Tuesday, June 8, 2021

DR2’s inception story


In 1998 a former co-worker who moved to the West Coast was not happy with the quality of copy and design he was getting.


He suggested that another former co-worker, Dave (not his real name), and I start a partnership, with me doing design and Dave doing copy. He promised he would throw us some work.


Dave had been doing catalogs for an automobile company on the side while working for an association. I was working for a large government contractor and keeping my sanity by doing nonprofit fundraising packages on the side for museums, symphonies and cultural organizations.


Dave came up with the name DR2, meaning Direct Response, Direct Results.


It was brilliant. I decided DR2 should be written like an element or chemical symbol because DR2 was an “essential” element for any client.


I designed a great brochure, Dave wrote it and got a printer to print it for free. We got business cards, put together a Powerpoint introduction largely featuring my work and off to California we went to pitch DR2.




We got the work. Not as much as we would have liked but our client list was off to a good start/was bolstered by this addition to the canon.


It was to be a limited partnership. Dave would still write copy on his own and I would design on my own and we would work together with clients who needed both.


Dave had been sent a newsletter for Wachovia Wealth Management to bid on for us, but never mentioned it to me since he disliked writing newsletters.


We both went down to North Carolina to pitch work to Wachovia and after the pitch one person in the room said to us, “How can you say you’re responsive and deliver my work in a timely fashion, when you can’t even give me a price quote on my newsletter in three months.”


I was completely floored. I didn’t know about the newsletter but couldn’t say that to the client. I just got back in my car and drove seven hours back home.


The so-called partnership had turned out to be not much of a partnership and I lost a lucrative potential client.  After a brief conversation, I learned that after just a few short weeks Dave had decided he didn’t like not having a steady paycheck and never intended to work with Wachovia.  The partnership was dissolved on the spot and I kept the name DR2 for my solo business.


The logo I designed for DR2 back in 1998 to symbolize a PMS chip and a postage stamp becomes something new for 2021, It still keeps the symbolism of those two but adds the symbolism of a pixel as well.


The original logo was black—grounded and solid. The characters DR were cut out because I like to let my audience in on what's behind the curtain.

This new logo keeps those elements but is sky blue for optimism and creativity.

Since 1998 DR2 have worked with these amazing clients and more:

  • AARP
  • AARP Foundation
  • Adventure Aquarium
  • Advocate Charitable Foundation
  • African Wildlife Foundation
  • All Children’s Hospital
  • Alley Cat Allies
  • ALS Association
  • American Farmland Trust
  • American Friends Service Committee
  • American Foundation for the Blind
  • American Heart Association
  • Americares
  • Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
  • Born Free USA
  • Boston Foundation for Sight
  • Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Bridgeport Hospital Foundation
  • Bronx Zoo
  • Capital Area Foodbank
  • Carnegie Hall
  • The Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh
  • Center for Victims of Torture
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Children’s Inn at NIH
  • Children’s National Hospital
  • Cincinnati Zoo
  • Clean Water Action
  • Conservancy of Southwest Florida
  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Dallas Zoo
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Experience Music Project
  • Foodbank of Central and Eastern North Carolina
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Foxchase Cancer Center
  • George Mason University
  • Goodwill Industries International, Inc.
  • Greenpeace
  • Green-Wood Cemetery
  • Hanna Boys Center
  • HealthWell Foundation
  • High Museum of Art
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Humane Society of the United States
  • International Campaign for Tibet
  • International Rescue Committee
  • Isaac Walton League
  • John Ball Zoo
  • League of Women Voters
  • LGBTQ Task Force
  • Lincoln Park Zoo
  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
  • McNay Art Museum
  • Miami Cancer Institute
  • National Audubon Society
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
  • New Jersey Symphony Orchestra
  • Oakland Zoo
  • Optometry Cares AOA
  • OUTSERVE/Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
  • Partnership with Native Americans
  • Philadelphia Zoo
  • Phelps Regional Medical Center
  • Physicians for Human Rights
  • Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
  • The Planetary Society
  • Planned Parenthood of Southern New England
  • Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains
  • Potomac Conservancy
  • Potawatomi Zoo
  • Public Citizen
  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Rehabilitation Opportunities, Inc.
  • Rush-Copley Medical Foundation
  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital/ALSAC
  • Save The Chimps
  • Seneca Park Zoo
  • Sonoma Humane Society
  • Special Olympics of Southern Maryland
  • Student Conservation Association
  • Students First
  • Temple University
  • Toledo Zoo Pals
  • Trust for Public Land
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Virginia
  • USA for UNHCR
  • Vermont Foodbank
  • Victorian Society of New York
  • Washington National Cathedral
  • WETA
  • White Coat Waste Project
  • Whitman-Walker Health
  • The Wilderness Society
  • Wilderness Conservation Society
  • World Wildlife Fund
  • Year Up



Friday, June 4, 2021

Screaming for cooperation


When I think of a project that screams for cooperation between copy and design it’s a newsletter.


