t in marketing and advertising,” Kayser said almost apologetically. “I’m a business and finance person.”

Making any change to a publication within PageMaker – drawing a rule line, changing column widths or lengths, inserting a picture – was a major hassle because each task had to be done manually. Starting a new publication from scratch was even more intimidating.

“With PageMaker, what you get is a blank page,” Kayser said. “You have to add everything. I’ve used a lot of programs. This one just isn’t very user-friendly.”

Luckily, the club was also using a version of Microsoft Office 2003 for word processing and spreadsheet. It included Publisher, Microsoft’s easy-to-use desktop publishing program. The latest version of Publisher, part of Office 2007, introduced earlier this year, sells on its own for about $170.

When Kayser took over the publications program at the AGCC, she gravitated to Publisher 2003. And later, when the club’s computer consultant, Heartland Technology Solutions, offered Kayser the chance to participate in the Office 2007 beta program and try out Publisher 2007, she jumped at it.

A Breeze to Use
She quickly discovered that Publisher 2003 vastly simplified the task of producing the calendars, for example. She could do it in PageMaker or in a word processor, but it meant laying out and drawing the boxes herself, being careful to start and end the month on the right day. And she had to redesign the page for each new month.

“Publisher is just so much easier to use and so much more flexible,” Kayser said.

Publisher’s great strength is that it comes with hundreds of professionally designed templates, ready-made layouts, with some text and graphics already in place and the position of additional graphics and text pre-determined. The library in Publisher 2007 includes templates in 25 categories for every imaginable type of business or personal paper-based, e-mailed or Web-based publication.

You can customize templates to personalize them by applying any of 60 professionally coordinated color schemes, sets of four complementary colors used for different elements in a publication, and 45 font schemes, sets of two fonts that work well together. You can also move elements around on the page.

Creating a calendar page that shows all the days of the month, with spaces to type in events such as the next AGCC board meeting or the upcoming women’s golf tournament, is a breeze. Kayser selects the calendar template she wants, from almost 50 available in Publisher 2007, chooses the month from a drop-down list, clicks Create, and Publisher displays the pre-formatted calendar page with the correct dates and days.

Using the panel at the left of the page in Publisher, she can select objects to insert onto the page, such as the AGCC logo which she has stored in Publisher’s object library. And she can change the color scheme by selecting a new one from a drop-down list. Then she simply clicks in the box for a particular day and types a description of the event.

“It takes me about 15 minutes a month per calendar page,” Kayser says. How long did it take before? “About 45 minutes to an hour.”

New Features
Publisher 2007 offers a bunch of new and improved features. Kayser confesses she doesn’t now remember which of features that she relies on are new and which were in Publisher 2003. A new template search function, for example, lets her search for templates by key word. If you’re connected to the Internet, it will also search in a continually updated library of hundreds of templates available through Office Online.

The new version of Publisher also includes features that make it very easy to apply a consistent brand to all publications – something design and marketing professionals know is crucial, but small businesses often neglect. It lets you customize templates with unique color and font schemes, then save design settings along with company logo and reusable text such as business name, address, phone numbers, etc. in a My Templates section. You can then apply those same elements to any publication.

Publisher 2007 includes new e-mail features too, which Kayser uses to simplify mailings to members. The program lets you personalize e-mails based on templates and add hyperlinks and bookmarks to e-mails to make it easier for recipients to navigate multi-page documents. And it gives you the ability to take an existing publication – a newsletter, say – and apply an e-mail template so it will be properly formatted for sending over the Internet.

A Change for the Better
Kayser now uses Publisher for everything, except the monthly newsletter. For that, she is still using PageMaker – regrettably, she said. She doesn’t bother to change the layout much from month-to-month, because it’s just too much trouble to do. She simply plugs new content into the existing layout.

That will change later this year, however, when the busy summer season is over and Kayser has some time to think and to create. Then she’ll make a new newsletter design in Publisher, which will be much easier to customize for each new issue.

“I know that I can do something graphically and visually more pleasing than what we have now with PageMaker,” Kayser said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how the newsletter will work out. With Publisher, it will be a lot easier to create.”

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.

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