Category Archives: Print

Storytelling: It’s not just for kids!

cute kid

Storytelling and public relations go hand-in-hand. It’s a huge part of what we do. How do you tell your story in a compelling way? It’s difficult to explain what makes a story “sellable,” but there are many ways to tell a great story. Whether you’re pitching to the media or selling your marketing director on a new campaign idea, you must present your case in a way that resonates with your audience.

Using suspense is one way to intrigue your audience. Don’t give away all the answers right away. Build your case and leave some key points for the end of your pitch. Wrap up your presentation with a strong closing argument and your audience will be happy to hear the answers.

Another strategy is to use emotion to convince your audience. Have you seen the commercials that feature pets that look after us and make our lives better? Do they stick with you? If so, it might be because they tug at your heartstrings, and for a moment, you slow down and connect, whether with a memory or with the characters involved.

Those feelings and situations connect us because so many of us can relate to those stories. We want to stick around until the end in hopes of a happy ending. Don’t be afraid to connect with your audience by adding emotional elements to your pitch.

What do you think is the key to telling a great story? Share your tips in the comments below.

The value of a great illustration

Illustration is one of the most effective tools for enhancing designs, but marketers and clients often overlook it. They’re missing a great opportunity. When used effectively, illustration is one of the best ways to give your marketing materials a unique personality and make them stand out from the crowd.

Consider this Tiffany & Co. campaign. Illustrator Minna May adds so much charm and life to the company’s marketing materials. In turn, the entire campaign has a solid identity.


The Pollenize website also demonstrates a great way of using illustration. Instead of using predictable photographs of the candidate, the designer chose stylized illustrations of trains, planes, buses and other vehicles to infuse the site with personality.

A few other notable campaigns that use illustrations effectively include:







The next time you’re starting a marketing campaign, consider using an eye-catching illustration to grab your audience’s attention.

What do you like about illustrations? Have you used them in your marketing? Let us know in the comments below.

Becoming an e-reader: What you want to know

Reading, books, e-readersIn the years since they’ve been available, I’ve heard some pretty heated debates over the advantages and disadvantages of e-readers. It became such a divisive issue that I quickly placed it after politics and religion on the list of taboo party topics. For the most part, I favored the traditional format, citing the free marketplace and familiar feeling of a printed book. As more of my friends (and strangers on the bus) seemed to be embracing digital formats, however, I considered tearing away from my trusted paper friends.

Fast-forward a few years, and there I sit on the bus totally lost in an e-book. Friends on the fence have grilled me about whether e-readers are worth the money, so I thought I would share the considerations that turned me from a bound-book traditionalist into an avid e-reader.


  • A 1,000-page book that goes places. Perhaps the most obvious perk of e-readers is their compact size. Of course, not every book is 1,000 pages, but I’m no stranger to deciding between whether I pack my lunch for the day or carry my reading material. No longer are my mornings plagued by what I can fit in my bag.
  • Books on demand. Although I miss going to bookstores to browse the fancy art books, I don’t miss trying to hunt down a specific title. Now, as long as I’m willing to buy an available book, I can go from browsing to reading in less than a minute.
  • Easy on the eyes. I have uncooperative eyes. Even though I wear glasses, my prescription changes drastically with fatigue. Being able to change the lighting and size of the text on my screen keeps me comfortable reading at any time of day.
  • Vocabulary builder. Growing up, my parents refused to tell me the meaning of any word that was beyond my comprehension. “Go look it up,” was the standard response. E-readers cut out the middleman by providing a definition with one click. Better yet, all words that I “look up” are recorded on a list that I can reference and quiz myself on later.


  • Book budget? What’s that? I’ve always been a binge reader. As soon as I get my hands on a book or series that I’ve wanted to read, it doesn’t last me more than two days. In the past, however, my reading was limited to what I – or a friend – had on hand. Now, for the sake of my bank account, I try to make books last at least a week.
  • E-book free to a good home. Not being able to give books away is my least favorite part of being a member of the e-book club. I’ve never liked overloading my shelves, so I’m thrilled when I can send a good book home with a well-matched reader. Some e-book programs let you loan books to friends, but they have enough restrictions that I haven’t found them useful. I’m hoping that the e-book marketplace will open up soon to compensate for these less-than-tangible purchases.
  • Libraries need to catch up. My reading wish list may not jive well with the Chicago Public Library, but it seems that every book I want to check out is 30 people deep in the hold list. I once tried placing a book on hold, and, when the book became available to me two months later, I received error messages with every download attempt. I have successfully checked out one other book, but the software seems to have a long way to go before I’d call it user-friendly.

