Writing Off the Risk
As someone who believes in big ideas and testing that leads to landmark breakthroughs, I’m always on the lookout for packages that take risks. I root for the organizations that mail them, wishing them success.
The 7.75-inch Monarch special appeal I received from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation (hereafter the 9/11 Memorial) has fantastic “package gestalt” — meaning, an organized whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The closed-face ivory outer envelope is printed with the organization’s logo in the cornercard with the signer’s name and title below it. The nonprofit’s full name and address are printed on the backflap. The addressing is lasered in a font that simulates believable handwriting, and the barcode is not adjacent to it; instead, it is moved to the lower edge of the envelope. Overall, the carrier conveys the look and feel of a personal letter. The only thing I would add to improve it would be a mailer’s cancellation mark over the nonprofit postage stamp.
It’s not every day you see a two-sheet, four-page letter entirely in a font that simulates believable handwriting — the same font used for the addressing on the outer envelope — but that’s just what I found inside. And that’s a bold move, right there, to have so much copy in a font that, yes, looks real, but is also a bit spidery and hurts ease of readability. Having seen font tests yield quite different results, no matter how much this one contributes to the appeal’s package gestalt, I’d want to test it before rolling out.
Copy that works it — and works
That said, the letter copy actually requires it look handwritten. It opens:
“Dear Mrs. Seville,
Have you been here yet?
I’m writing you today from the National September 11 Memorial that you built as a tribute to the victims and heroes of that awful day.
And as I sit on this stone bench just beyond the Memorial pools — the 'footprints’ of the towers that collapsed in a horrific scene of steel and fire — I can’t help but think about the men and women we lost … of all the devastated families left in the wake of such carnage.
But the Memorial is inspiring as well as solemn, and so my thoughts drift to the amazing first responders who ran up the melting stairwells, and the outpouring of unity, generosity, and love from Americans of all races and backgrounds during the months of recovery.
And I think of you, Mrs. Seville.
Because truly, I have never been more grateful to you than ...”
And that’s the entirety of page one — 146 words, not counting the addressing and salutation. As a copywriter, I can tell you that’s some mad skill right there, and I’m doing a one-woman wave to the writer who crafted this letter (and also every person who reviewed this copy and didn’t muck it up). It is so much more difficult to “write short” because every single word matters exponentially more than usual. Not to mention that the copy paints moving and compelling word pictures of the letter signer sitting amid the serenity of the memorial, and brings up vivid reminders of what happened that day.
On to Page 2
Page two is an invitation to visit the memorial and has excellent donor-centered “you” copy:
“Your steadfast generosity is the reason why I am visiting this Memorial today.
More importantly, you are the reason why tens of thousands of people have experienced
the Memorial’s overwhelming beauty, power, and poignancy since it opened last September.
If you haven’t already, please come see it for yourself soon.
If you have been here, I hope you will come back and see how it feels again … see the trees begin to come alive this Spring, feel how the surging power of the waterfalls makes your heart skip a beat, see the reactions of the other visitors as they drift by the names inscribed in bronze panels around the edge of the pools.
It’s all here because of you.”
This letter misses not a single opportunity to make it all about me, and even in talking about the memorial puts me in the center of it. More mad skills.
The rest of the letter is about building the museum “which will tell the thousands of personal stories of 9/11, bearing solemn witness to the attacks, honoring the nearly 3,000 victims, and paying tribute to those who demonstrated extraordinary courage and compassion in the days and weeks that followed.”
In the closing paragraphs, a return to the sentiment the letter opened with:
“On days like today, I am overcome by the goodwill and generous spirit you have shown. You have truly put us on the path of recovery and renewal.”
What a lovely way to close such a warm and personal letter.
The reply form is a 6-inch by 9-inch sheet of the same ivory stock as the outer envelope and letter, printed with a black and white photo of the memorial at the bottom that’s a little dark and difficult to decipher. Since the reply copy is printed in a sans serif font and not the simulated handwriting one used for the letter, white stock would yield a crisper image — but it’s certainly not the end of this package’s world.
What I would have done instead, however, is to have the reply copy be on a plain, unprinted page of that ivory stock and have the whole thing lasered in the simulated handwriting font, a simple rustic reply reinforcing the idea that this was all done while sitting on that stone bench listening to the waterfalls.
I really hope this package worked, because there’s so much to love. FS
Kimberly Seville is a creative consultant and nonprofit copywriter. Reach her at email@example.com