Can You Read Me?

How often have you lost touch with someone who said they wanted to work with you but weren’t quite ready? And wasn’t it because you didn’t have a system in place, an ongoing marketing vehicle, to keep you top of mind without too much effort?

Well, those days are gone—because email marketing is here. Don’t worry. This isn’t about spam. It’s simply the process of using email to keep in touch with—and keep your name in front of—those with whom you have (or would like to have) a relationship. This includes past, current and possibly future customers, as well as vendors and colleagues, even friends and family because you never know where the work is going to come from. These people want to hear from you. In fact, designers who use this marketing tool are often surprised by the positive feedback they get from their networks in response to their email newsletters.

An email marketing campaign accomplishes many things at once. It’s the ideal medium to showcase your creativity, share your knowledge and build credibility, while also spreading the word about your services and distinguishing you from other designers. Email newsletters also drive traffic to your Web site in a much more reliable and controllable way than search engines. And best of all, email serves as a prompt for your recipients. When they get a message from you, it encourages them to reach out.

Creating Content
The major challenge to creating an email newsletter is deciding what to send and then gathering (or creating) that content. But if you start with a simple strategy, it will be easier to fit into your life. Here are four different approaches used by designers around the country:

1. Show off your work. This is the most obvious strategy, but instead of just showing a pretty picture, use an email campaign to tell a story that describes a problem you solved for a client. Here’s an example:

Be Design
For three years, the team at Be Design, based in San Rafael, CA, used a direct-mail postcard campaign to keep in touch with their network. But in 2002, they replaced that effort with an email campaign and for almost a year they’ve been sending their “E-Note” to 800 clients, prospects and press contacts every four to six weeks. The strategy, according to Linda Nero, marketing director of Be Design, is to be in constant dialogue with the firm’s network, remain top-of-mind and build awareness of its work.

The “E-Note” is simple, informative and memorable, and most often includes recent projects presented in case-study format. It’s generated in HTML, and the subject line of each issue—recent examples include Fantastic Presence, Creative Presence and Essential Presence—is tied to the firm’s tagline, “We create brands with presence.”

The body of the message contains a two-to three-word headline, a bold image of the work and a short 3050-word message describing the project’s challenge and the firm’s solution. In an effort to drive recipients to the Web site and engage them in the work, the image is linked directly to the Be Design homepage ( “We handle the distribution of the E-Note’ in-house with a customized version of Filemaker Pro and our contact list, which is linked to our email client (Eudora),” Nero says. “We’re able to distribute this campaign quickly and efficiently.”

2. Educate your recipients. When you use your email marketing campaign to educate your network on a specific topic, you simultaneously position yourself as an expert. Once readers see how knowledgeable you are, you’ll be their first choice for the next project that requires that expertise. For an even greater impact, consider combining the power of email and the Web with print to establish your firm as an authority in a new or expanded niche. A case in point:

Savage Design Group
Houston-based Savage Design Group has specialized in annual-report design for more than 30 years, but way back in 1998, the firm recognized the potential for using both print and the Web to meet the needs of its annual-report clients. Although studies showed that more and more investors were using the Internet to make investment decisions, Savage Design was having trouble convincing clients to integrate the new technology into their projects. So it developed a marketing strategy, dubbed “Annual Reports for the 21st Century” (AR21), that would both educate and sell clients on the use of digital technology for annual reports and investor relations.

That strategy called for the creation of a print newsletter and companion Web site, which together would show (rather than tell) investor-relations professionals how digital technologies could serve them and their customers.

Each issue of the quarterly, tabloid-size print newsletter?in.x17in. folded to 11in.x17in. and shrink-wrapped for mailing—stands out because of its colorful graphics and large, bold headlines. It offers in-depth articles about multimedia-design solutions and resources for online annual reports, design trends and Securities and Exchange Commission rulings.

The same information is posted on the companion Web site (, taking advantage of the medium to demonstrate interactive video, infographics, panoramic photos, push technology and real-time charts and graphs.

