May 3, 2010 • Sarah Schwartz
Keeping Stationery Relevant

Photo: Bamboo paper lettersheets from Smock are patterned on the back with blind debossing on front, part of the cmopany’s effort “to bring back the long-lost art of letter writing and handwritten correspondence in 2010.”

With everything and anyone getting a PR campaign, is it now our industry’s turn?

At the 2009 National Stationery Show, this publication held a lunch for our Editorial and Publishing Advisory Boards. Paul R. Wainman, president of William Arthur, voiced a question that’s long been the elephant in the room: How do we keep stationery relevant? More and more consumers are using digital media to send good tidings, issue invitations or just for everyday correspondence. How can we ensure that stationery remain culturally relevant — and communicate this to customers?

This editor has been puzzling over this ever since, so we posed the question to our readers in a Jan. 4 e-blast. The responses provided plenty to ponder, much revolving around the often-unappreciated sanctity of the written correspondence and invitations — and the urgent need to get this message in front of consumers.

The Fridge Factor and Beyond
Stationery’s strength may lie in technology’s weaknesses, wrote Christa Sorauf, Connexxions, Greenville, S.C. “Electronic communications serve a purpose but they are fast, fleeting and ephemeral. You can’t touch a tweet, savor your sweetheart’s quirky writing on an e-mail or put an e-vite on your refrigerator. The act of writing a note, sending a greeting card or issuing an invitation is one of the most personal and emotional communications you can send. The recipient acknowledges that by the importance they place on them. My coworkers have their favorite birthday cards pinned to a bulletin board. My neighbor’s refrigerator displays festive invitations for holiday parties. Under my bed, I have a shoe box of cards and love letters from my college boyfriend.”

Emphasizing the special meanings and memories that lie within “old-fashioned” correspondence will keep it alive, wrote Maria Kalorides of Milo Paper. “Sometimes I feel we are so driven by technology that it’s made us greedy and selfish with our time, and more oblivious to life’s smaller gems. I recently ran across a note my father wrote me before he died. It had such meaning. His handwriting reminded me so much of him and his personality, and made me feel a part of him was still with me. I definitely don’t feel the same way about e-mails from him.”

And nothing can replace a fabulous invitation, wrote Bonnie Shyer, Invitations and More by Bonnie, Purchase, N.Y. “I think the industry has to acknowledge there is a place for electronic communication, but not always. We need to position printed invitations as more special. Whether for a black tie wedding or an intimate birthday celebration, the anticipation begins when the invitation arrives. As an industry we (should) convey that technical is not necessarily better!”

Help Wanted
Some respondents felt star power could reinvigorate the category. “To keep social stationery relevant we MUST take a page from the book of those industries that keep their products on the must-have list,” wrote Jean Betses, VillagePaperie, Kennebunkport, Maine. “We must take Vera Wang and Kate Spade and Manolo and Jimmy Choo as an example. People believe that they MUST have those objects; we must convince them that they must write thank-you notes and letters. It’s as simple as that. A panel of interested persons (could) get together to stage a media blitz, including known letter writers such at Martha Stewart, Oprah, Tom Cruise and others, who will push, teach and lead by example.”

Most felt the need for a large-scale effort. “We as an industry need a public relations campaign to reinforce the values derived from handwritten notes and on-paper stationery,” wrote Lisa Traylor, Traylor Papers, Alisa Viejo, Calif., and Publisher’s Advisory Board member. “In an era when communication has become so immediate yet so disposable, the gift of receiving a handwritten note has almost become lost.”

“If something is not done soon I’m afraid the industry will become almost non-existent,” wrote Peter Lo Coco of Lo Coco Licensing, Atlanta. “The game industry created an event called Game Night. They recommended that people take a moment to relax like people used to do. Well, it worked. They brought back an industry that appeared dying. You could call it Write Night. Suggest people take a moment to sit down and write a special someone a handwritten letter like people used to do. You may want to get the post office involved because it’s affected them as well.”

New Definitions and Directions
Any campaign should emphasize the distant second place the Internet receives as a distributor of special invitations or messages. “My own children used the Internet to send my son’s 30 birthday invite. I was very annoyed since they don’t pay for invitations,” wrote Paula Schlow of the Favor-It Shop, East Brunswick, N.J. “Here’s what I learned, though: Not everyone received the e-vite because some got lost in cyberspace, spam mail, etc. We’d have to stress the importance of receiving an actual card and that e-mail is not personal.”

Kit McDonald, Oddballs, Pine Bluff, Ark., finds the digital accoutrements of modern times have made us more functional, but less thoughtful — a tack any campaign should emphasize. “Our new mode is to read and respond, whether one is ready or not. Reflection requires a moment to absorb and distill. Invitation sending and thank-you and letter writing allow the yeast to ferment, and the world gets a grand new thing! If one lives in a self-centered world, electronic communication is key. When one lives in an ‘other’-centered world, the gentleness of the human hand, by touch or words, thoughtfully sent, expresses our deepest sentiments.”

“Mass ads could focus on when is the right time to write a handwritten note, and remind the receiver that what they got is special and personal,” wrote Sue Hill, Parletts, Williamsburg, Va. “They just got a gift of someone’s time and money. The opening of the letter, the feel of the paper, the ability to read and reread the thoughts within — that’s how to make it relevant today and tomorrow.”

