Customized outreach builds trust with clients, community

July 25, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by TSP Inc.

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.

For almost 90 years, TSP Inc. has built on the strength of relationships in the communities it serves. Now, a growing group of seller-doers at the integrated architecture, engineering and planning firm is finding value in little things that make big impressions.

Working with the in-house marketing department, they’re creating one-of-a-kind direct mail kits for small groups of clients, partners and other contacts. Each piece is infused with personality, playing up TSP’s people as one of the firm’s major differentiators in a competitive industry.

The mailings build TSP’s service-based brand along with a sense of continuity: Recipients start to anticipate the check-in from their TSP team member and wonder what they’ll see next.

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 also has 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.

Tangible reminders

Michelle Klobassa, a principal and senior architect, was an early adopter. She started small four years ago, tucking seed packets into roughly a dozen cards with a handwritten message. “Every year I’ve sent them, I get little notes back,” she said. “This is the first year the whole thing has been customized.”

The timing — spring — is particularly important in Klobassa’s case. “I do a combination of flower and vegetable seeds,” she said. One person on her list told her the packet’s contents were going right in his garden, which he keeps with his family. “It’s a good touchpoint because we send Christmas cards, and this is a check-in about halfway through the year.”

Brienne Maner, the new executive director at the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, was quick to tell Michelle she loved both the package and the messaging. Maner received her mailing in late May, about the time she was settling in to her office at the TSP-designed business incubator.

“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.”

Shared interests

Image of Chase Kramer

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.

The coupons include a disclaimer as well as contact information to buy actual tickets.

“I remember them, and I look forward to them,” Angela Lammers said of Kramer’s customized mailings. She’s the managing partner of Cetera Services and executive director of AIA South Dakota.

“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.”

Lammers also appreciates learning more about their common interests. Both she and Kramer are strong supporters of the arts. On occasion, Kramer’s mailings have reminded her of events she’d planned to attend or opened her eyes to performances she otherwise wouldn’t have attended.

“I took advantage of one ‘ticket’ as an excuse to go when I didn’t know anyone in the show, and it was fantastic,” Lammers said.

Humorous touches

Principal and Sioux Falls office leader Tim Jensen has roughly 40 names on his list. He has used golf-themed mailings to keep in touch with clients and business friends over the past four years, and he’s always ready to suggest a meet-up date when recipients call or email to say they got the new item.

In past years, he has sent a bag tag, a poker-chip ball marker and an eraser to help folks “improve” their final score. 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 captured 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.” He’s off to a good start: He’s already getting feedback from people who “love the floating golf ball!”

Jason Merkley, CEO of Brookings Health System, was about halfway through a self-described long day when he opened the item from Jensen. The two are working together to fit up second-floor spaces at BHS’ new Medical Plaza, creating additional clinic exam rooms and offices for women’s services and other specialties.

“Tim’s marketing piece made me laugh out loud, and it was just what I needed to find a little humor amongst the daily grind,” Merkley said. “I appreciated the creativity of the piece and Tim’s willingness to laugh at himself and not take life so seriously. And who knows? That golf ball device just might help my game when I take Tim up on his offer to play a round.”

Focused concepts

In TSP’s Omaha office, health care project manager Dwayne Meyer works directly with office manager Marla Weeks to create and mail a fishing-themed postcard.

Architect Dan Johnson, who also works in the office and 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 card stock 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.”

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Customized outreach builds trust with clients, community

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.

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