Newsletters are a good way to provide something of perceived value to the donor that doesn’t break the bank.


And it’s a good way to forge a relationship with the donor by promoting your cause.


Digital or in the mail, a newsletter can take the reader where you want them to go and show progress and need.


Save the Chimps just updated its brand and with that update I was afforded the opportunity to take their newsletter in a different direction.



Previous Design




  Updated Design



The previous design was focused on putting as much content as possible into two sides of an 8 ½ x 11-inch sheet.


The design had served them well but I suggested using a larger point size for the type and bigger images more appropriate for older eyes.


This would mean that the writer would need to be even more concise with his copy.


I provided him with word counts for each article space and he came very close to hitting the mark even after client edits.


Word count is crucial when writing for a newsletter. It can be difficult for the writer to pare down all that great information he has acquired from subject interviews to fit a limited space.


Clients may insist that writers provide lots of copy for a newsletter but often do not consider that there should be more than just text.


Having to shoehorn in images and graphics makes the reader’s experience less than ideal.


Lucky for me I have a long relationship with this writer and I am able to share my ideas with him before he makes his first key stroke on the copy.


He makes design suggestions and sometimes I make copy suggestions for space but most of the time we respect each other’s craft and make stuff happen.


The best thing for a designer when working on a newsletter is to have the ability to go back to the writer and ask for copy edits for space.


Writers are brilliant at cutting just enough copy to make it fit.


For the redesign of Chimp News, I opted to keep a large banner on page one and keep the “cover chimp” featured on page two.



Previous Newsletter Banner




Updated Newsletter Banner



I used an oversized silhouetted image to draw the reader in to the first article.




Updated Chimp News design

The previous design had no call-to-action but the client agreed to let me add it to both front and back pages along with social media badges.


Get Playful


Now if you’ve read any of my previous articles or listened to me ramble on at Bridge or a Lunch and Learn, you will know I always like to let the reader “in on the joke”—make them feel like they are an insider.


I added a couple of whimsical items to this newsletter that may bring a smile to the reader.


The “over please” is Pumpkin (a chimp I sponsor —I HAD to find a way to use him in this issue) on his back in a playful pose with the direction “Pumpkin says to turn over.” 





I also added bananas to the Save the Dates section.


I’m sure some of you on my wavelength wonder why I didn’t use dates. I did consider it, but I really needed a color pop for that box and dates wouldn’t have done that as well as bananas.





You will end up with a better product if you let your writer and designer talk.


Have an editorial meeting prior to copy and design kick off.  The designer can be researching/obtaining images while the copy is being written.


Another thing that helps is to build the newsletter with first draft copy. That way the designer and writer can solve space issues before the client sees it.


It’s not an ideal way to work for a lot of packages but I find it to be a much smoother process for the client when designing a newsletter.


Production changes


The previous newsletter had a bleed (color running off the edge of the page.) I thought we really didn’t need that for the new design and could save a little money by not having to print on an oversize sheet of paper to be able to bleed off the page.


The quantity (for now) is not overly large, so we were able to move the newsletter to a digital press allowing us more time flexibility.








Thursday, June 25, 2020

The search for that single compelling image

When I select an image I look for one that will compel someone to open their wallet and send in a donation.

Can an image really do that?

Yes and sometimes that image is as elusive as Captain Ahab’s white whale, but it is out there. You simply have to put in the time to search for it.

If I attempted to articulate the quintessence of the perfect image it would have to be a combination of four things:

1.     Does it tell a story?
2.     Is it engaging?
3.     Does it evoke an emotional response?
4.     Can my donor relate to it?

Notice I did not say can “I” relate to it? I’m not the audience so I have to channel for the donor in this instance and find an image that answers most of if not all of these four questions.

It is tempting to put a lot of images together that show all aspects of your mission, what you’re doing in the field, how you’re helping in all these instances. I know that you have a lot to say, and that is the fastest, easiest way to tell your story visually.


All those images together water down your message and diminish the relatability and emotional response.

A single image that can meet one, some or all of these four criteria is better than a dozen images, period.