Do you use an e-reader? Let us know why – or why not – in the comments below.

Disappearing ink: Are books becoming an endangered species?

Trekking to the Oak Park Public Library’s annual book fair is a tradition for me and my book-loving friends. We hope to find hidden gems, undiscovered treasures, forgotten classics and, admittedly, the occasional bodice ripper. The fair typically offers more than 100,000 books in every conceivable category, as well as CDs, DVDs and records.

old booksWe each paid $5 for early bird shopping on Friday night, hoping to beat the crowds who go on Saturday for free. Armed with cash and a game plan, we split up and dug in.

I hit the massive cookbook section first with the goal of finding canning how-tos. I canned with my grandmother every summer in Kansas when I was a kid. Sweat ran down our faces and backs as we “put up” quart after quart of tomatoes and sauce, corn, green beans, pickles and peaches, as well as many pints of jam. Hearing those telltale “ping, ping, ping” noises that signaled the glass bottles were sealing was rewarding after hours of blanching, boiling, peeling, chopping, measuring and pouring.

I’ve recently begun yearning to can again. Imagine what a treat it would be to tuck into a jar of sweet corn in the middle of another polar vortex. I’m fuzzy on the details of how to can, however, so I need a book to guide me. I could look up how-to videos on YouTube, but I’d rather not spend time weeding through dozens of clips to get specific nuggets of information when I can open a book and get instant answers.

The library tables were sagging with hundreds of niche cookbooks – everything from “slow food” while camping in the Australian Outback during a leap year to “famous 1920s” Asian recipes – written in Chinese. I must have spent an hour looking for a single canning book. Empty-handed and disappointed, I moved on to one of the largest collections: classic literature.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but was intrigued with John Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony” and the 50th anniversary edition of “The Yearling” from Marjorie Rawlings. I’ve always loved John Steinbeck, but was not familiar with this particular novel. I’m a sucker for any books about animals, so I couldn’t pass these up for 50 cents each. My neighbor who has a free book-sharing box in her front yard will appreciate having them when I’m done.

Next, I zeroed in on the do-it-yourself section, a hodgepodge of books covering everything from taxidermy and homesteading to repairing cars and installing plumbing. I found another item on my wish list – a bicycle maintenance book. It seemed like a bargain for $1. If I can figure out how to change a flat without divine intervention, I’ll be in good shape. Fortunately, I knew how to put my chain back on when it fell off on my ride to work today, because I haven’t had time to read the book yet.

As with canning, I’m sure I could find videos and articles online that cover basic bike repairs, but I want an easy reference that I can put on the basement floor and follow step by step when I’m elbow deep in grease and gears. I don’t want to gunk up my laptop.

The book fair’s music section was probably the smallest collection of all, but I headed over to see what I could find. I picked up a 1940s song book and laughed when it opened to the score for “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” No one was laughing, however, when it was published in 1942 as a response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was more familiar with other hits in the book, including “Sentimental Journey,” “Happy Days and Lonely Nights,” and “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

I didn’t get anything for myself in the music section, but I found the perfect gift for a friend and singer who is a big Judy Garland fan. The May/June 1997 issue of Sheet Music Magazine (who knew?) featured the cover story, “The Judy Garland I Knew,” complete with scores for three of her hits. At 50 cents, it’s probably the cheapest, coolest gift I’ve found – and without trying. You can find the scores online, but they cost a heck of a lot more than 50 cents.

I asked a guy wearing a book fair “volunteer” shirt and badge what happens to the books that don’t sell. When the fair is over, the library allows nonprofit organizations to take as many as they want for free. The problem is that no one wants them anymore, so thousands end up being recycled, he explained. That’s an awful lot of toilet paper. I suspect more end up in dumpsters.

It seemed like there were fewer people hauling out boxes and wheeled suitcases stuffed full of books than in recent years. E-readers, YouTube and Google have changed the way we seek and process information. My friends and I also scaled way back. My total for the night was $5.50 for three paperbacks, one hardback and one magazine. I’ve been giving books away for a while now and while there are some I won’t part with, I don’t feel the need to fill the empty spaces on the shelves.

People are still nostalgic about print, but technology has changed the way we interact with books. At least one organization understands this shift and is doing what it can to preserve print for future generations. The Internet Archive and Open Library is a treasure trove of physical and digital reading. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the books from the Oak Park Public Library book fair find a home here.

