The Letter: 10 Songs About Mail, the Written Word and the USPS

Mail and Music

Despite the ease of digital mail, it cannot quite match the impact of the arrival of a handwritten letter. While the USPS struggles through some very difficult economic times in the digital age, it has stood tall in our cultural history in fiction, film and song. Many dramas have arisen about our communications through the mail: waiting for the mail to arrive with an answer, a missed letter with a life-changing message, the dilemna of whether a lack of communication is the post office’s fault or signifies something bigger. Just like our previous blog post about Print, Paper & Ink in popular song, below are some classic evidence of the role mail and letter writing plays in our culture.

Please Read the Letter – Robert Plant & Alison Krause (2008)

Beautiful, haunting song named Record of the Year at the 2009 Grammys. Originally recorded by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Plant claimed the lyrics are an “unfinished business.” No USPS involved in delivering this letter however; the narrator just nailed it to the door.

Box Full of Letters – Wilco (1995)

Gotta box full of letters – and not enough time to answer all the questions. Same feeling we get now with an inbox full of email, but it just doesn’t inspire the same musical feeling that snail mail does somehow.

Strawberry Letter 23 – The Brothers Johnson (1977)

Known as the most sampled song in hip hop music, I remember this hit from high school. Seems the author was so moved by the strawberry scented paper on which a girlfriend wrote to him, that this song was born. A trippy, psychedelic imagery fills the lyrics about this 22nd letter, the title suggesting he’s waiting on the next delivery.


Anchorage – Michelle Shocked (1988)

In the lyrics, two friends on very different paths separated by a “burning bridge” catch up via the USPS. A letter is sent to Dallas, “but the reply came from Anchorage, Alaska.” Le Roy’s wife must have used the Change of Address service!

Sep ’88 “Anchorage” hits Billboard Top 100 from Michelle Shocked on Vimeo.

The Letter – Joe Cocker (1970)

Originally recorded by the Box Tops, I just like Joe Cocker’s gravelly-voiced version from his album “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” better. This was Cocker’s first Top 10 hit in America. The lyrics illustrate our deep cultural belief in the right letter arriving at the right time and it’s ability to change someone’s life. A missed email doesn’t seem to have the same built-in drama of a misplaced or misdelivered letter.

You Wear it Well – Rod Stewart (1972)

The entire lyrics are a handwritten apology to a lost love, from the man who blew it in Minnesota. He says he’s been meaning to phone, but “Now I’m eating my heart out, trying to get a letter through.” (Check out the great violin solo from Dick Powell.)

Take a Letter Maria – R.B. Greaves (1969)

R.B. Greaves, the nephew of legendary singer Sam Cooke, hopefully did not write this song from real life experience… a terrible story about a businessman dictating a letter to his secretary to break up with his wife whom he had just caught cheating, then asking the secretary out for a drink. My bet is Maria said “No!”

Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) – Stevie Wonder (1970)

Enjoy Stevie on The Dick Cavett Show singing his first hit he produced himself. A classic.

All My Loving – The Beatles (1963)

Early Beatles at their best. “I’ll write home everyday, and I’ll send all my loving to you.”

Letter to Me – Brad Paisley (2007)

We have to include one from the country world. The USPS hasn’t mastered this delivery service yet, however: “If I could write a letter to me/ and send it back in time to myself at 17…”


Some obvious examples not on our list include: “Return to Sender” by Elvis, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” by Fats Waller, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter from Camp)” by Allen Sherman, and of course, “Please Mr. Postman” by The Carpenters, The Marvelettes, The Beatles and many others. Not favorites of mine, so they didn’t make the list.

The post office also honors the music industry. Check out the USPS stamp series, Legends of Rock & Roll/Rhythm & Blues from 1993, and order the 2014 Rock Icons series here, featuring Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Lydia Mendoza, Edith Piaf and Miles Davis.


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Posters: Print as Art, Political Player and Cultural Icon

La beaute est dans la rue

Posters are a uniquely powerful form of media with a brilliant cultural history. They have weilded political power, changed minds and attitudes, and served as influential icons of art, politics and popular culture. Think of the “Wanted” posters of Depression-era gangsgters, movie posters from the golden age of the silver screen, and political posters from every campaign since the press was invented. In the digital age, posters have proven no less powerful –  the Obama “HOPE” posters or the art generated by the Occupy movements. Look around town at the musical, political and social events being advertised in shop windows and on phone poles. The poster is alive and well and as intersting as ever.

