Connecting the Dots of Marketing: How One Designer Does it

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One of the main problems I see with designers and their marketing is that it can be a bit all over the place and haphazard—a blog post here, a networking event there, and maybe a little follow-up with past clients.

But what I’ve seen consistently over the years as I’ve been mentoring designers is that haphazard marketing efforts are worth very little. Unless you can reach the right people with the right message at the right time, it’s almost not worth doing.

What does reaching the right people with the right message at the right time look like?

John Hartwell of Hartwell Studio Works is a case in point.

Hartwell’s niche is sports branding, with a focus on schools. Last year, we mapped out a simple marketing plan with a few essential tools that he could commit to and do regularly without being overwhelmed by his marketing tasks.

As he wrote to me last month with an update, “Things have been busy busy with Hartwell Studio Works promotions and biz dev, with some results I thought you’d find interesting.”

Logo for Georgia Perimeter College by creative entrepreneur John Hartwell of Hartwell Studio WorksLogo for Georgia Perimeter College by Hartwell Studio Works.
Read more about the project background, process and results here.


Hartwell is on a prospecting schedule, reaching out to a select group of schools each month with a 4-week series of personalized email messages. The contacts come from a list he pulled together through various research efforts, and he does enough research on each prospect to customize his message so they know it’s not a mass email.

This type of prospecting is a long play. The goal is to plant seeds, build awareness and instill trust over time. John knows that. He doesn’t expect every person to respond or everyone who does respond to have an immediate need. That only happens once in a while.

Wrote John, “Unsurprisingly, I do not hear from the vast majority of the prospects. Next are folks who ask to not receive further emails. I rarely hit someone actively looking for my services—in fact, I got my first positive ‘I’m looking for your services now’ response this month.”

But John is not discouraged because he knows that the key to this kind of prospecting is realistic expectations—on average 10% will be ready and willing to continue the conversation. That’s one out of every 10 well-researched prospects, no more!

At the end of John’s four-week sequence, he lets them know he’ll stay in touch unless he hears from them otherwise—a classic opt-out strategy—and he then adds them to his auto-drip email newsletter list.

Email Newsletter

John isn’t new to email marketing. In the past, he’d share new work and send out a fun “Holiday League” promo. “All well and good, but I can’t say it’s really been effective over the long haul. Specifically, I am keenly aware that if I’m going to send the newsletter to these non-responsive prospecting contacts, then it had dad-gum well better have content that is worth their time.” (Here’s the latest edition.)

That said, he’s been pleasantly surprised. “Since I started the prospecting schedule, I’ve added about 100 names to my list. Here’s the surprising part: Of those 100, only four have unsubscribed, which, I will admit, has blown me away. I was fully expecting up to 50%, because who the hell wants to be added to yet another email list? Yet, not only have so few unsubscribed, several have opened multiple newsletters. I’m very encouraged.”

Well, I am not surprised by those results. If you’ve chosen your prospects well and approached them in a personal way, when they don’t respond, it’s not because they’re not interested. They simply don’t have time! You shoot yourself in the foot if you assume the silence means “no.”

Logo for Atlanta International School by creative entrepreneur John Hartwell of Hartwell Studio WorksLogo for Atlanta International School by creative entrepreneur John Hartwell of Hartwell Studio WorksLogos for Atlanta International School by Hartwell Studio Works.
Read more about the project background, process and results here.


Once the initial strategy was in place, John added advanced content marketing in the form of a podcast, The HSW Sports Branding Podcast. He started with a few episodes of his own content. This year he added interviews with guests, which has increased his visibility beyond his expectations.

“I’ve put out two new podcast episodes this year, both featuring guests, and the guests have been kind enough to share their episode with their respective social networks. The results have been notable. 

“Listeners are pointed to the podcast page of my website (instead of iTunes or Google Play) for the purpose of driving traffic. And drive it does. Both times have seen spikes in web traffic, not just to that podcast episode page, but my analytics tell me that some visitors take a look around the rest of the site as well. Big thumbs up.”

Plus, he’s seen an effect via social media. “I’ve picked up additional high-quality Twitter and LinkedIn connections. I’ve been gratified to get connection requests from new contacts in both American and European sports markets. This is obviously encouraging, telling me that folks are indeed listening and finding the content worthy.” 

Annual Trade Show

The most important element of this strategic marketing plan, the one that connects everything together, is the annual show held in June, where John will be able to meet the people he’s been courting. Without that, he’s just a name in their inbox. But the minute he can put a face and a handshake to it, he will become a human being with whom they can potentially do business.

John is encouraged because he can see how the prospecting, the email newsletter and the podcast set him up for the show. In his words, “The prospecting creates initial contact and awareness, the podcast and newsletter promote expertise and trust, all of which I’m looking to leverage when I start soliciting this entire group of prospects for meetings at the event.

“Instead of going into the show blind, with no real strategy, I’ve now got over 100 (and counting) contacts who will know who I am when I reach out and ask, “So, y’wanna get together at the show to talk about how your program can benefit from a fancy-schmancy athletics rebrand?”

I bet many will say yes! Stay tuned …

Don’t miss Ilise Benun’s session at HOW Design Live in Boston. Click here for more details, and be sure to register by March 15 to take advantage of that early-bird pricing!