Is it just me, or are paper retailers feeling a big squeeze? It seems like I'm getting a lot of emails lately with discounts on personalized stationery, Christmas cards and gifts. I don't remember pricing being this aggressive last year. I get emails from Papyrus two times a week if not more:
... and I hear from Kate's about once a week:
...and I hear from Shutterfly, photoworks, and Kodak all the time. Am I wrong in thinking there are more discounts this year than last?
In my last post, I rambled on about the various press kits I've seen and what makes them effective - or not. Here are two examples that I've recently received. There are certain elements that most kits contain, so I've looked at each package with those in mind.
Company: INK & PAPER
This package works. The branding is consistent throughout and the letter is well-written - it tells their story and the company's reason for being. Again, this is what journalists want to see.
The card samples are key. While I appreciate that it can be expensive to blanket the world with live product, it's essential to put the real thing in people's hands. [This doesn't always apply to customers - strangely enough - but more about that later. Here I'm assuming the audience is retailers, journalists and the occasional blog writer!] I like the designs and the cards are professionally presented - and if I was a retailer, I'd feel confident that they know how to fulfill orders and get product shipped on time.
I also really like the label they put on the outside of the card's cello sleeve. It's an attractive way to showcase their branding and useful to the retailer who needs to quickly find a product number when checking inventory. I bet the artist has heard some mixed opinions about it; the purists might balk at anything obscuring the design while the more commercially-minded could see it as a good way to include information that needs to be there anyway. My only criticism is that it might be too big.
COMPANY: nuggets of love
I'm a sucker for a good envelope, and I immediately noticed this kit because of it's very professional and nicely designed address label. I'm so easy - but you'd be surprised how often this part of the presentation is overlooked.
All of the information, from the artist Kimberly Leass' inspiration to the card details and styles, are in a single four-sided brochure that's compact and clear. She's very generous to include four card samples. My only criticism - and it's a big one - is that these four cards are the only styles there are. In order to have any real merchandising impact, retailers most often buy at least six styles and definitely want more than that to choose from.
This press kit does what it's meant to do: it piques my interest. But for now, there just isn't enough meat here. So get designing Kimberly - we want to see more!
I love receiving press kits from designers. Each one is different and they range from simple to complex, amateurish to slick, inexpensive to really elaborate. In most cases, it's the less outrageous ones that get my attention. When the message is straightforward [we've got great style that tells a strong story] and the information is clear [here are the sizes, prices, ordering information and contact details], the press kit works.
I understand the designer's temptation to showcase as much of their work as possible, but kits that are too fussy, ornate or precious simply miss the point. Think about how the information will be used. The retail buyer is looking for:
The editor is looking for:
Editors don't want to tell their readers about a cool new product if there's a chance their readers can't get their hands on it. Trust me, readers do complain if they can't get what's featured, and editors who get their readers mad don't have jobs for long. The smart designer makes sure their favorite editors keep their jobs - and keep writing.
One thing that both retailers and editors REALLY want is a press kit that fits into their filing system!! This is where it pays to be practical instead of precious and design an piece that is accessible both visually and physically. Kits that contain a lot of loose sheets or are secured by fancy ribbons risk falling apart - and getting chucked.
I'll post some examples - stay tuned.
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For a crash course in British culture, simply talk to a greeting card retailer. It's interesting to learn which US concepts and designs translate to the UK market and which don't. For example:
There's obviously no need for Happy Thanksgiving cards like Ess & Jae's pretty design, since the holiday doesn't exist in Britain. Likewise, in the US you'd be hard pressed to find a card that congratulates a new driver on passing their driving test, but in the UK you'd have no trouble at all [card by James Ellis Stevens].
The difference between other celebrations is a little more subtle. For example, no one really throws a bridal shower [invitation by We Do Windows]. Instead, prospective brides have their hen night, the British version of a bachelorette party. This hysterical hen night invitation by Ballistic Blue gives a clue as to the typical tone of these parties. Bachelor parties, to continue the metaphor, are known as stag nights.
