A prominent executive from a very well known Public Relations (“PR”) firm walked into our store a couple of weeks ago looking for new corporate stationery. This had the potential of being an attractive and mutually beneficial relationship. Since he was launching a new company, we spent about an hour designing an invitation and announcement for the new firm.
Several days later we received a very nice letter indicating that his firm wanted to give us all of their stationery business “as long as our prices were competitive.” I am sure that many of you have heard similar nonsense and, perhaps, some of you have scrambled to come up with something that is both tasteful and price competitive – at least in your mind.
While it is possible to have an intelligent conversation with your client to evaluate the various price/value tradeoffs, I have personally found that most business executives don’t have the time or interest to consider the tradeoffs. With the exception of a few legal firms, some designers and a handful of financial services firms, most executives are more concerned about functionality than taste. It’s funny, but firms will spend tens of thousands of dollars on their corporate website or a logo and buy their business cards from Kinkos.
There is no easy way to deal with these clients (sorry about stereotyping), so I generally ask them whether they want their corporate stationery to be “White Castle” hamburger “price-competitive” or something closer to Daniel Boulud’s Burger Royale which clocks in at $99. This generally gets their attention.
I then quickly follow it up with something in their own business sphere: “If I were interested in developing a 5 year advertising program for our business, would your firm be the most price competitive?”Clearly, there is no simple answer to that question. Likewise, there is no simple answer to what makes personalized stationery or custom invitations “price competitive.” It depends on what you are comparing them against.
Without a frame of reference (i.e. other paper samples and/or identical printing processes) there is no way to determine whether your recommendations are price competitive. If you proceed down this slippery path of trying to find “competitively priced” business stationery for your client without a clear guidelines from your client, you are only negotiating against yourself. My advice: Don’t waste your time. A sure sign that you are being played is if they don’t have a budget. Don’t share your expertise with someone a fact-finding mission.
For instance, there is a world of difference between a letterpress wedding invitation from Elum and the dreary wedding invitations offered by Crane on the Paperless Post website. Is it simply a matter of cost or does style and good taste play a role in an individual’s purchasing decision?
I think the consumer is wise enough to sort through the cost benefit analysis if they are given the proper information. Sadly, the internet is not the vehicle to display the craftsmanship that goes into making fine stationery: It’s simply a two-dimensional world of low-resolution images. While the brand name is important, if it is stacked on the same internet shelf with “Brand X” invitations that look similar, why expect the consumer to pay premium pricing? Why a 200 year-old firm wants to compromise its acclaimed craftsmanship and elegant design to bottom fish for a “new audience” is simply incomprehensible to those who treasure fine stationery.
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild