July 31, 2019
In an increasingly digital world, personal touches like a handwritten thank-you note or a surprise in the mail can connect people in immediate ways. And for nearly 90 years, those relationships have been the bedrock of every TSP project. Open communication remains a big part of how we do our work in partnership with clients.
Now, a growing group of seller-doers at our integrated architecture, engineering, and planning firm is finding value in little things that make big impressions. Working with TSP’s in-house marketing department, they’re creating one-of-a-kind direct-mail kits to send in small batches at a time. Each piece is infused with personality and intended to continue or kickstart a conversation.
Graphic designer Mike Hay has developed inventive collateral pieces for ad campaigns in previous jobs, where the agency environment meant a team of creative types from different disciplines rallied around each new assignment. At TSP, he bounces ideas off marketing colleagues. He’s also taken preliminary mock-ups to brainstorming sessions with fellow members of TSP’s Innovation Team. Sometimes, the word-association atmosphere in the room is just the thing to strike the right tone.
Michelle Klobassa, a principal and senior architect, was an early adopter. She started small a few years ago, tucking seed packets into cards with a handwritten message. “I always get little notes back,” she said. “This is the first year the whole thing has been customized.”
The timing—spring—is particularly important in Michelle’s case. “I do a combination of flower and vegetable seeds,” she said. One recipient told her the packet’s contents were going right in his garden, which he keeps with his family.
“I hope that having something tangible like this makes it easy for people to tack it up at work or home and think of us every time they see it,” Klobassa said. “Ideally, they’re also planting the seeds and thinking of us when they see their plants pop up.”
Architect Chase Kramer, who works in TSP’s Sioux Falls office, sends a season pass of business cards dressed up as tickets to local artistic events. Each is a sort of save-the-date—an invitation to strike up a conversation with Kramer when they see him at any of the exhibitions or performances. Of course, that’s easier for some events than others: Kramer sometimes is part of the show, appearing as a vocalist with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra Chorus and other groups. Each “ticket” lets the recipient know whether to expect Kramer in the crowd or on stage.
“I remember them, and I look forward to them,” Angela Lammers said of Kramer’s customized mailings. She’s the executive director of South Dakota’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “They remind me of how and when I met Chase and just how long we’ve known each other. It makes me smile because he always adds a personal note.”
Principal and Sioux Falls office leader Tim Jensen uses golf-themed mailings to keep in touch. This year, Jensen requested some early brainstorming from Hay and Marketing Manager Jeff Bowar.
“I asked, ‘What do you think we could do that’s different?’ and they really ran with it,” Jensen said. “At one point, Mike had a whole prototype of a fold-out putting green as one option. In the end, we ended up going with something that poked fun at all the rain this spring.”
Bowar staged a low-key photo shoot that captures Jensen wearing an old-school life preserver, and Hay designed a series of card inserts that blamed weather-induced water hazards for hurting everyone’s golf game. The box included a well-worn ball, nestled in a foam flotation device of its own.
“This year, I’ll be calling on some new contacts in southwest Minnesota, and I’d say a good one-third of my list is people I’ve not worked with before,” Jensen said. “I’m hoping this makes a fun, memorable first impression.”
In TSP’s Omaha office, Healthcare Project Manager Dwayne Meyer works directly with Office Manager Marla Weeks to create and mail a fishing-themed postcard. Architect Dan Johnson, who loves board games, collaborated with graphic designer Hay on his own “Blackstone Roll”—a dice toss with simple rules, wrapped in a sophisticated design. The multiple layers of printed cardstock each featured a notched corner to make them easy to pluck from the box. Weeks came up with the name “Blackstone Roll,” and Johnson has booked several meetings as a result of the outreach.
“Tim’s idea was very specifically about golf, but Dan’s was a little more nebulous to start,” Hay said. “He knew he wanted it to be about gaming or board games in some way, so it took some back-and-forth to nail down the idea. Dan wanted something fun for him but also that people who were in on gaming culture would get quickly. After that, the actual design went really quick. That’s part of my job: the process to take this from a concept to exactly what they want.”