Take a letter

Contrary to all predictions, the humble letter has survived the onslaught of the digital age. But better than that, it’s even enjoying a renaissance. Despite the fact that we are all using phones, faxes and e-mails more than ever, and that the number of communications we make is doubling every couple of years, the letter still reigns supreme.

“Most of us place huge value on receiving cards or letters,” says Mike Hoban, senior marketing manager of WH Smith – a company which has gone back to its roots and rediscovered its role as stationer to the nation. Its freshly aired new corporate identity is intended to reinforce the message.

The retail stationery market stands at around 1.5bn with cards taking up a slice of some 700m. Hoban says that we are willing to hand over more of our hard-earned cash for something really distinctive. “Lots of stationery manufacturers have concentrated on cost-cutting, but they’ve got the market wrong. People think of stationery as a means of expression and they’ll pay the extra to find something that’s just right – hand-made cards, for example.”

Hoban adds that while letter paper continues to show strong sales, cards have shown significant growth, especially where people can find just the right image to communicate their message. They might not write very much inside, but they know what they want to say and can do that concisely with the right image. It is considered so much more personal and meaningful than a phonecall.”

The growth in interest in distinctive stationery has also been detected by designers including Michael Fraser of Edinburgh-based EH6. “A number of our clients are prepared to be much more experimental than in the past – for example, people want sets of stationery that perform all sorts of tasks – cards, compliment slips and returns notes, as well as the standard letterhead. They’re also interested in really quite bold designs – there is a strong awareness of the power of good stationery in business communication and marketing,” he says.

One of EH6’s most unusual jobs of the year was for mobile hairdresser Louise Harrison. “This was a great project with lots of opportunity for wit. You don’t usually come across distinctive stationery for hairdressers, but Louise wanted something memorable with cards she could hand out. For an investment of just a couple of hundred quid she now has her own marketing pack,” says Fraser.

This strategic upfront investment is good news for printers too. Stationery-producing specialist David Pertwee of London-based Baddeley Brothers has seen the flow of work increase, especially in stationery requiring added-value finishing details such as embossing, die cutting and foil blocking. “We have found our order books extremely busy this year and the trend is clearly towards better quality. Since businesses are becoming more sophisticated and competitive and better at targeting their potential clients, they want to make sure their message sticks and one of the best ways of achieving that is through stationery. People know that if they want really good quality it costs more, but they are prepared to pay for it,” he says.

Baddeley Brothers has contributed to one of this year’s most elegant and exquisitely produced specialist publications. Called Images of Engraving, it has been designed by O’Reilly Richardson and published by the British Engraved Stationery Association on gorgeous Rives Tradition paper supplied by Arjo Wiggins.

Filled with beautiful examples of a whole range of engraving and embossing techniques, it’s a stunning advertisement for these traditional stationery skills.

The papermakers have seen steady growth in the demand for business papers and sales now top around 40 000 tonnes per annum. The trend is away from watermarked sheets, but still thick soft cottons mean superior quality. However, for anyone who has to send out huge mailings the new technology papers – guaranteed for use with ink jets and laser printers, are preferred.

And, the new stationery stocks have been flooding on to the market. MoDo Merchants now offers an enhanced colour range in the classy Svecia papers from ultra white to jet black. Italian papermaker Fedrigoni has launched the premium, smooth-finish Splendorgel and the intriguing Sirio Stardust – a heavyweight paper scattered with metallic glitter. And, finally, the recycled paper merchant Paperback has just launched its latest catalogue of recycled and environment-friendly stationery products which contains details of new products, including Context letterhead paper, the chunky, textured new Special Edition papers and Evercolour copier paper which is available in a choice of ten shades.

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