One of the jokes in a book produced recently by paper manufacturer GF Smith asks, ‘How many art directors does it take to change a light bulb?’ The punchline is: ‘Get lost, I won’t change a thing.’ The vogue for paper manufacturers to produce sophisticated paper promotions has taken off in the past few years. One reason designers are willing to do them for knock-down prices is because they have less trouble with tiresome clients wanting them to change things.
Though the traditional swatch hasn’t disappeared, it is now augmented by books or cards aimed at intriguing aesthetically conscious customers. And as the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ is especially true for paper promotions, designers often have a creative freedom they simple wouldn’t get on many other jobs.
John Haslam, GF Smith’s business development manager, remembers why the company started experimenting with new style promotions two and a half years ago. ‘Paper doesn’t sell paper, print on paper sells paper. We recognised that if a promotion went out and the pictures were crap it would go straight in the bin. We wanted to get a mailing to designers that they would keep or show to clients,’ he explains.
This insight led to a collaboration with photographer Rankin and design consultancy Sea Design, which made designers and creative directors the stars by having them photographed and included in a specially prepared book. Now the market is flooded with all sorts of beautiful and highly crafted promotions.
The work tends to fall into two categories. First, promotions designed to accompany events, for which 500 books will be made, with perhaps another 2000 cheaper versions for mail shots. For this type of promotion a designer will be paid very little and won’t be expected to pitch. Second, larger scale promotions, which will include a print run of perhaps 10 000, for which designers may pitch, though they will still tend to be paid less than for other jobs.
Whether all this really succeeds in keeping paper samples on designers’ desks is another question. Many of the promotions look great on the outside, but have little inside because the idea starts with the packaging and only subsequently is the content determined. This can leave the recipient with a nagging feeling of disappointment. Nevertheless, designers obviously have huge fun producing the work.