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Funny Mailers Are All Business for Design Agency

A bit of self-deprecating humor in a $2,000 direct mail campaign is expected to produce $100,000 worth of business for a small design and branding agency.

Visual Intelligence Agency Inc., Danbury, CT, targeted 500 firms nationwide with three mailers mimicking studio portraits. Each mailer contained a 5-by-7-inch sheet with four wallet-size photos and a larger photo of the four-person staff. A window envelope was used that contained only one word printed four times: Portraits.

The first mailer went in February with the staff photographed in suits appearing like students at a private school. The second mailed in March with the four wearing basketball jerseys, and the final mailing had them posing with someone wearing a rabbit suit.

“The school photo announced the concept,” company president Darryl Ohrt said, “while the second was tied to March Madness [associated with the NCAA college basketball tournament] and the third went out in April with the rabbit tied in with spring. We originally had four, but the last one was too cumbersome. It was going to be a prom photo [for May], but we would have had to get prom dates. So we went with three.”

And what does this have to do with helping an agency increase revenue?

“We needed something to communicate the fun, breakthrough personality of the agency that's not typical of agencies our size,” he said. “We needed a piece that would break through the clutter since sometimes direct mail is a difficult medium to communicate in these days.”

Spreading the mailings over three months helped, Ohrt said.

“The frequency helped maintain top-of-mind awareness with existing clients, and for prospects it breaks through since the first one might not otherwise get opened,” he said. “We got calls from people who said, 'It's the best thing I've ever seen, and they're hanging on my wall.' They realized after getting the second one that this was a campaign. We would get calls from people asking, 'When is the next one coming?'”

Then there's the offbeat copy on the back of each card.

“These lads suffer from PDSD or Post-Detention Stress Disorder. Repeated after-school incarcerations for coloring outside the lines have left them scarred and incapable of functioning in the adult working world,” appears on the back of the “school” card.

The bottom of all three cards gets back to business, referring to work done for high-profile clients such as Schick, MTV, Lillian Vernon and Virgin Records.

“A corporate marketing or branding person has trouble dealing with the snotty attitudes of smaller design firms that have a, 'Who are you to question me' type of attitude,” Ohrt said. “We are a small team, and we're showing our size on the front of the cards. A lot of brand managers are questioning their relationships with large agencies.”

Of the firms targeted, 250 were prospects, about 125 were current clients and the other 125 were former clients.

“We didn't buy lists,” he said. “We generated [the prospect list] over several months by looking for companies in all media that could benefit from our design experience. It could even be a company we read about in Inc. or Wired magazine or the Style section of The Sunday [New York] Times, so the list was built one by one, or by five or 10, at a time.”

His firm's typical projects include designing catalogs, print ads, direct mail pieces as well as Internet design and promotional videos and DVDs.

Ohrt estimates a savings of $5,000 to $10,000 on design fees that did not have to be paid. The bunny suit cost $100, and another $140 was spent on the basketball jerseys. The rest went toward printing and postage.

“We also cut some deals by calling in some favors on photography and printing,” he said.

So far the effort has generated two new clients, a maker of car-care products and a company that makes parts for air-conditioning and heating units. About 10 meetings have been set up from among prospects. Ohrt expects at least three to become clients. Two projects have come in from previous clients.

“It softened the market for cold calls,” he said. “I followed up with calls to all 250 prospects. They recognize you, and it puts you in a different mode even though these companies get a half-dozen calls a day from design firms.”

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