The Business Behind an Award-Winning Promotional Gift

The following is an excerpt from the Fall 2016 Issue of HOW Magazine.

When sisters Susan Turnock and Heather Arak-Kanofsky were growing up, their dinner table might as well have been a think tank. “As a family, we were always coming up with new products and creative problem-solving,” Turnock says.

“Grandparents, kids, parents, friends—whoever was at the table—were invited to be part of the brainstorm. It was high energy and lots of fun, not to mention productive. There was always
lots of possibility.”

Turnock and Arak-Kanofsky have embraced that same collaborative, can-do spirit as a foundation for their Severna Park, MD–based branding and design firm, Gifts for the Good Life, by inviting staff, clients and some actual family members to pull up a seat to the proverbial—and sometimes actual—table. “Coming from an artistic, entrepreneurial family (Dad was an interior designer and Mom was a display artist) set us up to create a studio environment that feels like that table,” Turnock says. “We want everything—our staff meetings, touchpoints, client communication and collaborations—to embody that spirit.”

Award-winning work by Gifts for the Good Life, a firm built on gratitude and love

TITLE Mini Insta-Theater | FIRM Gifts for the Good Life, Severna Park, MD; | CREATIVE TEAM Heather Arak-Kanofsky, art director; Susan Turnock, art director, copywriter; Nathan Kanofsky, illustrator, photographer; Bethany Coyle, illustrator; Sherry Warner, copywriter; Frances Warnagaris, project manager | PRINTER Gifts for the Good Life

Why Don’t You Make It?

Photo: Jeremie Barlow Photography

Photo: Jeremie Barlow Photography

Growing up, Turnock and Arak-Kanofsky’s father’s favorite response to any request was, “Why don’t you make it?” Little did he know he was instilling in his daughters the spark for a career that’s predicated upon that very question. After college, they both forged their own businesses: Arak-Kanofsky created Arak Kanofsky Studios with her husband, project engineer Nathan Kanofsky, focusing on handcrafted invitations and paper wardrobes, while Turnock created What Fun!, a collection of innovative bath products sold on QVC and in 3,000 stores worldwide. Although the sisters had been creating businesses together since they were about 4 and 7, they officially teamed up to found Gifts for the Good Life in 2007.

The business is known for its level of detail and moments of “surprise and delight,” the sisters say. They create “layered gift-giving experiences” at conferences, events and launches, and campaigns for luxury corporate, fashion, resort, sporting and entertainment brands. “We have the ability to not only come up with the solution, but actually produce the end product and deliver it creatively to the recipient,” Turnock says. “We’re generally curating and producing collections of products to create an experience, so it’s up to us to design packaging and the accompanying wording that paints an entire picture or a full experience.”

The 12-person team—give or take—is multigenerational and multidisciplinary, much like those who gathered around the family dinner table. “We love what boomers and millennials bring to our table,” Arak-Kanofsky says. “We are a tight group, and no matter what is happening, we have lunch together daily. It gives us time to genuinely connect.”

The gifting industry creates a broad variety of goods for corporate purposes: logo-emblazoned promotional products, gift baskets or products for companies that make engraved gifts and trophies.

But Turnock says Gifts for the Good Life has aimed to steer away from those projects, instead favoring those that tell more of a story. The team prides itself on bringing the elements of art and a hand-touched, personal quality to the gifting industry, which is largely rote and predictable, they say. “There is a patently negative response to an impersonal ‘giveaway,’” Arak-Kanofsky says. “We see what we do as ‘gratitude marketing,’ seeing our clients for what they are: ‘Lovemarks’ whose fans deserve something remarkable.”

“Gratitude marketing” is marketing that feels sincere and personalized, connecting the brand and the recipient. “The gift is an expression of gratitude for participation in the brand experience,” Arak-Kanofsky says. “Gifts can say much more than just ‘thanks’—but there should always be an undertone of appreciation and acknowledgement.”

photo by Jeremie Barlow Photography

No matter how busy, the team sits down together to eat and chat. Turnock says it’s great for brainstorming and dreaming as a group. Photo: Jeremie Barlow Photography

That’s where “Lovemarks” come in. A marketing term originated by Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts, Lovemarks are brands that become part of a loyal fan’s experience. “Susan and I became obsessed with the concept and started looking at our history of Lovemarks and where it stands today,” Arak-Kanofsky says. “We recognize that many of our clients, like NASCAR and Disney, are true Lovemarks and that it is an honor and responsibility to create for these brands and their fans.”