The Brits don't typically throw baby showers either, which rules out the need for shower invitations. These parties are starting to pop up, however, and there are some stores that do sell bridal and baby shower invites. American expats and a growing number of English women buy theirs at Fortnum and Mason in London.
little things mean a lot
Small details such as spelling and slang can deem a design irrelevant to the UK market. Coco Press publishes cleverly illustrated journals with specific themes like cooking and art. Their travel journal, left, has the word traveler on the front [no surprise there!]. Since Brits spell the word traveller, this particular style doesn't stand a great chance. Good thing the rest of the designs translate.
Likewise, one of Remanents' greeting cards features a design whose caption reads a shore thing. This way of referring to the beach, or seaside, is uncommon here in the UK and even in the US its usage varies among different geographic regions. Personally, I'll always be a shore girl - no beach for me, thank you.
Finally, here's a cultural reference that doesn't cross the pond at all. One of Dairy's best-selling greeting cards, left, refers to Jeopardy!, a long-running American TV game show. Until it's host, Alex Trebek, starts showing up on British TV, it's safe to say that this card probably wouldn't sell very well. But give it time - no doubt Jeopardy! will cross the pond sometime soon and Alex will be everywhere!
One of the biggest differences between markets is how they treat Christmas. In the US, it's much more common to see a Season's Greetings card like this handmade one by Nikita 7 than it is to see Merry Christmas. Americans are terrified of committing a crime against humanity by sending a Merry Christmas card to someone who might - gasp! - not be Christian. Therefore, the all-inclusive Season's Greetings commands the greatest share of shelf space.
In contrast, Brits are all about Christmas, and some card distributors don't bother publishing anything else. Retailers will typically carry some Season's Greetings and Joy/Peace/Cheer cards, but nothing like the number of Christmas styles they'll offer. And don't look for any Hanukkah cards like Turquoise Creative's letterpress version because you'll most likely come up empty-handed - there simply isn't the same demand.
Happy Holidays, another big US favorite, doesn't really fly in the UK either. A stationery buyer I know suggested that this is because Holidays typically refers to both Thanksgiving and Christmas and since Brits don't celebrate Thanksgiving, the phrase doesn't resonate. Makes sense to me. You're much more likely to find a design like this one from British designer Amanda Seymour. It's nice to be in a society that doesn't find Merry Christmas an unenlightened, bigoted or anti-Semitic thing to say, and I for one hope the US pc-police don't cross the Atlantic anytime soon.
Sometimes you hear something that you hadn't thought of before, isn't that hard to do and really makes sense. A recent conversation with Monica Anderson uncovered a gem like this that I think is worth passing on.
Monica has built Remanents, her stationery and greeting card company, on small ideas that can pay off in big ways. She launched the company six years ago without a massive marketing budget and has sold to major retailers including Anthropologie, Saks, Neimans and Nordstroms as well as hundreds of stationery and lifestyle stores in the US and abroad. I'm constantly bothering her for advice and I'm sure one of these days she'll stop taking my calls.
Monica has worked hard to develop relationships with editors, and it's resulted in press coverage for her and for her products. Ok, that's an obvious one - everybody knows that editorial mentions can really boost sales and brand awareness. But she's looked at the other side of a magazine's masthead and built relationships with the marketing and promotions departments too. They are a goldmine of opportunity and can be easily overlooked in our efforts to get editors' attention.
I used to work in marketing at a national magazine, and I know that for every advertising event, every subscriber drive and almost everything else they do, magazines need products to give away. These guys run out of sources pretty quickly and are constantly looking for new, fun and unique designs to include in their latest promotions. Did someone say stationery? Why yes, I think they did...
Monica has worked closely with InStyle magazine's promotion department for several years. This year, the magazine included Remanents products in special gift bags given to all celebrities staying at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel around Oscar time. Don't be surprised if that love letter you get from Leo is written on a Remanents card. While this was obviously a high-profile event, it's worth considering the smaller ones that will come your way.
Monica points out that you really have to know what to expect when you participate in an event in order to get the most out of it. Her advice:
It's so easy to get overwhelmed by the things you should do to build your brand and find customers. I feel it firsthand as I build Soleberry. Sometimes I think sure, that sounds good, let's just put it on the list along with everything else! But since you're most likely sending press kits to editors anyway, send a few to the Promotions and Marketing departments and see what happens. Maybe nothing, maybe something, but you never know.
Let me know if you've had any experiences, good or bad, with product donations you've made or opportunities you've had like this. They might be worth sharing too.