Promos We Kept: These Are Useful

March 30, 2017

By Sharon Ber

Photographers know the key to a successful promo, aside from great photography, is creating something that makes it past the wastebasket. The photographers featured in this month’s column all created something with staying power. By designing promos that offer a purpose beyond just showing powerful images, they earned coveted spots on the desks of creatives and potential clients down the line.

© Roth and Ramberg

© Roth and Ramberg

Roth and Ramberg

Years ago, Dale Roth and Michele Ramberg, the Canada-based photography duo known as Roth and Ramberg, asked a creative director friend to show them what kind of promos he held on to. He opened his drawer and emptied the contents, which included all the promos he’d received in the mail—beautiful postcards and brochures—all unopened.

Roth and Ramberg didn’t want to create another promo that would live inside a desk drawer. They wanted to create a “useful tool”—something that not only showed off their work, but also served a purpose. So close to 20 years ago they sent out their first calendar with the hope that it would sit on a future client’s desk. “We wanted that spot on their desk to be ours for a year.”

The response to that first calendar was outstanding: Roth and Ramberg say that it provoked many people to search them out. “Our very first calendar was shipped out in January and by March of that year it brought enough new clients to us to pay for the calendar.” The duo have continued the tradition since then.

They begin brainstorming themes in February and then earmark two weeks in the summer to take their shooting trip. Past themes have included a tour of “the real” Las Vegas—off the strip; the UFO convention in Roswell, New Mexico; Loch Ness in Scotland believers and nonbelievers; the Cadillac Ranch in Texas; street shooting in New York City; the Arctic and St. Pierre et Miquelon, the French islands off the coast of Canada.

© Roth and Ramberg

© Roth and Ramberg

This year the team traveled to Labrador, on the eastern coast of Canada. Working with Jenny Smith, of Ray Agency in Newfoundland, the pair formed a partnership with Air Labrador, which provided flights, hotels and meals in exchange for a library of photos. “The opportunity to do this exchange with Air Labrador was a win-win for both parties since the cost of shooting the images equaled the cost of all the travel expenses.”

By August, they sent a selection of images to Sue McGillivray, who has been designing their calendar for about ten years. Family-run printing company Kallen Printers has also been working with Roth and Ramberg for ten years. “We don’t even have to show up for press checks anymore because they are pickier than we are! They are as invested in our calendar as [much as] we are.”

Roth and Ramberg produced 1,200 calendars at the cost of about $20,000. Postage ranges from $6 to $10 a calendar, but the team tries to hand deliver as many as they can. “We send them to existing clients, potential clients, and the fans we’ve collected over the years who look forward to our calendar every January.” Anybody who is following them on Twitter or Instagram and is in the advertising industry gets one. They are always “fine tuning” their mailing lists using LinkedIn and other social media platforms to update existing clients.

While the team says they used to be able to trace new work directly from the calendars, now with social media, it’s harder to track. But after 2o years, sending out calendars is more of a gesture to help maintain relationships with existing clients. Still, they are confident that their calendars continue to raise their profile and keep their work visible.

© Sam Robinson. Photo by Sharon Ber for PDN

© Sam Robinson. Photo by Sharon Ber for PDN

Sam Robinson

Blank pages interwoven in Sam Robinson’s “Workbook” promos offer a place for creativity. The first edition of the notebook, which he made six years ago, was an attempt to “communicate with creatives and try and give them something useful,” which they might “keep on their desk and physically use everyday.” The initial response to “Workbook Edition One” was so successful, that Robinson created “Workbook Edition Two”, and this year,”Workbook Edition Three.” “With each edition we change up the design of the note pages and the layout—small changes around the same principle—lots of space so you can still use them.”

Edition Three” is divided into seven sections bound together in different combinations, which results in seven different covers. Besides wanting a way to showcase projects, Robinson liked the idea that people could collect seven editions.

The books, like Robinson’s overall branding, is meticulous in its attention to detail. From the gradation of shades in the threads used in the exposed binding, to the rose gold foil which adorns the pages throughout the book, to the matching business cards and outer mailing bags, Robinson’s promo radiate luxury. “I always like to have a little bit of premium” Robinson says. “Lets face it, who doesn’t like a bit of bling..!”

Robinson admits that he may have gotten a “little carried away with the rose gold” but says that the “material complemented the images,” rather than overpowering them, and that it allowed him and his designer, Joel Priestland to experiment with the tessellations of the logo, which he showcased in his social media launch video. Priestland, based in Australia, collaborated on all the workbooks to date with Robinson.

He always enlists Amy Fletcher as project manager. “She has a great eye for curating and works well with Joel and myself.” Robinson also involves his agents in the process. “It’s all a collaboration. With every image I have taken, I have an emotional or physical element attached to that image….It’s nice to have someone looking at the images with a different mindset, just helping curate the feel of the book.” For this project, Robinson wanted to showcase images that were taken in the last 12 months, so that it could act as his portfolio for the year ahead.

The project takes about six to eight months from design to print delivery. When one promo is finished, the team almost immediately starts thinking about the next idea. Robinson produced 4,000 copies, evenly divided between each cover. The books and mailing bags were created at Chris Chadbon Printing in London, which made the previous editions. “The business cards were printed at Identity Print, also located in the UK.

Robinson shied away from disclosing the cost of the project, but stated, “It’s not cheap. But it’s a nice project and it normally pays itself off with new introductions and new people that want to be in next year’s book.”

Robinson gives batches of the books to his agents who mail it to a curated list of art buyers, designers, brands, photography directors and other industry folks. He also sends them to his own list of clients and brands that he hopes to work with in the future. “But most importantly” Robinson says “the first round of books goes to everyone in the book—all the clients I have worked with, the models in the images, the people that helped produce them and anyone that is part of the book. They get to have the book first, always.”

Many creatives that who receive the “Workbook” share how they use their books via social media. “I like the idea that the books are out there being used,” Robinson says. “And if they are the home to new creative ideas and projects that grow from them, well thats a pretty great full circle, isn’t it?!”

© Bart Heynen. Photo by Sharon Ber for <i>PDN</i>

© Bart Heynen. Photo by Sharon Ber for PDN

Bart Heynen

In Belgium and the Netherlands, Bart Heynen was an established portrait and editorial photographer who had published two books. But when he recently moved to New York, without many connections, he knew he had to get his name out. “But how do you introduce yourself in a highly competitive city where there are more photographers than lawyers?” Heynen asks. His answer was a gift box with 18 postcards, “something that clients and potential clients could cherish and use.”

A friend of Heynen’s, creative director Bob Goor of Wunderman, designed the set. Meridian Printing in Rhode Island printed it.

Although it was expensive, Heynen insisted on working with proofs made on the same paper as the final product, so “there would be no surprises.” He produced 300 boxes and sent them to existing clients in Europe and new clients in the U.S. It cost $10 a box to mail to Europe and $5 per box within the U.S. Heynen, preferred not to talk about printing costs.

The response to the postcards has been great, Heynen says. “My existing clients loved the present” and “about 30 percent of potential clients got back to me and made a first contact possible.” Heynen knows that this postcard box is only “one small step in the introduction phase. Website, newsletters, social media and meetings are a must in the follow-up.”

But “for all the Kathy Ryans [of The New York Times Magazine] and Paul Moakleys [of TIME] or just plain postcard lovers out there, I have 10 boxes left,” Heynen says. “Drop me an email and I will gladly send you one.”

Want to see some other promos we’ve kept? Check out Bigger is Better, Say it in Newsprint, Sports Promos and more