The AR21 newsletter is sent via snail mail to 900 corporate-communications and investor-relations professionals, names culled from the firm’s existing database of prospects and clients, then supplemented with a list (that was compiled in-house) of communicators at Fortune 500 companies. Although the Web site is an integral part of the campaign, Savage won’t abandon the print element. “We feel that people, especially at the executive level, are more likely to read print and then use the Web to gather additional information,” says Savage’s marketing director Bethany Andell. That’s one of the reasons why they use a direct-mail postcard, instead of an email message, to drive people to the Web site. Plus, they don’t want their message to be lost in a sea of spam, especially to people who might not recognize the name Savage Design Group in their inbox.

3. Offer tips on a topic of interest to your clients. An alternative to elaborate, content-heavy publications like the one created by Savage Design, is to send out simple tips—which are easy to write and easy to read—on topics of interest to your network, which will also position you as a specialist in that area. For example:

hair on fire communications
Steve Hill, creative guru and owner of the one-person firm hair on fire communications in Santa Clarita, CA, considers himself a marketing communications specialist, not a Web or graphic designer. His target market is made up of small-business owners who need help with promotion. So, via his email newsletter sent monthly to 2,300 people, he shares tips and articles they can use. “The idea is that by giving away information, clients will see me as an expert and come to me to resolve their marketing problems, not just when they need a brochure or Web site,” he says.

The focus of the “hofcommunique” is short, how-to articles, some written by Hill, some by other professionals and linked from their Web sites. For example, a recent issue featured Hill’s own “5 Dumb Marketing Mistakes” and “7 Tips to Generate Leads” from

The newsletter is sent in HTML format, and each article in the newsletter is actually a paragraph or two of teaser copy with a link to the full text posted on the hof Web site ( This technique of forcing recipients to click for content allows Hill to track who clicks where, which gives him useful information about what his readers are interested in. He also caters to users by inserting a plain text link at the top of the message directing those who can’t view the images to a Web page where they can.

4. Help them get to know you. For email marketing to be effective, it must be personal. That’s the strategy used by Panarama Design‘s principal Lauri Baram. “I’m doing it to build a relationship, to give people more information and insight into who I am,” she says. “So I want my email message to be on topics I find interesting and want to share.”

Baram initiated her email-marketing campaign upon her return from the 2002 HOW Design Conference in Orlando, FL, because she wanted to share what she’d learned with her network of prospects, colleagues and clients. The response was so positive that this single effort quickly became a monthly email newsletter.

Finding her content style took a little while. Baram didn’t want to send marketing advice because half of her network is made up of marketing professionals. And she didn’t want to send design advice because the rest of the list is made up of designers and artists. She did, however, want it to be useful, though not specifically tip-oriented.

What has evolved is a personal perspective that’s also an effective way to reach out to multiple audiences with content of interest to everyone. Each issue is different; taken together they cover a wide range of topics. In a recent issue, Baram wrote about how the film “Frida” inspired her creativity.

Another carried the subject line, “Are you working too hard for your own good?” and provided an excerpt from a recent book that Baram found useful. Another covered the cost of improperly prepared graphic files and offered a checklist of how to avoid prepress problems to save money.

Distributing your Newsletter
There are many ways to distribute your email newsletters. You can do it yourself from your own software—but only if your list is small, as many Internet service providers (ISPs) won’t allow you to send to a large number of recipients at once. (Here’s more on building your list.) As your list grows, you can use either a free online list-distribution service (like those offered by Yahoo and Topica) or a fee-based service (such as MailerMailer or Constant Contact.) To convey a professional appearance, it’s better to use the fee-based services; the free services add their own advertising messages to yours and can be mistaken for spam.

Choose a service that allows you to track clicks because you can learn a lot about your market and then use that information to give recipients more of what they want. Hill, for example, who sees traffic to his Web site jump 500% on the two days following delivery of the newsletter, has learned that most people prefer to link from the email itself, and not jump from the Web-page version.

Baram has learned that when she offers something to her recipients—a checklist or more information on the topic—they often initiate a conversation. These casual exchanges have netted her an invitation to lead a brainstorming session for a client and another to give a presentation on creativity at a local college.