Have you eliminated books from your home? What did you do with them? Let us know in the comments below.

New project: Justrite’s product catalog

Last month, Justrite, the leading source of quality storage, handling and security products, came to us with a new project. After making recent acquisitions, the company needed a catalog that included both legacy and new products. Justrite provided three existing catalogs, and from those, we were tasked with creating one 48-page catalog.

The biggest challenge was consolidating these three different catalogs into a cohesive product. It was really important that the copy was uniform throughout the catalog. To do this, we reviewed all of the provided copy and decided on one format to use across the board. From there, we rewrote and edited the product descriptions to align with the approved format.

In terms of design, Justrite needed a fresh, new look that also worked with the company’s current branding. We gave the existing look a slight face-lift, which was just enough to make it feel shiny and new while still keeping it in line with the brand.

Does your company have a product catalog? How often do you update it? Let us know in the comments below.


Let it bleed: A newspaper obituary

The Chicago Tribune and other major daily newspapers are mere shadows of their former selves. And it’s about to get worse. Tribune Co. newspapers are reportedly preparing to slash $100 million from Who Knows Where.


The newsroom budget is sure to be on the chopping block. Consumers are already getting ripped off with higher prices, a shrinking news hole, smaller pages and anemic coverage. A year or two ago, the Tribune made the mistake of cleaning house at its suburban zoned editions and outsourced the reporting to content producer Journatic. The newspaper later conceded it made a mistake after allegations of fake bylines and plagiarized content surfaced.

Shortly after that, the Chicago Sun-Times fired all 28 members of its photography staff, saying reporters would not only have to write the news but also supply images. I’m surprised they didn’t task them with selling advertising, manning the presses and delivering the newspaper as well. Better yet, let’s hire robots. They work for cheap, right?

At a time when publishers should be investing in quality reporting and brainstorming creative ways to compete with digital media, they’re being shortsighted and writing their own obits for the sake of the almighty dollar. You can produce a Yugo with crank windows and parts that fall off at random or a high-end Lexus that lasts for years and puts every other car to shame. Which would you choose?

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you cut corners and neglect a business, it’s going to fail. The journalist in me would like to pull her head under the covers and pretend the industry where I cut my writing teeth and gained valuable life experience isn’t in a death spiral. I wish I could save it.

Do you expect to get all your news for free? Would you think about it differently if you knew the writing was outsourced to Thailand or funded by Monsanto? These and similar scenarios might not be that far off. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Newsletters connect you with customers and prospects

keyboard newspaper and coffeeCompany newsletters are a great way to maintain customer relationships. They’re also an excellent tool for interacting with inactive customers and introducing new products and services to current customers.

The key to success is repetition. If you send your customers and prospects a newsletter every month, they’re more apt to recall your company’s name and associate you with your products and services. Guess who’s going to rise to the top when they’re ready to make a purchase? You!

Here are some other things to think about:

Email or print? Although email newsletters are more cost-effective than print versions because you avoid paying for paper, ink and mailing, you’re competing with other companies for inbox space. Our tip is to get creative with your subject line. The subject line should relate to the content in your newsletter but have a catchy phrase or benefit.

Make it count. Unlike e-blasts, brochures and other collateral, newsletters give you the freedom to talk about topics that don’t necessarily sell customers on something. You can make your newsletter more personal. For example, you can include employee profiles that highlight their contributions, talk about your community outreach and include contests.

You can also send newsletter subscribers information about how to care for your products and share product updates, thus adding value to their purchases. In the case of services, you may want to include case studies to show how you solve customers’ business challenges.

Declutter. Keep your copy to a minimum and make it engaging. Your audience doesn’t want to wade through a lot of text to get the point. Break up blocks of copy with white space, bullet points, numbered lists and images. Readers need visual breaks to stay focused on what they’re reading.

Proofread. Make sure your copy is free of spelling and grammar errors. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a subscriber replying with a spelling error or letting you know that one of your sentences doesn’t make sense.

Avoid sales pitches. Balance your newsletter with about 90 percent educational content and 10 percent promotional copy. Try to narrow down what your customers want to read about – e.g., your employees, your industry and your company news. Organize your newsletter to include sections for each area you cover.

Does your company use newsletters? What content draws the most interest? Let us know in the comments below.

A fantastic printer makes all the difference

In a few weeks, Morrisey, one of our favorite clients, has a big trade show in Chicago. In preparation for the show, Dawn and I have been even busier than usual tackling all the collateral that Morrisey will distribute there.


