Ideas can spark from anywhere, even from cupcakes. When Skip Foster, publisher of the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat, attended a local chamber of commerce conference recently, a speaker by the name of Johnny Cupcakes presented his business strategy to the audience. In his presentation, Cupcakes—whose real name is Johnny Earle and he sells t-shirts, not cupcakes—mentioned how he signs customers’ packages personally.
A light bulb went off in Foster’s head: What if the Democrat staff sent handwritten thank you notes to each of its print subscribers? That’s 24,000 subscribers, which would take about three years to complete, Foster said.
For the past few months, Foster and about a quarter of the staff have been writing one thank you note to a customer five-days-a-week. The notes are inserted in the newspaper by carriers, starting with the paper’s longest subscribers.
“It’s divided by route and then prioritized by loyalty…I don’t think it’s scientific, other than you don’t want to dump them all on one route in one week, so it’s spread out among all the different routes,” Foster said.
For him, it was important that his staff complete the task voluntary. “I told them, not only am I not pressuring you to do this, I really don’t want you to do this if you don’t want to do it…because I want you to fulfill the commitment.”
Each card is handwritten with no template for what Democrat employees write. However, each card must include their name, what they do at the paper and contact information to reach them if the customer has any questions, concerns or story tips.
Foster said readers have taken notice. “Every time I see somebody at rotary (they say), ‘Hey I haven’t gotten my note yet.’ So I have to say, well anytime between now and 2019.”
Foster said getting staff from different departments to work together has also been an important factor. “You might get a note from an ad rep; you might get a note from the school’s reporter. That’s the beauty of this thing; you have all departments participating.”
While Foster admits the biggest challenge has been the long undertaking, this project, he said, is like planting crops. “You don’t put the seed in the ground and rip off a piece of corn the next day. I think we’re just sprinkling a lot of seeds out there, and we’ll see what bears fruit…Something worth doing takes time and effort. If it were too easy…then it wouldn’t really be noteworthy.”