The most successful marketing tool my design firm ever had.

The year was 1993 and I was a young designer, eager to succeed and hungry to grow my design firm. But I was feeling stuck and scared.

It was painful to even flip through the pages of any graphic design annual. My self-critic would always kick in and all I would be thinking of is how much better everyone else’s work was than mine. By the time I put the magazine down, I felt frustrated knowing that I wasn’t marketing my firm well or creating any special self-promotion pieces that were winning me clients—or awards. That frustration led to shame. And the shame would stop me in my tracks.

In search of direction, I attended my first HOW Design Live conference, and I walked away with two very important insights: without marketing, my business had no serious future; secondly, the essence of marketing is to stay in conversation with your clients and prospects. 

I returned to my studio with a simple self-promotion idea that would become the pillar marketing piece for my company for the following 14 years. As my business was just starting, I didn’t have a budget to devote to marketing and there were a lot of people I wanted to stay connected to. So I had to get creative. I approached the local print shop that was printing most of my work (in those days printing was a major expense for every design firm) and convinced them to trade services to create a joint marketing piece we both could use. The printer jumped on the idea and we became each other’s marketing partners for years to come.

We created a calendar to send to our clients and prospects. But rather than send it all once, with the entire year bound together, we sent a single sheet each month, to create 12 points of communication instead of just one. It was important for me that the piece had value and that it wouldn’t end up in someone’s trash bin after they received it. So it had to be useful, it had to be beautiful and it had to be on time. I often used to joke that our calendar sheet was the only piece of art some of my corporate “suit” clients would have in their office.

The calendar was a hit with the people who received it—to the extent that they’d ring us if they missed a month, asking what had happened to it. The calendar was a true promo piece as it demonstrated what to expect from working with us: loyalty, consistency, expertise in marketing and our personal approach to developing business. It kept our clients and prospects connected and happy to hear from us.

There was a lot of love put into every single mailing, from the overall design to the handwritten addresses on every envelope to the love clients felt when they received it. This was definitely a “love-creation” piece.

The simplicity of this marketing piece and the intention in which it was sent supported an ongoing conversation with our clients and prospects. The calendar, which we mailed every month, was by far the most successful and cost-effective promotional piece our studio produced in a span of 18 years in business.




Happy Easter.