Clients Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Arce, co-producers of Engage! Luxury Wedding Business Summits, are also among those Lovemarks. They’ve collaborated with Gifts for the Good Life since 2011 on all of the branded gifting and event accessories for their series of luxury wedding business summits. They recently finished their 10th semiannual event partnership with Gifts for the Good Life, noting that the spirit of true collaboration and outside-the-box thinking is what keeps them coming back to work with Arak-Kanofsky and Turnock.

“The fact that Heather and Susan are sisters creates a really unique and personal relationship that we love,” Grinnals and Arce say. “They are the yin to each other’s yang, and in the end it creates results that continue to wow our very discerning audience of the world’s top creative event minds.” Since each Engage! event is held at a different location, they all are imbued with a unique color palette and vibe. “It gives us the chance to totally reinvent how a conference can look and feel each time,” Turnock says. “It’s challenging and really pushes us, in a great way.”

Award-winning work by Gifts for the Good Life, a firm built on gratitude and love

Projecting a Winner

Never content to stop imagining and inventing, Gifts for the Good Life took on a self-imposed challenge last year. They set out to showcase their paper engineering skills, attention to detail and storytelling by creating a self-promotion for their top clients that showed off the firm’s creativity while creating a personal bond with each recipient. “We intended to deepen connections to our clients by highlighting moments they shared through social media,” Turnock says.

InstaLove_4They came up with the Mini Insta-Theater, an all-in-one gift containing a Projecteo mini projector that displayed images from each recipient’s personal Instagram feed on a built-in screen. The piece unfolds from a small block and becomes a theater setup with simple directives and, of course, snack storage to fully engage viewers in the mini movie theater experience. “When we found the Projecteo mini projector, we thought it was magical,” Arak-Kanofsky says. “Susan and I have always loved miniatures, so the mini theater solution was a no-brainer; the scale made the experience intimate and fun. The theater format gave us ample space to play with a full environment, packaging and cheeky wording, and accessorize with Jelly Belly candies (my favorite!).”

The colorful box design and clever copywriting integrated labels and instructions right into the packaging. “Our goal was to make sure that the packaging felt intentional and well thought-out,” Nathan Kanofsky says. Classically trained as a printmaker and papermaker, he’s responsible for project engineering and bringing the company’s creative ideas to life. “There were several templates as we worked out what would work best for the recipients. As we engineered it, we tested it constantly and readjusted.”

That fine-tuning paid off: The Mini Insta-Theater promo not only wowed recipients, but also impressed the judges of HOW’s annual Promotion and Marketing Design Awards, who awarded the project Best of Show. (Another big coup? NASCAR contracted Gifts for the Good Life to create a series of Insta-Theaters for its VIP Summit centered on brand storytelling. And the group has since created similar projects for several corporate clients.)

[Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out all the winners of the 2016 Promotion & Marketing Design Awards, and ENTER by 11:59 pm EST on April 24!

While there was a lot of debate over choosing this year’s Best of Show, the Mini Insta-Theater won out in the end thanks to its originality, concept, construction and wow factor. “It was difficult to choose a Best of Show because of the variety of promotional categories, yet, as the package reads, this one was Insta-Love for me,” says judge Laurie Churchman of Designlore. “Ingenious concept and package design! The personalized photos guaranteed delight for the recipients as well as admiration for the firm. Most telling though, it garnered attention beyond the original audience, translating into new business for the firm.”

Judge Douglas Davis, principal of The Davis Group, author and HOW Design Live speaker, had high praise for the project, too: “I went into judging with Tibor Kalman’s M&Co. promotions as my gold standard. Those promotions were unique in their format. Their contents rewarded your attention, and as a result were effective. All those things made me fall in love with the Mini Insta-Theater. Any promotion should drive results; this promotion got them a date with NASCAR.”