Another tack? Think of the records technology leaves behind, wrote Ray Nichols, LeadGraffiti, Newark, Del. “IPhones take awful photos. Millions of text messages daily go up into nothing. Gazillions of photos will not go into photo albums to be passed along. People blog instead of journal. And those digital photos, DCSN_0001.jpg … DSCN_9999.jpg. How do they get ever sorted out? I think people that write on paper, take photos and print them in archival ways will help people in the future connect with their past.”

There actually have been meaningful campaigns in the past, wrote Sondy Rexford, Rexford Holly Stationers, Sisters, Ore. “I came across a stationery ad from 1965 and its catchy phrase was ‘The Gift of Many Happy Returns.’ Meaning if you give stationery as a gift you will most likely be getting written notes in the mail.”

The idea of using stationery to set oneself apart is compelling, wrote John Keenan of Crane & Co. Social Stationery. “The re-emergence of paper as the point of differentiation, as a major component in the personal brand, as a sign that ‘I have arrived’ provides a unique opportunity for retailers to seize a moment in time that rarely comes our way.”

Any message should be communicated on several levels, wrote Andy Meehan, Development Solutions Global, Exton, Pa. “PR stories (should reinforce) the value of the old fashioned touch. (There should be) reminders in stores of the same message (and) the reasons and rewards for using stationery.”

It’s also essential that the industry actually does what it promotes, wrote Suzanne Davis, Notables, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “How many paper suppliers sent e-greetings this holiday season? How many sent nothing? Same holds true for my reps. I can’t tell you how quickly I trashed e-mails with season’s greetings.”

“I was hoping our stationery vendors would get that a personal letter would help their business, but not one handwritten note did we get this year thanking us for our hard work in this economy, just computer-generated ‘your sales were down’ letters. I’m sorry but a tweet just doesn’t do it for someone who is pushing your product, hard,” wrote Betses. “So, vendors, start WRITING your stores, stationers, WRITE your customers and people, WRITE to each other. There’s nothing like a letter or a note. If we want to stay in business, we need to believe this.”

The Online Factor
Rather than fear emerging forms of communication, the industry needs to acknowledge that electronic communications are here to stay, wrote Traylor. “We cannot expect the world is ever going to revert to a paper-only age, and therefore must be creative ourselves in how we develop products. I expect some genius to soon invent a way to print out Facebook comments or notes into an album or card that will turn this ‘feel-good’ site into something palpable.”

It’s important to befriend the Internet, wrote Brian D. Lawrence, www.localtrafficbuilder.com, River Edge, N.J. “The most important initiative that manufacturers who rely on retailers for sales, as well as retailers can do, is a collective effort to establish an online presence that dominates, rather than the current state of affairs where online sellers dominate. Retailers (should) consider doing a pay per click marketing program targeting their locality, while manufacturers have to concentrate on being found nationally. The whole message needs to (emphasize) the advantages of buying at a retailer.”

Social networking is a wonderful, free place to market stationery, wrote Jean Dunning and Karen Gumkowski of JK Designs, Cromwell, Conn. “We engage in daily electronic conversations where we promote the importance of paper greetings. For example, on each of the first 12 days of December we posted a helpful tip on sending holiday cards, aimed at easing holiday stress.”

Digital dominance has had interesting results, wrote Keenan. “We are the most prolific writers in history. It’s our job to direct some of that energy toward pen on paper. We use Facebook, blogs and Twitter to listen and learn, to speak with our current customers and those whom we wish to have as customers. We use technology to educate about the power of paper. We use technology to convince them to use the mailbox as well as the inbox.”

On the brick and mortar level, DeAnn Matza, Creative Invitations, Breckenridge, Colo., has come up with a four-pronged plan to keep stationery relevant. While it includes quicker turnaround times, she is also partnering with designers who offer print on demand solutions to cut wholesale and retail costs while still offering a high-quality product. Her Web site will offer product from existing lines she cannot fit in her store, plus “a personalization tool that allows a consumer to see EXACTLY what the finished product will look like.”

The Young Generation

Today’s tweens and teens are the customers of tomorrow, so they especially have to learn paper’s pleasures. “The younger generation needs to learn to love the feel of fine paper, a journal and a good pen,” wrote Laurie Karzen, formerly of Just Whistle and CRM&ME, Emeryville, Calif. “It’s up to us to educate them.”

Then there is the correspondence component. “The challenge is introducing them the joy of getting mail,” wrote Jacquie Severs, Pine Ridge Art, Markham, Ontario, Canada. “I think if you can teach the joy of receiving it, you can teach the joy of sending it as well.”

While Pine Ridge primarily produces calendars, a category whose demise has been predicted for years, yet still holds strong, she had ideas for greeting cards for more modern appeal. They include the integration of online applications like games; free music downloads or even a custom mixed “tape” from the sender to download; and a reemergence of chain mail.

On a positive note, some reported that the young generation is embracing stationery. “Some of our younger customers (university age) are the ones who use journals and pens the most and appreciate fine paper,” wrote Davis. “My Snow and Graham customers are all young women and my Moleskine customers are mainly young men.”

Most importantly, there’s an ongoing need for amazing product, wrote Eva Jorgensen, Sycamore Street Press, Heber City, Utah. “If we give the customer something truly charming and unique, if they can tell it’s more than just another mass-produced item to throw away, that it’s more like a little piece of art, they’ll be more willing to purchase it.”

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