A look back at a successful self-promotion effort

I've come across some interesting items while sorting through over 30 years of files and folders of graphic design work and project documentation. Yesterday I found an undated, yellowed tear-sheet, of an article I'd written, from what must have been a 1992 or 1993 issue of the industry publication Graphic Design: usa. It appears to have been an issue with the special feature "Generating New Business" and I was writing about a promotion piece I had created for myself. The following is the text of the piece:

Fisher: Time to solicit new clients

The recession was late in coming to the Pacific Northwest. While hearing horror stories of the economic downturn hitting the advertising/design industry on the East coast, business in the Seattle and Portland markets did not seem to be affected in the last quarter of 1990. My own business is traditionally slower after the first of the year and during the first quarter of 1991 I planned to take advantage of this, scheduling time to design and produce my first major self-promotion piece.

Little did I know how fortunate I would be in the timing of the promo piece. The business slowdown hit the Northwest beginning in March. I found existing clients cutting back the production of new advertising/ marketing materials and relying on previously used pieces. Several scheduled corporate identity projects were suddenly put on hold as companies tightened their belts. Clients previously prompt in paying invoices slowly began paying their bills at 60, 90, 120 days or more. I even found it necessary to resign one major account of the issue of increasing late payments. In addition, several months earlier an ad agency that was my "bread and butter" account had merged with another firms that was not using as much freelance talent.

It was definitely time to solicit some new clients. My identity design work had been on a steady increase over the past two years and I felt I wanted to increase that area of my business even further. With the assistance of friends, who own a fulfillment house, I created a mailing list targeting over 700 advertising agencies, public relations firms, design houses, publications, non-profit organizations, clients, former clients and other business contacts made in my 10 years as a designer.

In designing the actual piece I found that I am my own worst client. My type house, camera shop and printer all commented on my increased perfectionism - several times. I also had great difficulty in trying to decide which of the logos I have designed to include in the project. Of course, I have my own personal favorites, but I wanted to show as much variety as possible. In the end I included 97 identities in the booklet form piece.

The promotional effort hit the mail in mid-April. I was being realistic in thinking most would end up in office filing cabinets and that I might not get much response for a few months. However, within one week I had identity projects from five new clients. What surprised me most were the number of people who called, or wrote notes, acknowledging my efforts with their compliments. To date I have had almost a 10% response to the project in the form of calls, letters, requests for more information or estimates, as well as actual projects.

As a follow-up to the mailing, I sent out press releases announcing all of my new clients, and their projects, for the first time. In each case the item has been published, creating even more response to, and confirmation of, the promo piece. It may be necessary to initiate a second printing of the brochure.

It's interesting to take a look back at this self-promo piece. The brochure was designed and created pre-computer. In fact, it was pre-Jeff Fisher LogoMotives - although an early Logo Motive identity design is included. The mailing envelope features a caricature of me drawn at an early 1980's media party by cartoonist and animator Bill Plympton - who later went on to great career success - including an Oscar nomination and a Cannes Film Festival Prix du Jury Award.

I now cringe at some of the logo designs I included in the piece - although quite a few have survived the test of time as strong, effective identities. With this being pre- "Toot! Toot!," press releases that were sent out after the promo item had the heading "Jeff Fisher Has Done It Again!" It was a very successful self-promotion effort for me, with new clients using it to contact me for five years after my initial mailing. I haven't sent out a major promotion effort since. The vast majority of my clients - and potential clients - at the time of the mailing were in Portland. These days about 80% of my business is outside of the Northwest, primarily due to Internet exposure.

In the GD:usa article, and on the promo mailing envelope, I make note of having been a professional graphic designer for ten years - when, in actuality, I began making a living as a designer about 1978. Maybe in the early 1990's I didn't feel that I had become a "real" designer until the early 1980's when I started working more independently. I didn't have a great deal of confidence back then. The response to my self-promotion mailer, and the GD:usa feature being published, did a great deal in confirming my abilities as a designer.

One of my great career lessons of this time was realizing how important it is for a designer, or design firm, to promote oneself all the time - rather than waiting until no work is coming in the door.

© 2007 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

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