We wrote and designed one eight-page brochure, one four-page brochure and six one-page sell sheets. After dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s and Photoshopping the stock models to look their best, it was time to print.

When it comes to printing a large job like Morrisey’s, it’s really important to have a good and reliable printer. You need to keep so many things in mind, such as making sure brand colors are consistent, images are crisp, folds and crops are in the right places, and that you have the perfect paper and coating.

Here’s what we look for in a printer:

  1. Excellent response time. Prompt responses to emails are a must, as well as delivering the final product on (or ahead!) of schedule.
  2. Quality. It’s important to have rich, full colors, crisp folds and straight cuts.
  3. Attention to detail. We always check proofs thoroughly, but it never hurts when the printer is also familiar with our projects, and watches that things are running smoothly on press.

With a great printer on our side, we can ensure that Morrisey — and all our clients — will be extremely happy with their final printed collateral.

Despite rumors to the contrary, print isn’t dead. So how do you prepare for a big print job? Please share your tips in the comments below.

Detox from bad marketing habits

pencils targetOne of the worst things companies can do is the status quo: doing just enough to get by but not going the extra mile while promoting their organizations. The bare minimum won’t cut it anymore. Your customers have other choices and your competitors are going after them. Are you missing out on potential opportunities?

Don’t let your marketing plan continue in a rut. Old habits are hard to break, but you can do it in small steps. Don’t try to change everything at once – you’ll overwhelm yourself and go back to your old ways.

Do any of these bad habits sound familiar?

The status quo

Many of us feel compelled to continue on the road most traveled and are comfortable doing what everyone else has done. But what if you decided to break away from the pack and venture into uncharted territory? Would you stand out? The answer is yes.

First, you have to have a strong backing – financially and organizationally – for your initiatives to work. Commit to your cause and fight for it. Going outside the norm entails some risk, but the benefits can be huge. Assess whether your return outweighs the risk.

Relying on emails           

Too many times, companies rely solely on generic email campaigns rather than communicating with prospects through personally addressed letters and emails, phone calls, and targeted ads. The average prospect receives too many mass emails and yours are getting lost in the mix.

Using purchased marketing lists

Don’t do it. Purchasing lists increases your bounce and unsubscribe rates. When people are spammed with emails they didn’t sign up for, they’re more likely to reject what you’re selling – even if they’re in the market for your product. It’s better to build your list by generating interest through website and social media channels. Purchased lists are not targeted. The people who are on them don’t know who you are and didn’t ask you to email them.

Inadequate content

Don’t send stale, insufficient content to your prospects. Find out what they’re interested in and highlight those topics. You can do this through trial and error. Look at your analytics for specific topics in your newsletters and e-blasts. If certain topics have high open rates, it’s a good indication your prospects are interested in learning more. Try writing another article related to that topic. If you get stuck, you may want to hire a professional writer.

To summarize, build your contact list with clean, opted-in prospects. Use a combination of targeted e-blasts, newsletters, offers, and/or phone calls to promote your company. Focus on providing quality, insightful content and be creative ways in getting the word out.

Dealing with a tight budget? Make do with what you have: Focus your energy on improving your content and design.

What targeted marketing efforts work for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Behind the scenes: An inside look at design

Earlier this year, The Simons Group had the opportunity to work on materials for three award galas. I love working on award materials because they are a chance to celebrate honorees and each organization as a whole.

Below are two of my favorites from 2013: an elegant trifold program for BOMA Chicago and a fun twist on IABC’s Call for Entries for the Chicago Bronze Quill Awards.

Edward Bury, our contact at BOMA Chicago, was a pleasure to work with. He had a clear vision of what he wanted, but left the creativity to us. It was important to him to have a sophisticated and classic program. He also wanted to include categories and names that weren’t included in past brochures. Space was a challenge, but with just the right organization, everything fit nicely. For the cover, I chose a striking photo of Chicago and tied everything together by using the yellows in the photo to create a subtle gradient on the inside spread.


I always enjoy designing multipage layouts, so the IABC Call for Entries was a treat. Alex Mitchell, our contact at IABC, asked that we incorporate a quill to tie back to the show’s title. To do this, I drew a few different quill silhouettes and created abstract designs by layering and varying their opacities. I carried this design element throughout the entire piece to create a uniform look. Overall, this two-color design is very clean, open and easy to read.


Good luck to all of this year’s nominees! I’m looking forward to next year’s award season.

Have any designs inspired you lately? What elements appealed to you? Tell us about them in the comments below.