Seventies iconic posters

I grew up in the 1970s and was thinking about the popularity of posters in that day — check out a few examples above. Everyone I knew had their room decorated with posters of rock stars or television or movie heroes. I assume that pretty much holds true today as well? Every trip to a store like Sears or the local record store back then included browsing through the hinged display frames of posters to see what would look great on your bedroom or dorm wall. Probably the most famous poster of that era was Farrah Fawcett’s red swimsuit poster. From a photo taken in her back yard, 12 million copies were sold. My bedroom wall back in those times had posters of Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and Paul McCartney.

Check out some influential posters that have now been curated as art: posters from the 1968 protest uprisings in Paris designed by the “People’s Studio” (artists mostly from the Paris School of Fine Arts); and David King’s collection of revolutionary and avant-garde posters at the Tate Modern in London. Print is powerful!

Rely on your printer for advice and direction in creating and distributing posters of your own. Advertize an upcoming event, promote your business or your politics, or generate your own cultural meme! The poster is everyman’s media for self expression. To get yours produced and seen,  the best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Print, Globalization & A Little Green Bug from China

A little green bug and a global print market

A little green bug from China really got me thinking about small business and the new globalization of marketing.

Wide format printing of banners, signs, floor murals, POP displays, outdoor signage, wall decor and other graphic displays keeps our Mutoh printer very busy. Rush orders are no problem, and we often rely on overnight shipping to get the media delivered to the shop on time for an order. One such material that was overnighted recently was a vinyl banner material that is great for outdoor displays. The original manufacturer of the material is, according to the product descriptions, in China. While I’m sure the matierial is usually sitting in a middle-man’s warehouse somewhere, theoretically it could come directly from China to our shop floor in a matter of days.

This material is wound onto a core and comes in 150 yard lengths. But the factory in China must lack screens on its windows, because we’ve noticed that on the back side of this material there is often the occansional squashed little green bug that got caught up in the material as it was wound onto the core. With close inspection you can make out the bright green body, mosquito-like wings and huge round eyes that still seem to be putting the brakes on mid-flight.

Now my first thought on seeing the bug is that it’s no surprise how quickly a mosquito-born disease could potentially travel worldwide. But outside the worries of public health, this little Chinese bug points out the interconnectedness of the entire world in a business relationship. That global connection effects each of us as consumers and in business. Today, the market for all of us, just like for the factory with no screens in China, is worldwide. The internet and global communications have increased your potential market to any extent you can imagine. As a printer, out next job could come just as easily from across the street as across the globe.

Integrating your marketing to include web-based and mobile outreach as well as mail, print, and signage in a coordinated effort can open up that new world of potential customers for you. It is a daunting task for an already busy small business owner.  The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER! They are the experts at introducing you to marketing innovations and working with you to direct your brand and reach to more people, locally or globally.


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

10 Tips for a Great Multipurpose Newsletter

10 Tips for Great Newsletters

In a steady, pervasive way, our economy has shifted from one where the greatest value is produced in the manufacture of goods and services to one where the greatest value is mined from data, ideas and knowledge. In such an information age, being generous with your knowledge and expertise carries a great reward. Get that information, advice, data and news out to your public with a newsletter – one that is printed, mailed and cross-purposed into an e-mail resource. You can compile the newsletter from your online blog content, or work in reverse… build your blog with the information you have gathered for your newsletter communications. While information about sales, new product lines and commerce is important, the talent and technical education you and your staff have in your field is perhaps even more valuable to your clients. Sharing it with them will make you trusted and remembered.

Content is king

For sure, all of this can be time-consuming. As small business owners, that time is precious and often scarce both for you and your staff. To help, below are some helpful tips for gathering and preparing great newsletter content.

