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The Power of Professional Networks: Triumphs and Tribulations in Marketing Partnerships

One of the significant advantages of dealing with marketing experts like Crux Creative isn’t only what we know but who we know. Sometimes, it seems like clients forget that we’re not only talented creatives but experienced professionals who understand our business AND have access to other talented people who know theirs. This is especially true regarding business-to-business services like videography, editing, and printing. Here are two examples – one good and one very bad – of what I mean.

Vendor Tale #1 or How to Throw $10,000 Down the Drain – and Your Reputation Along with it.

Once upon a decade ago, when I was working as a consultant in the marketing department of a mid-size bank, I was asked to write copy for a unique direct mail package. The mailing was the brainchild of our internal “client,” a Senior VP who had just come aboard from a rival bank and wanted to prove his worth. And although he headed up the marketing department, he seemed to regard the creative team as a bunch of dimwits.

When we were assigned to create a pre-approved direct mail solicitation for a new Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC), the Senior VP nixed all of our ideas, insisting that we recreate a mailing that had (supposedly) been incredibly successful for his previous employer. The mailing was to go to 10,000 people with a current mortgage with our bank and include a REAL, crisp $1 bill as part of the solicitation package. The idea was this free dollar represented the unique savings they would enjoy when they applied for their HELOC.

Of course, the envelope couldn’t say “FREE $1 inside.”

But it had to stand out enough so people wouldn’t mistake it for junk mail (even though it was) and throw it out without even opening it. To achieve this goal, we devised an attention-grabbing teaser and developed a frame for the dollar bill to showcase the offer’s value as soon as they opened the envelope. The Senior VP also told us he wanted us to post everything with a LIVE stamp!

For those of you unfamiliar with direct mail, using a live first-class stamp on a letter costs considerably more than using standard or even first-class sorted mail. It does get your letter there faster, but since no one was expecting this mailing anyway, that wasn’t much of an advantage. We mainly sent it with a first-class live stamp so the recipients might be fooled into thinking it wasn’t junk mail (even though it was).

I was very proud of the copy I wrote for this piece.

It was easy to understand and a fast read, and I did a nice job of selling the benefits of a HELOC. I also helped the art director and production manager pick out the paper stock we would use. It was a bit heavier and nicer than the usual direct mail letter stock. When we were finished, I was already clearing space on my mantle for the awards I was sure we would win. Alas, it was not to be.

Instead of trusting us to engage a printer we knew, the Senior VP demanded that the job go to a printer we had never used before. He was a new customer who had just opened a large commercial account with the bank. In theory, I agree that banks should support businesses that bank with them. But this mailing would cost $10K before it even left the desktop of the creative director. In addition, between upgrading the paper stock and using a live stamp, the budget was twice that of any previous package, making achieving a positive return on investment difficult. Plus, we were instructed to use the new printer considerably more than the vendor we wanted. But, since the Senior VP was our client/boss, we had no natural choice.

ink stained handsThe Senior VP was sure this mailing would be historic.

Well, he got that right—only not quite the way we all hoped. It turned out that the printer was unfamiliar with the paper stock we had selected, and the ink he used refused to stay on the paper. Instead of stopping the run and correcting the problem, he not only printed 10,000 pieces but also stuffed them with $1 bills and mailed them with live stamps before telling anyone there was an issue with the ink.

When they arrived in the bank customers’ mailboxes, the ink on the envelopes smeared to all their other mail. Then, opening the envelope, they found an ink-stained dollar bill and a completely unreadable letter. Did I mention that the ink got on your hands when you touched the envelope and letter? And you had to scrub your hands for hours to get the ink off?   (It may not have stuck to the paper, but it stayed on the skin just great!)

I suggested we apologize to our customers. The Senior VP just wanted to forget the whole thing.

As for the printer, he refused to provide any kind of make-good or even to reprint the mailing. First, he said that the post office was responsible for the smeared ink. Then, when no one bought that excuse, he accused us (his client!) of choosing a lousy paper stock! From his perspective, the bank owed him for being a customer, not vice versa.

This, folks, is the wrong vendor. If we had been allowed to use our own printer, a debacle like this would never have happened.

white candlesVendor Tale #2 or How to Hold on to Your Job And Your Sanity.

In October 2004 (about a year before the story above took place), I had the great fortune to work for a seminary in Chicago, one of the country’s most respected religious institutions. Their marketing efforts were primarily public relations projects with some student recruitment ads. My position as Public Relations Officer was a new one. It included editing the annual honor roll of donors, writing quarterly newsletters, creating direct mail solicitations for scholarships and conferences, etc. I was also responsible for overseeing the design and production of invitations to graduations and Christmas cards.

The Christmas card design that the seminary President wanted to send out that year was a lovely illustration of one of the school’s cloisters, almost a photograph. It was the perfect image for a historic institution known for its highly ecumenical approach to religious education. The image was subdued but still had a glow that was very appropriate for the holiday season.

Although the card design was ready in September, the copy wasn’t written until late November.

The professor responsible for the inside messaging had writer’s block for two months! Since the cards had to be distributed to board members, professors, significant donors, and others who wanted to send them out in time for the holidays, the delay in the copy put me in a panic mode. It meant the printer had to produce 5,000 cards over the Thanksgiving weekend so I could get everyone the finished cards and envelopes by the first week of December.

Fortunately, I knew a genuinely fantastic sales rep of an equally excellent local printer. The seminary had never used this vendor before and had a long history with another printer that was more extensive and better known. But I felt more confident dealing with a printer I knew personally. So, once everything was ready, I called the rep to finalize the details.

For some reason, I wanted cards with a matte finish.

I thought a glossy surface would look cheesy. Charlie, the sales rep (his real name is not revealed to protect the innocent), suggested that the color would look cleaner if we went with a shiny finish. I trusted Charlie, but I still felt a matte finish was more elegant.

Long story short, Charlie turned the 5,000 card order around over the Thanksgiving weekend and brought them in the following Monday. After I opened the first box and saw the cards, I nearly fainted. It looked like someone had poured mud all over them! Just as Charlie predicted, the matte finish was a DISASTER! They were unusable. What to do? I had a very SMALL budget and no allowance for mistakes, let alone significant debacles! I had been on the job for 50 days then and could see myself in the unemployment line just in time for Xmas.

Charlie said, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”

And he did! Twenty-four hours later, he arrived with 5,000 glossy cards that were stunning. I couldn’t believe he had turned everything around that fast! Then he topped himself. He refused to charge me a dime extra for the second printing even though he had given me a hefty discount in the first place. I’m sure he lost money on this job, but, as he explained, he wanted an ongoing relationship with us as a problem solver. I saw him as a LIFE saver – MY life! Do I need to add that I still recommend this printer to everyone I can? Wouldn’t you?

I would have Charlie print the job described in the story above.

Imagine how differently that would have gone if Charlie had done that job—no smeared ink and no lost $10,000. My mantle is full of awards. But here’s the point: If you trust your agency, trust the support people they recommend. They know that keeping your business depends on using vendors who will make them – and you – look good. And if you don’t trust the expertise of your creative agency – why, for heaven’s sake, are you with them in the first place?

Michele Allen

With over 30 years of design and marketing experience, I founded Crux in 2005, a 360° Creative and Marketing Agency, catering to Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and non-profits. Specializing in experiential spaces, museums, brand development, and digital marketing, I excel in crafting memorable experiences while emphasizing the significance of authentic brand communication. I offer expertise in Brand Development, Trade Show Exhibits, Museums, Corporate Spaces, Interactives & VR/AR, and Digital Marketing, committed to tailored support and guidance.