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Marilyn and Watershaping


By Jim McCloskey
A comment I’ve been anticipating (and dreading) has recently crossed my desk. It came from a reader who expressed exasperation with our newsletter’s use of celebrity-centered items; she was particularly offended by our link to a generous dose of Marilyn Monroe’s skin in a recent edition of “Ripples.”
I’m sorry that any offense was taken, but it’s a plain fact that items like these get people to 
open our newsletters — and therefore are key to presenting readers with the more technical and business-related information we include in each edition.
After tracking the “open rates” carefully since the newsletter’s earliest days, we’ve learned the following: If we have an e-mail subject line that reads “Easier Weir Leveling,” the newsletter is viewed by fewer than half the readers who open issues with subject lines such as “Celine Dion Swims to the Moon.”
Yes, it’s a bit crass on our part to exploit our society’s interest in the doings of celebrities, but given how crammed e-mailboxes are these days with junk on performance-enhancing drugs, opportunities to make millions at home doing nothing, or the chance to help generous Nigerians transfer funds to your bank account, I don’t feel too bad about using name recognition — and maybe even a bit of skin now and then — to get our newsletters opened and read.
As I see it, it’s an entertaining ice-breaker, a way to start a conversation and set the stage for more serious communication. I know we run the risk of trivializing what we do, but it’s long been our belief that using something silly or offbeat in this way helps readers relax and makes it easier to get into the richer and more significant content that has always been our hallmark.
Do we run the risk of alienating some of our readers? I certainly hope not; it should be noted that the comment about Marilyn Monroe is the only negative reaction we’ve received in more than a year of running “Ripples.” Still, if you have a bone to pick with the way we do things, please let me know what you think.

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