A collage of several of images does not qualify as a single image. One image that gets the job done has so much more impact than a combination of images no matter how attractive they are.

An image that will get the most interest is a human face.  It’s relatable and an image where the eyes look directly at the viewer is engaging. Take a look at this Special Olympics social media post.

It’s engaging, relatable and evokes an emotional response.

Would I have to use the whole image? Not if I can create visual interest with a dramatic cropping or lighting as in this online ad from Human Rights Watch:

And notice how words and visuals work together to create a strong ad.

Here is an example from International Rescue Committee’s home page that is not only dramatic, it is relatable, engaging and it tells a story.  

Animals work too. The same rules apply as in this envelope for Greenpeace. Copy and design again work in concert to compel the reader to open the envelope to complete the thought.

Here is a Humane Society of the United States piece. Who would not want to help that sad caged Labrador? 

I can get more donations by showing a bald child with cancer than I can a healthy child.

Images of happy, healthy people don’t inspire donors to open their checkbooks the way a very ill or malnourished person does.

Images of happy refugees will not inspire giving in the way children playing with old tires in a refugee camp will.

You have to show “need.” Show a happy, healthy child you’ve cured or saved, and you no longer show that you need an urgent donation.

See this donation page example form Operation Smile. Wouldn’t you want to help this person? You’ve already got the viewer to the donation page, why not push them to give with an image that supports that?

Many organizations are given a mandate to show only the successes and happy people. Maybe yours is one of them.  Those images don’t bring in the cash. Test it, prove me wrong.

Of course you do want to show your successes but save them for the end of a letter or email—better still the acknowledgement.

And always be respectful in your use of a person’s image. We are here to make a difference, not exploit their situation.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

More Children's National Packages

2017 Calendar

2017 Calendar  Follow Up

Renewal 11

Renewal 10
Renewal 9


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How 'bout a Lift?

Every direct response program could use a little boost now and then. The following are some direct mail tactics that have worked for me and may do the same for you.

Get personal
People love to see their name in print. A personalized letter or offer tends to out pull a non-personalized one. A personalized Johnson box gets a lot of attention. A personalized teaser on an outer envelope can as well.

Slipping personalization into the body of the letter or PS can sometimes lift your response but use it as you would a personal letter, don’t go overboard.

Sign of the times
The signature can also be a response lifter. When I was at a large commercial firm we tested a blue signature vs. black and the blue beat the control by 10%.

The signer of the letter is very important. One client picked a famous person who was very popular at the time, didn’t seem to lean left or right and was for the organization’s mission but the package tanked. Why? Possibly because they didn’t believe the celebrity was writing to them. We even tested down to the lift note only—this person just did not do well for them at all.

So try the opposite approach. Go with someone highly believable. A membership services person. Someone who would actually open mail they got from the reader. On the commercial side we used a real person, made the package personal but professional and highly believable.

On one such mailing we didn’t only use the person’s signature. We wanted believability so we added a business card with his real phone number. We had NO idea response would go through the roof. The employee’s voice mailbox filled up in the first day of the mail in-home date. We had to give him a new office phone number but took full advantage of the situation and had him create an outgoing message on his old line that encouraged the person to apply for the offer. All of the names and numbers left on voice mail were handed off to outgoing telemarketing for follow-up. It was a big success on the test and was rolled out as a control.

Faux sure.
I always try to make the package look as personal as possible.

Fake photocopy:
Some of the things that I’ve used successfully include making that extra insert look photocopied by the signer just for you. It looks less than perfect. And sometimes I’ll even add fold marks and darkened edges to make it really look authentic. 

I have also used a fake rubber “copy” stamp on the pages to add to the effect.

Handwritten PS:
Sure there are handwriting fonts but even the best ones look fake. Get the signer to write out the PS or that fake post-it note by hand. If they can’t do it get someone with similar handwriting to write it out, scan it and then  drop it into the letter in blue ink that matches ballpoint pen ink

Another thing that has worked is faux postmarks—especially for a package that is supposed to be coming from overseas. I use an airmail look to the carrier with faux indicias from other countries on the back and a fake meter mark indicia, on the front. One thing I HAVE learned over the years is not to make the meter mark so real that the Post Office sends you a cease and desist order.

