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The Photographer’s Pen Pal Promo Piece


One of the most important things I’ve learned during my ongoing adventure as a small-town, self-employed photographer is that nothing is more important than the relationships I’m building. So when I decided sometime last year that I was going to do a 2012 promo I wanted to create something that looked elegant, something that the recipients could be a part of and most importantly, something that could start building long-lasting relationships.

What I ended up with is what I‘ve been calling “The Photographer’s Pen Pal Promo Piece” (the most important part of this mailer is the 4×6 self-addressed-stamped postcard but we’ll get to that a little later). 75 went out in total and while I did send about 15% to some heavy hitters around the country, most of my efforts were concentrated near where I live here in South Carolina. I focused my mailing list on art directors, creative directors, editors, photo editors and in-house marketing personal. I reached out to as many of my friends as I could to make sure I was getting the right names and positions of the people I want to connect with (one advantage of living in a smaller market is that you’re never very far from someone who knows someone) and for the ones I couldn’t get to through friends, I used Google and LinkedIn for the information I needed.

I should also go ahead and mention that I started a 2″ x 2″ vinyl sticker campaign on the streets last summer using only my logo, which you’ll see through out this promo. I’m working on more of a long-term approach than a shot-gun campiagn.

Let’s start with the design choices and the little details. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a designer but I knew I wanted this promo to have the same feel as my website which is primarily black. So I decided on using black envelopes. I started with a 6×9 black envelope and screen-printed my return address on them with off-white water-based ink. Screen-printing also allowed me to create a “Please Do Not Bend” label that coordinated with my logo.

One of the many reasons for sending out a multiple mailer and not an email blast every month or six weeks is that I don’t get a lot of junk mail anymore, not in my mailbox anyway, I get plenty in my inbox. So when someone takes the time to send me something through the post office, handwritten and addressed to me, I tend to pay attention. For the hand written names and addresses I used a silver gel pen.

What came next was the insert. This is what holds the content of the promo together. It’s a 5.25 x 7.25 black-invitation envelope. On the front near the bottom it’s been screen-printed with my logo and name in black ink. Black on black keeps it subtle yet noticeable.

Continuing the black on black theme when it’s flipped over to be opened I used a black-wax seal with my logo to hold the flap closed and tie everything together.

When the envelope is opeded the first thing the viewer finds is a small note addressed to them personally. It reads:

“Hi Lisa,
In an effort to get to know one another I’ve put together a small
package for you to explore. I wanted to show you some of the
newest work I’ve been creating and to also give you an opportunity
to challenge me while telling me something about yourself.

Please take a moment to delve into this envelope, when you get to
the self-addressed-stamped postcard, tell me in one word what
you’d like to see me make a picture of. Put your return address on
it and drop it in the mail. I’ll make a photograph based on your
word and mail it back to you.

In the meantime, if you have any questions feel free to send me
an email directly to [email protected]

Your Visual Pen Pal,”

And then I’ve signed them.

There is more to this promo than where we are at this point in the post but this is the heart of it. This is the very idea that I’m hoping will allow me to start building a long-lasting relationship with future clients. It opens the door for us to continue the conversation and it becomes more personal now because they have a chance to challenge me to create something specifically for them. Not-to-mention it’s completely risk free for them to participate. All they’re doing is thinking of the most ridiculous word they can come up with (at least that’s what I would be doing) and dropping it in the mail. It’s up to me at that point to keep things interesting but I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s round two. Let’s get to the rest of what’s in this first promo.

I wanted to keep the element of surprise coming so I’ve added one-more black envelope. This one is a coin envelope 2.5 x 3.5 and it’s also screen-printed black on black with just my logo. Inside is a double-sided business card, another card with an image on the front side and a QR code of the back (the white-square spaces have been filled with my logo – see detailed image below) and of course the 2×2 vinyl sticker that I’ve been putting out on the streets for the past six months.

What good is a photographer’s marketing piece without some more images? For this I added six images on three double-sided 5×7 cards. Each with my contact information on them incase they were to get separated from the pack.

Here’s the postcard image:

I did all the work myself. It was a lot of long hours and late nights but I was able to save a good bit of money doing it this way. I’m also ahead of the game for round two when it’s time to start sending back all those individually made images based on each person’s word.

About the author: Ian Curcio is an editorial and commercial photographer. You can visit his website here and his blog here.