Skip to main content

By Kevin Sprague

I run a small design agency and we’re always playing the game of growing expectations and shrinking budgets. One of the things that I always try to do is keep my clients focused on the ways that budget is a factor in design.

In any given campaign you have $xxx dollars that are available. Your audience is y,yyy people and your tools are – online advertising, direct mail, outdoor ads, TV, radio – all the media possibilities. For the sake of this post lets imagine we are doing a direct mailer for a theater company.

The company wants to reach their 35,000 person subscription mailing list but budget cuts mean that there is less than last year – last year we did a 24 page, 6×9 4-color brochure. Printing and mailing a piece like this is a commodity cost, easily estimated to the penny.

This year, we have less. So what do we do? Cut the list to 25,000? Maybe – but its a good list. Maybe we reduce the size to 4×9 – but with bulk mail its not making a dent in the postage cost.

Budget informs design. We need to look at what we have to work with and ask ourselves “what is the most important element of this particular piece?”. In this case informing subscribers about the upcoming season – titles, dates, times and ticketing opportunities – is the #1 priority.

We have choices. Take the entire budget and devote it to building – fast – a really good email list. Get on the phones, get on the computer – all hands on deck – lets build a great list and get out of printing and mailing entirely.

Or – how about a basic black and white mailer. No fancy letters, breathless copy, beautiful imagery. Lets just make it a postcard with all the titles, dates, and ticket info on there in 10pt. copy.

What do you think? Will the theater company make its numbers. It just might – if the audience has been cultivated carefully to trust the sender they may not need the additional motivation of beauty, color and persuasion to convert them into buyers. It’s a competitive environment out there though, and the risk is tangible.

Budget becomes design. Proceed with planning. Plan carefully.


Photo – Susannah Millonzi for Tennessee Shakespeare Company. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Larry Murray says:

    A marketing exec is continually updating their mailing list and has a policy for identifying the frequent buyers who might receive multiple mailings and occasional ones who might get the season announcement only. Looking at the expense of mailing, one should remember that its purpose is to generate income and is an investment, not an expense. Alternatives I have used over the years include a specially printed rotogravure section for a Sunday newspaper that shook a thousand new subscribers out of the general readership, and a simple four page letter that outlined the benefits for committing to a full season rather than one or two shows. Experience counts in these efforts, and an intern or amateur will waste a lot of money before getting enough experience to know what works and what doesn’t. And even then there are no guarantees.