Yesterday, I told you how I ended up in Kansas City at the Hallmark Blogger’s Conference. To find out what happened after that, continue reading.
Previous to this experience, my most direct interaction with the Hallmark company came in high school when I would visit a friend who worked at a Gold Crown store. I never got invited to those parties where teenagers drank and had sex, so for entertainment I harassed my friends at their places of employment. I never felt cheaper than the day Jennifer V. gave me a discount at the Goodwill store. It was like stealing from poor people. My friend Nacho worked at Hallmark during the peak of the beanie babies craze, so our conversations would be interspersed with at least two to three phone calls from collectors asking if the next shipment had come in, had it, had it, OH MY GOD, had it?!! So, my biggest impressions of Hallmark were that they used to deal beanie babies to stuffed collectibles addicts and that they made commercials that make you cry.
After meeting in the lobby, our gaggle of bloggers walked over to the Hallmark visitor’s center where we had a meet and greet with each other and various marketing people, and, oh yeah, the president and CEO, Donald Hall, grandson of Hallmark founder J.C. Hall. He was a very unassuming, approachable man, like somebody’s dad or uncle, not the stereotypical high-powered CEO. Fellow blogger Beverly managed to hand him her friend’s portfolio and videotaped the whole ordeal even though she missed the part about him being the CEO and president. Boy was she surprised when we told her whose hands she’d stuffed that folder in. Stephanie asked Mr. Hall what they wanted to get out of the day’s events and instead of giving us some typical corporate, fancy talk he gave a sincere speech about how greeting cards seek to be an authentic expression of human emotions, much like blogging. You can’t fold him up and stick him in an envelope, but he really does talk like a greeting card!
Next it was breakfast and a tour of the visitor’s center. One of the nice things about digital cameras is that you can tell right away if your photo came out. Sadly, most of my visitor’s center photos look like photos of dark matter in outer space, but I did get one shot of the man they keep behind glass printing cards. I hope they feed him well and change his litter box often.
They just finished printing Valentine’s Day cards and are moving on to Easter. This machine attaches foil to the cards and there was another one that made die cuts. Volunteers pop out all the die cuts by hand. For a card shaped like a little girl’s dress, they actually have people glue a button on by hand.
Next we went to lunch at Union Station and talked about the Journeys card line and I got to chat with the other bloggers. It was nice having a small group because I got to know everybody fairly well and everyone got time to talk about what motivates them to blog and what they thought of the cards. After lunch we got to enter the Hallmark headquarters, which is so super-secret we had to get security badges. As Kansas City resident Erin told me when we unsuccessfully tried to arrange a meet-up, the Hallmark plant is “a Willy Wonka-esque thing that very few people get to visit.” I did not spot any Oompa Loompas in the hallway and no one from American Greetings cornered me in a dark alley the day beforehand asking me to steal an Everlasting Gobstobber, but I did get to watch a presentation by their trends expert, Marita Wesely Clough, in a room decorated with so many beautiful textures it made me want to stop at Michael’s on the way home and renovate my apartment. By the end of the presentation she’d filled our heads with so much information we were speechless. She gave us a packet of quotes, a reading list, articles, and a list of trends so thick that they will probably no longer be future trends by the time I’m done with it but established realities. Thanks, Marita!
Next up was a meeting with four of the artists and writers. On the way there we walked past the Hallmark library which contains art and design books that creatives can use for inspiration. We also passed their glass-walled art supply room which was overflowing with ribbons and bows and glitter. It made me want to wrap something. I’m glad there weren’t any craft bloggers in the group because they would have been slobbering up against the window panes or falling onto the floor in rapture at the presence of so much free tacky glue. The writers and artists seemed to really love their job, which is ultimately about expressing what people don’t know how to express. Hey, what’s the like? Blogging, perhaps? I hadn’t really thought much about the greeting card industry before, but as they said, it’s their job to step into relationships and help people communicate who otherwise can’t. When you put it that way your realize it’s a bit more important than slapping ink and glitter on paper.
Then we had a snack break where they gave us bags of M&M’s with the Hallmark logo on them. How much does that cost and can I do it with my own logo?
We gave them feedback on some things they’re developing and grabbed free swag off of a table. Then we said our thank you’s and good-byes and headed back to the airport in a limo.
I swear I really got to ride in the limo and not the shuttle bus behind it. Beverly has the video to prove it. If you travel in a pack with enough bloggers, it is assured that enough of them will be taking pictures and posting them on Flickr that there is no need for you to bring your own camera. They will document your life for you, like a wedding photographer who you don’t even have to pay.
As I sat in the airport waiting for my flight home, I have to admit I was very impressed with Hallmark. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I flew out to this convention. I was worried I’d be stuck in uncomfortable meetings with fake, plastic sales people trying to get us to hawk their latest products, but it was not like that at all. I tend to think of Hallmark as my mother’s store, but this event showed them to be very forward thinking. They are definitely open to new ideas and trends, hence the launch of the new Journeys line of cards that cover topics that have only been vaguely covered in cards before. I’m pretty sure if these cards had existed when I started losing weight my mom would have sent one along with those yellow roses she gave me.
They also really did their homework. Every person I met had read or was at least familiar with my blog. I need to go back through my site logs and see how many Hallmark employees have been trolling the blog lately. Even if they haven’t figured out this whole blogging thing yet, they are trying to. I appreciate that a lot and find it unusual in a corporation of their size. Shoebox Greetings (a tiny, little division of Hallmark) which does the funny cards has even started a blog called Tiny Little Division that’s pretty funny.
It was nice attending this event, not just because of the limos and the sushi and the M&M’s, but because it gave me a boost of creative spirit. Hallmark has one of the largest creative departments of any company and seeing so many people excited and enthusiastic about their jobs reinvigorates me to do the same in my own work. Big thanks to everyone who was involved in planning this event!
Now, for the part I know you all are really waiting for. Free swag!
I was just barely able to pack all the stuff they gave me into the empty space in my carry-on luggage. I’ve divided up the loot into four prize packs. One is a set of 18 (Product) Red Christmas cards. The other three are variety packs I sorted into one gallon plastic bags, some of which play music when you open them. The Christmas cards say “Let’s give less stuff, and share more love. Let’s be the peace, we’re dreaming of. Happy Holidays.” Okay, I’ll get right to that giving less stuff part after this contest is over.
To enter to win any of these prizes (or if you just really need a one gallon zip-lock plastic bag), comment on this entry before 11:59 p.m. November 2nd, 2007 (Friday night) with either the words “Xmas” or “Variety” or both, depending on which prizes you are interested in. US residents only please. Sorry, foreigners! I’m covering shipping myself and I can’t handle the fees to Australia or Chile. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners. Please comment with a valid e-mail address so I can contact you. If your e-mail bounces, I’m giving your cards and goodwill to somebody else. Good luck!