8 Tips and Tricks From The Self-Promo Pros

Effective self-promos require thought and planning. Before you sketch out your design ideas:

1. Know your purpose. What do you want your self-promo to accomplish? Do you want to be remembered? Do you want to educate clients about design’s strategic benefits? Four years ago, Thumbnail Creative Group wanted to break into packaging design, so the firm created a holiday gift candle to show off related capabilities. Now packaging accounts for nearly 30% of the firm’s business.

2. Research your market. Explore the companies on your mailing list so you can refer to their design sensibilities and needs. “Smart designers poke around the company through other people, usually friends,” Amazon.com’s Jaleh Bisharat says. “Find out the top-two issues and challenges the company faces. Seek out projects other designers have produced for them, so you know what has worked and what hasn’t.”

3. Be relevant. While highlighting your design capabilities, your self-promo should resemble something your client might use or buy. “The Leonhardt Group produces diverse work, but their self-promos for us are tailored to the fashion and retail industries, since that’s what we’re interested in,” says Nordstrom’s Cheryl Zahniser.

4. Plan a campaign. The best self-promos complement your PR, advertising and sales efforts. “Ultimately, each piece should build a cohesive, identifiable whole,” says Red Canoe’s Deb Koch.

You spend time and money creating your self-promos. Make them count when you:

5. Express yourself. You’ve got a style; flaunt it. Appetite Engineers of San Francisco sent The Bark and other potential clients a sheet of perforated stamps featuring The firm’s creations, and a handmade, perfect-bound book to put them in (stamp hinges provided). The book’s pell-mell design and scattered, offbeat phrases (“You wagged little man,” “Ambition is no sin”) disorient some recipients, but principal Martin Venezky would rather not compromise his artistic integrity for the sake of convention.

6. Attend to details. You do it for your clients, why not for yourself? Find out the name of that marketing director and spell it right, proofread your words and double check visual placement. “If you’re sloppy with small things, how can I be sure you won’t be elsewhere?” asks Bisharat.

Even an award-winning self-promo is useless unless you send it to the right people at the right time. Make sure you:

7. Keep ’em coming. Send a series of self-promos, regularly, based on your clients’ preferences. To find out what those are, simply ask clients how often they’d like to hear from you. Generally, December is already crowded with mailings, so The Bark‘s Cameron Woo suggests waiting until February. “Bulk mailings are good once a quarter, and project examples up to twice a year,” he says.

8. Follow up. “If you don’t follow up, all your self-promo efforts could slam to a halt,” says Maureen Smullen of Smullen Design. Initiate a dialogue with clients by making phone calls a week or two after your mailing, especially if a client requests it. Of course, don’t waste your time dialing hundreds of phone numbers, but know that it’s worth the effort for smaller mailings.

HOW October 2000