Heavy Lifting:
Lift notes have been shown to lift response as much as 10% over control. Now I know many of you have differing views on lift notes. A lot of you think a buckslip (8.5 x 5.5 inches) works as a lift note and of course it does. Yet it’s called a lift note  and why? Because it lifts response. A true lift note in my book is actually what some may call a double-buck folded (8.5 x 7 inches folded to 8.5 x 3.5 inches), so you actually have to lift the cover to read the inside. More interactivity within the package can lead to a higher response rate.

Yes, we’re involved
An involvement device is anything that involves the reader. Scratch-offs, Yes/No stickers that go on the reply device, benefit inserts, stamps, questionnaires, surveys, games. puzzles, petitions, Post-it notes,  paper slide rule calculators or multiple enclosures (why do you think those Publisher’s Clearing House packages worked so well?)  Envelopes that open with a zip strip or have a unique way of opening, tabs that open like an Advent calendar to reveal something inside.  These are all designed to get the reader to spend more time with your package.

Speaking of envelopes
I know the trend is to mail a plain carrier without a teaser but a good teaser can boost your response. Tease them with what’s inside or tell them everything that’s inside. I’ve used both to great success.

Take a look at what you’re mailing. I’m betting just about all of you are mailing a lot of #10 packages. If you are, what do you think everyone else is mailing?  Between your competition and the power, cable water and gas companies, mailboxes are filled with a pile of white #10, standard left window envelopes.

Let’s dominate the mail. Stand out, go oversized like a 6 x 9, #12 or #14, or undersized, an A-6 or monarch size package will stand out from the crowd.

Try a different paper stock. Brown kraft, canary, blue, green pink, purple. And full color images on the envelope seem to be working right now but if everyone is doing it, then it becomes noise and that calm, buff, closed-face monarch envelope really stands out in a crowded mailbox.

I’ll leave you with a final idea. Borrow from the digital world, design a package that’s designed to get passed along the way you might forward a truly interesting email.

Send the same package to two different people in the same household with a different PS. Perhaps something like “Hey Mrs. Sample, we’ve sent this same mailing to your son Buddy Sample and we’re hoping you will both see just how much we want Buddy to be a part of our Collegiate Curling Team.” You get the idea.

Give some of these ideas a test in your program and tell me about it. Or yell at me if it fails.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

 Letter Design Rules

One might argue that the letter is the most important component in a direct mail package. It carries the sell copy, offer or ask.  It is deceptively simple but that simplicity is actually full of complex rules. Below you will find MY set of rules for designing a direct mail letter.

Some Unbreakable Rules:

1.     A letter should LOOK like a letter.  Indent each paragraph AND add a full line space between each paragraph.

2.     The page break should always be in mid-sentence. You want the reader to turn the page to finish the sentence and continue to read.

3.     Never end a paragraph with a single word (this is called a widow) it causes the reader to come to a full stop. It interrupts the flow of the letter and disrupts reader retention.

4.     If the letter is the addressing vehicle or “flying the package,” make sure the address block shows through the window of the envelope.

5.     Copy should be flush left-ragged right. Fully justified text can create rivers of white space in the copy unless you finesse each line break, letter and word spacing. If you have variable copy you are just asking for trouble.

6.     Do not hyphenate.

7.     The “offer” or “ask” should always be on the first page.

8.     Be aware of what falls above the fold. This is what the reader sees first when he/she pulls the letter out of the envelope. Never let text fall on a fold, especially if it is laser text as it will crack and flake off.

9.     Photos on letters should support the copy. (The photo of the elephant needs to be next to the paragraph about illegal ivory trade not the paragraph about baby seals.)

Some Breakable Rules

1.     Make sure everything is spelled correctly.

You would think this is an unbreakable rule, but what if it’s a letter from a child. Poor spelling, bad grammar and cross-outs add to the authenticity.

2.     Typeface choice is important. Use an easy to read letter font like Times New Roman in 12 point or larger if possible, and don’t go lower than 10 point. Stick to one type family.

If your letter is on a really small page, you may need to compromise on type size.

Try an entirely handwritten letter.

If you’re writing a ransom note, then feel free to use as many typefaces as you want.

3.     A letter should have a one-inch margin.

If you can’t fit the ask or offer on page one then you can fudge the margin a bit so you don’t have to drop the point size of the body text.

4.     A Johnson Box or “J-Box” is copy at the top of a letter before the actual letter begins. It’s an effective way to add impact to a letter but it may be inappropriate for letters that are intended to be formal or personal.  It is sometimes but not always contained in a box.  You can use it to emphasize benefits, for a quote or call out.

Try a handwritten Johnson box, or add a handwritten post-it note instead.

Personalize the Johnson Box with the recipient’s name.