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#87 Designers: Killers of Good Direct Marketing
Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Philadelphia , PA
Tuesday, March 03, 2020

#86 -  March 3, 2020

Posted by Denny Hatch
Killers of Good Direct Marketing:
Designers! Know-Nothing Designers!


I grew up in the era of 12” LP vinyl recordings that were frequently clothed in covers so elegant and exciting they were works of art on their own. These were mini theatrical posters where the album title and the artist’s portrait could be seen from across the room with plenty of space to feature contents and selling copy. 12" LPs were lotsa fun—visually as well as transmitters of gorgeous sound.
     What's more, beautifully designed album covers sold records!
     Enter digital technology that can capture sounds and sights on the space of a pinhead. CDs and Videos are now packaged in teensy-weensy 5” x  5-1/2” plastic “jewel cases.” The challenge to designers: to generate excitement and readability in this tiny format is formidable.

A Grotesque Failure
The CD album at the top of this post was a souvenir of an exhilarating lecture/piano concert.
     Were you to come across this CD amidst 30 to 40 competing “Jewel Cases” your eyes would immediately skip over it. The red headline and cascade of white words below are all in an outré, totally unreadable typeface—further complicated by the confusing, ugly jumble of Gustav Klimt’s painting, Die Musik.
     Album covers (and book jackets) must sell just like ads, TV commercials and emails.
     Shortly you will see what this album cover needs to do its job.

Several years ago, Peggy joined Philadelphia’s splendid Cosmopolitan Club for women—an affordable, welcoming, low-key, lively, lovely gathering spot. It boasts of a world-class chef, free wine with meals, alcoholic drinks at moderate prices and convivial conversation.
     Best of all are the collegial lunch and dinner programs featuring A-list world-class authors, artists, architects, musicians, scientists, politicians, media stars, and entrepreneurs.
     Spouses and gentlemen guests are welcome. Lunch or dinner is included when you sign up to attend an event.
     Were memberships open to men, I would join in a heartbeat.

An Extraordinary Celebration of Women Composers
     “Are you interested in women composers?” Peggy asked me. “The Cos Club is having dinner program about women composers with a performance of their music.”
     High achievements by women—who have been so diminished by men since pre-history—fascinate me. I love classical music and am a YouTube addict with its repertoire of free concerts by the greatest composers, soloists and orchestras ever recorded on kinescope, film and video.
     Women composers? I knew a little about Clara Schumann (1819 - 1896) and Amy Beach (1867 – 1944). Was eager to learn more.
     An added bonus: the opportunity to hear the Cos Club piano—a stunning, very rare Art Deco Steinway baby grand.
     “Yeah, sign us up!” I said to Peggy.

A Dazzling Evening
Adalberto Maria Riva

     In my opinion, Italian pianist Adalberto Maria Riva’s presentation is in the pantheon of great musical lecture/performance experiences. Others include Karl Haas (Adventures in Good Music) and, of course, Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts and staggeringly brilliant appearances on the Omnibus TV series that ran from 1952-1961.
     Maestro Riva is an acclaimed master of current piano repertoire. Instead of diving headlong into the normal struggle for performance gigs, he dedicated 10 years following an insatiable curiosity “to leave the beaten path and search libraries for forgotten works.”
     One result was this program featuring nine gutsy, extraordinarily brilliant women musicians—composers and performers—whose life stories and struggles for knowledge and recognition are inspiring.
     After each brief introductory bio, Riva sat down at the Art Deco piano and played from memory marvelous music—romantic, tuneful, sophisticated and electric.
     This was a bravura stuff. I came away with goosebumps.
If I Were 40 Years Younger...
     In a brief fantasy, I saw myself in another life as Adalberto Maria Riva’s manager and agent giving audiences of ecstatic women (and men!) the thrill of discovering female genius.
     Not a hugely expensive production. Maybe a series of pithy PowerPoint presentations. No orchestra. One piano. One microphone. One pianist filling giant concert halls around the world. A cash machine!
     During the Q&A following the presentation I raised my hand and was called on. I said:
    “This was stunning! I believe you could take this on road and make yourself a ton of money.”
     I got a round of applause.

Now about the ghastly design of the album cover…
No matter what the project—album cover, print ad, Web page, email, TV commercial—you start with a copywriter. Once the headlines, sub-heds and copy are approved, you move on to the design phase.
     I am not a designer.
     But I damn well know how I want my copy presented in terms of emphasis and readability. I always give the client a thumbnail for guidance.  
     Below left is my thinking on the Adalberto Maria Riva concert album cover.

My thumbnail above left is the information a prospective customer can grasp quickly and easily in order to make a yes/no/maybe buying decision.
     As long as my words and relative sizes are adhered to—and absolutely readable—I’m probably okay with the how the designer gussies the thing up.
     FYI: The graphic sins of the catastrophic album cover above right were committed by Francesco Brambilla.

Takeaways to Consider
• Before hiring a designer for a project, first determine the purpose of the design. Is it to be a logo, billboard, magazine illustration, sales brochure, annual report, newspaper ad or book cover?

• Communicate to the designer precisely what you want the design to accomplish.

• I have found designers can be very patronizing to executives, saying in effect, “You don’t know anything about creative; leave that to me.”

• If you feel uncomfortable with the design, then the design is wrong. Period.

• Be prepared to sit on the designer—especially Web designers—and have the job done over and over again. It must satisfy you and your original intent. Not the designer.

• If the designer whines you’re stifling creativity, get another designer immediately.

• Make a black-and-white photocopy of the final design. If it’s difficult to read the type, send it back to the designer for surgery.

• For example, red type surprinted on a black background will show up as dark unreadable mush. This becomes immediately obvious when subjected to a black-and-white photocopy.

"Type smaller than nine-point is difficult for most people to read."
   —David Ogilvy

• The only time to use gray type is when you absolutely do not want people to read the text.

• “Never set your copy in reverse (white type on a black background) and never set it over a gray or colored tint. The old school of art directors believed that these devices forced people to read the copy; we now know that they make reading physically impossible.”
—David Ogilvy

• “It’s copy that sells, not design. But it’s the design that sells the copy. It makes no difference how persuasive, how benefit-oriented or how well-written the copy is if it isn’t read. It’s the designer’s job to present the copy in a way that will overcome skepticism and people’s dislike of what they perceive to be ‘junk.’” 
—Ed Elliott
When I write a brochure, I don’t think about colors or white space or decorative borders or any of the innumerable things that make a brochure sing. But I do have a sturdy piece of architecture in the form of a thumbnail layout to give the designer—with copy that almost fits. The rest of it comes out of working together with the designer all the way down to the signed press sheet. —Malcolm Decker 

• “Never show small pictures of food.”
—Better Homes and Gardens Editorial Rule

Word Count: 1303

At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.


Denny Hatch
The St. James
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Philadelphia, PA 19106
215-644-9526 (Rings on my desk)

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