How to build mailers

I love getting mail. Always have. As a child, checking the mailbox wasn’t a chore, but a privilege. Like most kids, receiving mail usually meant birthday cards or pen pal letters. I guess I’ve just carried that optimism into adulthood. Amazon Prime is my pen pal, now.

Every once in a while, designers send me mail at work. As you can imagine, I get pretty excited. Physical promotional kits are far from a sure thing, but it gives designers a definite edge. I recognize the time and effort it takes to build a solid mailer, so (if the perfect opportunity presents itself) I try my best to pay that back by giving jobs to the guys and girls that send them in.

Obviously, not everyone that sends in mail is guaranteed a paid gig, nor is it expected for vendors to build physical marketing materials; however, designers are 100% more likely to get noticed if they place themselves directly in an art director’s field of vision. It’s easy to miss someone while I’m surfing the web, but they’re impossible to avoid when taking up space on my desk. Here are some tips for designers on how to build quality mailers and get noticed by clients:

Don’t send mail to everybody

Because building a promo kit can be costly, it’s important to be selective. Don’t mail clients that aren’t a good fit. Even if you find the addresses of 300 art directors, don’t send 300 postcards. Also, don’t send postcards; postcards are lazy. Practice quality over quantity for both the kit itself and its recipients; decorate the envelope with stickers, hand-letter the address, include a hopeful note — you want the mailer to feel like a gift, not a reminder about an upcoming dentist appointment.

Never send promos without doing research. Try to get addresses first hand. Remember the names and titles of your recipients (I once received a package addressed to “Titus Forgothislastname”). Triple check spelling (I get a lot of mail for someone named “Tits Smith” and it’s making HR suspicious). Prove trustworthiness by making a positive first impression. The last thing a designer needs is to blacklist themselves due to an honest mistake.

Don’t spend too much money

Promos should be easy to mail and affordable enough that it doesn’t feel like a loss if you never hear back. While surprise or intrigue might feel like the name of the game, I think it’s helpful to give a heads up after you mail something, so try to track down an email address as well as a physical one. After all, some packages end up in the mail room, and nobody goes in there unless it’s necessary.

Don’t freak out if clients don’t reply right away (or at all). Plaster your contact info and website on everything you send, just to be safe. I’m not sure what the law of averages say about mailers, but it should only take one new paid gig to cover the cost of all this self-promotion. Even if you mail out 30 booklets from a short run printer like Artifact Uprising, a single editorial illustration ought to bring about a positive return. Stay patient.

Zines and newspapers make for memorable (and relatively inexpensive) mailers; also, dressing up the package with samples of your work is smart. 1. Matthew Hollister 2. Eric Nyffeler 3. Elias Stein 4. Alex Anderson

Have fun and think outside the box

My favorite promos include stickers. I love being able to slap a sticker on my laptop or sketchbook and add some personality to my toolbox. It’s also a great way to ensure that your design will be seen on a regular basis. Photo books leave a good impression, but require a little more time and devotion on the client’s part. Whatever you choose to send, make it as easy as possible to showcase your work. Buttons, pencils, pens, business cards, koozies — you’re a designer aren’t you? Get creative! Just don’t send postcards. Anything but postcards.

There’s another type of mailer that I’ll mention briefly: the thank you note. It’s not customary or expected for you to send anything to the client after your invoice has been paid (in fact, it’s necessary for me to point out that journalists — including editorial art directors and designers — are ethically obligated to refuse gifts). But if you’ve enjoyed a particular project or bonded with an art director over a few dozen emails, it wouldn’t hurt anything for you to follow up with a word of appreciation.

A quick thought on promotional materials in general: as much as I love mail, I enjoy being handed something in-person even more. Go to conferences, meet-ups and other on-site gatherings where clients and editorial art directors can match your name (and face) to the avatar. Take your marketing materials with you and hand them out. Liberally. Witness the excitement for yourself and have confidence that your contacts are actually receiving your work. Mailers are great, but nothing beats this type of interaction.

So, to recap, stickers: yes; postcards: no. Quality is more important than quantity. Be patient — all it takes is one. And a timely, “Thank you,” can keep the work coming. What have you found that works? Share your ideas in the comments.

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Titus Smith

Titus Smith

Design Dad. Running things at The Hideout Design Company LLC. If I were a typeface it would be something heavyset.