First step

For the first few years I worked for myself – when Hanscom Park Studio was just me, a notepad and a laptop – I was content and successful relying on word-of-mouth referrals almost exclusively. I landed my first big clients when friends and former colleagues recommended me to business owners with design needs. As I’ve expanded and tried to grow, through, I knew I needed to become more active in marketing the business. Since we’re still small, and I historically focus most of my time on the design work on my plate instead of administrative work, I needed my marketing scheme to be as creatively fulfilling for me as it was effective in driving new work and clients.

Six months ago, I started working on an idea. My favorite projects have always been tactile ones, with contrasting materials and finishes — coarse and smooth, soft and ridged, shiny and dull. I also love sending and receiving unexpected, unique mail and have periodically sent grungy, hand-printed linocut cards to clients, friends and family. I wanted to scale that concept into something bigger and more arresting. I wanted to screen print something. I wanted something vaguely vintage, while trendy and classic all at the same time.

The studio turned five years old in 2017, so the anniversary seemed like a good peg. I initially considered designing a classic t-shirt mail my contact list. That seemed in the right vein, but not unique enough and impossible to predict correct sizes of people I was mailing them to. However, a classic pennant, like you’d see as a set prop in a boy’s bedroom of a 1950s sitcom, had the right feel. So I drew up some custom, chunky lettering spelling out “Hanscom Park” (by omitting “Studio,” the letters had more impact and it had more of a feel of a souvenir from the Omaha park than a billboard for a business), ordered up some pennants and hired Omaha Screen Co.

When I ran the idea by Ben, he took the ball and ran with it. I’d initially imagined sending a nice box with a pennant and a friendly card inside to clients, potential clients and friends of the studio. Ben saw that as a missed opportunity. He thought back to promotional boxes and bags he used to get as a kid at car shows, and how they were filled full of stickers and trinkets. We needed to stuff it to its gills.

Playing off the concept of the pennant being a souvenir from the company’s namesake park, we designed and developed all the other elements around the same idea. We used the historic Hanscom Park Pavilion as the anchor image on all of the collateral. It burned in the 1920s, but as the streetcar suburbs of Omaha grew in the early 1900s, it was a destination worth bragging about. It was the perfect visual focal point.

We designed the shipping box to look like the pavilion and screen printed it in navy for a tactile feel and to match the color scheme of the contents. We designed the stickers to look like ones showing steamer trunk destinations (with some custom lettering I’m particularly proud of). We designed the chipboard notebooks with historic blueprints of the building for the cover. We ordered classic pencils to pair with the books. We thought about how to organize the materials so they unfolded and unrolled in layers as recipients opened the box, and we designed the card holding the pennant to reveal messages as the felt flag was removed and be reminiscent of travel documents. And all of that was, in truth, just a delivery vehicle for a six-panel accordion-fold portfolio that showed off our work from the past couple of years. We designed that to look a bit like a vintage road map or travel brochure.

Over the course of the fall, we worked with vendors to print the pieces, and tried to keep as much of the work local as we could – thanks to Ink Tank, Omaha Screen Co. and Printco. Working with long-time partners helped keep our costs down, too, as some of the vendors cut us a deal.

As 2017 wound down, we needed to wrap the packages up and get them shipped since they were pegged to the anniversary the company celebrated in October. We wanted to get them in the mail before the Christmas rush, so we spent a couple of very long nights in early December packing and addressing the boxes before shipping them about a month ago. Two hundred of our clients, potential clients and friends received a surprise early holiday gift from us.

The initial impact has been better than I could have hoped. We’ve seen a response rate of almost 60 percent (by comparison, a direct-mail campaign garnering a response rate of a few percent is considered successful). Within the first week or two, it landed us enough new work to more than pay for itself. What I’m really curious about, though, is what the long-tail impact may be. We carefully designed each element hoping the boxes would sit on office desks for a while, the pennants could hang in cubicles, the notepads could be used and seen in the world. It will be difficult to gauge the lingering value, but I suspect it may be higher than the initial response.

Time will tell.

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