  1. Name your newsletter. You don’t have to be overly catchy or clever, but think of your newsletter as your own magazine, with a unique title and a clear editorial focus. A suitable, memorable name will allow it to stand out and be recognized once you have loyal readers.
  2. Share your personality. No matter how clinical or technical your field, relay your excitement and interest in what you do for a living in a human voice. Inject your personality into the copy and let readers feel there is a person behind what is being written. Consider including a photo of yourself or your staff as well to establish that human connection with your readers.
  3. Write what you know – use who you know. The information you already possess in running your successful business is your richest source for content. Write about your company’s mission, goals, decision making process, failures and successes. And be sure to rely on your staff as well. Every employee is a source for topic ideas and stories based on their unique experience and knowledge within the company. At the very least, require each employee to submit one story idea a month. Make contacts with other industry blogs online and ask to “guest-blog” an article for them in exchange for one of their own.
  4. Take lots of photos – use them wisely. While stock photography serves a great purpose, nothing is more authentic than photographs you have taken yourself of relevant scenes, people, and products. Since you most likely have a great camera in your smartphone, remember to use it throught your work day. They can be used to illustrate your articles.
  5. Establish serialized columns. Familiarity is an asset when you are vying for a reader’s time. Set up one or two features that appear in every issue of your newsletter. For instance, “FAQ’s” or “Did You Know….” or “Ask an Expert” are all regular column ideas that people are comfortable with and can easily browse.
  6. Write smart headlines. To catch someone’s eye, headlines and graphics are at the top of the list. But remember a good headline also needs to accurately describes the topic of the article. I notice many publications rely on an incessant use of puns, song and movie titles or catchy “plays on words” as headlines. For instance, a story wind velocity and roof repair gets called “Gone With the Wind.” Is it really that funny? No. Does it explain what the article is about? Well, beyond the fact that it involves wind, no. It’s clear an editorial choice has been made that requires each article use this device as a headline. It becomes tiresome and misleading. A great pun can work well as a headline – feel free to get creative – but straight talk can also do the job.
  7. Be accessbile. Use your newsletter to provide as many ways as possible for someone to reach you: phone numbers, web addresses and links, maps to your locations both online and in the real world. Let people know you want them to be in touch.
  8. Do not think of your newsletter as a piece of paper. Yes, you will want to print, mail and distribute physical copies of your newsletters to employees, current clients and the public. But begin to think of the newsletter as the information itself. It will take the form of a printed piece, but can also be repurposed into blog posts, e-newsletters, and website information. Just be sure to learn the rules for email marketing and don’t let yourself inadvertently run afoul of the CAN-SPAM act.
  9. Employ social media and the internet. Staying in touch with your industry peers online through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and relevant trade association or industry websites provides you with a wealth of topic information and inspiration for your content, as well as serving as an avenue to promote your newsletter/blog/website. Check out exmples of other newsletters and a plethora of blog posts like this one giving advice on how to write, design and distribute your newsletters. Stay connected.
  10. Be consistent. If you plan to publish a monthly newsletter, stick to your schedule. Do not miss a month, especially early on when you are hoping to gain reader loyalty. Also, be consistent in your editorial approach.

Rely on your printer for advice and direction in creating and distributing your newsletters, by mail or online. They should be able to provide you with everything from encouragement all the way to the complete design, layout, copywriting, production, multi-purposing and distribution of your periodic marketing outreach. If they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Getting Ready for Big Data: Take a Look at Your Mail List

Mail Lists, Databases and Big Data

Our privacy is shrinking… or at least our concept of privacy is certainly evolving into something new in a world where just about everything we do, think, read, buy, eat, spend, or consume is digitally tracked. In such a world, your small business database of information on your customers is gold. It is not only how you stay in contact with clientele for invoicing, shipping, and marketing, but in the new world of “BIG DATA” it will increasingly define your profits and growth. Up until now, your data on each customer might be as straightforward as name, address and phone number or email. But as progress continues, you will be presented with the opportunity to gather FAR more data on individuals such as purchasing history, income, political and social affiliations, their avenues of consuming information and purchasing goods, their interests, dislikes, lifestyle and so on. Being able to organize, interpret and manipulate this data for more effective marketing will be at the core of your business’ success.

For now, even if your database is essentially a spreadsheet with customers and their contact information, spending the time to get all this information correct, organized, delimited and “usable” for various marketing efforts is time well spent. Standardization for every entry and every category of information is critical. If you have many folks all entering data into your system about customers or transactions, they all need to be doing so in the exact same way… the “rules” need to all be standardized so that, for instance Mary J. Sawyer, Mrs. MJ Sawyer, Ms. M. Jane Sawyer, Sawyer Mary J., and M. J. Sawyer are not all entered in your database like 5 different people! At a very basic level, that is an important first step.

We do mailings and variable data printing for many clients, and to receive what could be called “clean” data for a mailing is truly the exception rather than the rule. We have methods to “correct” and clean up data, but the sad part of that is usually clients do not want the “new”, corrected data back… so the errors continue to live and repeat in their database – a costly shame.

When you do a mailing, the USPS requires that the address information meet NCOA requirements. NCOA is the National Change of Address program that makes available to mailers the last 48 months of updated addresses where folks have moved or changed address. It flags duplicates and corrects out-of-date address information. Further sorting and certification software for mailing will standardize address spelling, zip codes, street numbers and other inaccurate information. But it is essential that once you have paid your printer or mailhouse to correct and use your database list for a mailing, that you recover that new information and reintegrate it into your database. It is the first step toward “cleaning house” and starting a good first step into the world of “big data” manipulation.

Be sure to ask your printer about how to best streamline the process of supplying your mailing list to them AS WELL AS them returning the corrected, updated list back for reintegration into your database. They will help you set up a routine that makes the file transfer flawless and easy. The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.