Unconventional Mailers: Boosting Economic Development Marketing Impact

By Andrew Davies

Maintaining top-of-mind awareness is crucial in the field of economic development marketing, just as it is in direct-to-consumer advertising. This is why an unconventional mailer can be a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal.

For economic development marketers, maintaining a good relationship with site selectors, local businesses and supporters is a large part of the job. But thanks to a far wider range of channels and media than ever before, the noise can be pretty deafening. Sometimes going a little old school can help. Taking a step back to embrace a more traditional approach can yield unexpected rewards – the kind that makes someone pause and truly take notice. 

However, it’s not merely about temptation or luring recipients into opening an email or letter. It’s about something more profound, as Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Content Marketing Institute, aptly puts it:

Temptation isn’t enough. It’s not about how we tempt customers to open a letter or email or anything else. It’s about how we as marketers can deliver ongoing information to our customers that make them more intelligent… it’s about communicating a message that says, “Regardless of whether you buy from me or not, you need this information. Enjoy!”

This is where the idea of using physical mailers comes into play – a strategy that goes beyond the conventional and ventures into the realm of the memorable, especially in the crowded waters of economic development marketing.

A Holiday Mailer when you least expect it.

Top-of-mind awareness is critical in business, and certainly for those competing to bring commerce to their communities. In the economic development field, location shortlists are almost always established long before any organizations are ever even contacted. In order to make those lists, you have to be part of their go-to toolbox.

Long-time client, the Savannah Economic Development Authority helps businesses move to, and succeed in Savannah, Georgia. The organization, twice ranked as one of the best development groups in the country, has a solid track record. And, while the marketing efforts vary, SEDA’s goal is always to make the Savannah region stand out.

 We’ve worked on many mailing projects with them and we always get to pull out all the stops we do. But it’s not just show. We take a strategic communications approach, or as Karen Green manager of communication and outreach at the Renaissance Computing Institute at UNC puts it:

“…framing a discussion on topics and issues that are important to my organization in a way that gets the organization’s name out there. This in turn builds the organization’s reputation and street credibility.”

But there are no Christmas cards here. Rather, since 2007, SEDA has been sending out St Patrick’s Day and Thanksgiving holiday greetings to special economic development clients and prospects. 

Why these holidays? A couple of reasons:

Less competition means it’s easier to stand out

Everyone’s used to getting Christmas cards and corporate gifts. Eventually, they all blur together and, even though you enjoyed every last bite, you soon forget who sent which box of chocolates. But who gets special deliveries for St. Patrick’s Day or Thanksgiving? Not many, if any. So there’s no torrent of holiday mail to compete with making it easier for SEDA to stand out.

Generating Economic Development Buzz

When you get an unexpected gift in the mail it’s natural to want to share the story with your friends and colleagues. That’s exactly what happened with their clients when SEDA started sending St. Patrick’s Day and Thanksgiving mailers instead of the usual Christmas or generic Holiday messages. The buzz around their mailers grew so loud that there was now in anticipation surrounding receiving the gifts. Some even resorted to contacting SEDA asking “Where’s my mailer?” when, one year, the boxes were stalled in transit due to postal issues.  

Highlighting Savannah’s Uniqueness

If you’ve ever been to Savannah during St. Patrick’s Day then you’ll know why this is an especially apt, but unconventional, occasion to bring attention to the region. The math is a little fuzzy, but we host a top-three St. Paddys’ Day party by most reckoning. So sending a mailer to celebrate a particularly special day for Savannah is just ripe for attention-grabbing. Plus, the St. Patrick’s Day mailers each year spotlight a product made by a local business, and the Thanksgiving mailers are accompanied by a Pecan pie featuring Savannah’s famous pecans. 

Thanksgiving Economic Development Mailer Samples

SEDA’s Marketing team cleverly uses their Thanksgiving mailers to, well, say thanks. These gifts are sent to those they’ve worked with, or who have even considered working with SEDA over the past year. Because who doesn’t like a thank you? Right – that’s what we thought.

Thanksgiving pecan pie mailer with an interactive element. As the recipient rotated the handle, the disappearing pie revealed economic development messaging.
The inaugural Thanksgiving mailer started the tradition of sending a locally sourced pecan pie accompanied by a recipe for the dish. The card featured a bit of interactivity as the pie slicer element could swivel around revealing specific things SEDA was thankful for that year.
Cover of the pop-up Thanksgiving Day mailer that unfolded to reveal an oak tree.

One year SEDA decided to narrow the mailing list. Past recipients who had been cut called in wondering where their mailer was. Another year, when a fulfillment company handled the mailing, some companies received multiples and called anxiously wondering if someone else had missed out since they had received more than one. That’s right, even SEDA’s clients exemplify Southern Hospitality.

St. Patrick’s Day Economic Development Mailer Samples

One year we leaned into the more libacious aspects of St. Patrick’s Day and created a drink-of-the-month campaign that lasted an entire year. From one St. Paddy’s Day to the next, SEDA sent their friends a specially designed cocktail recipe card, complete with a branded folder to hold them all. We carefully chose cocktails that would highlight some aspect of life in Savannah, feature a local watering hole, and tie into the season of that month. 

This was an ambitious one! And sometimes (because we’re human too) some months mailed a hair later than others. And you know what? Folks were checking in to make sure they hadn’t fallen off the mailing list accidentally. That’s a great level of engagement! (And no expectations were dashed in the end, everyone got their full set!).

Cover of the St. Patrick's Day cocktail recipe mailer.
The initial mailer introducing the recipe-a-month concept came with a custom folder with which recipients could collect their cards.
Close up of the cocktail recipe calendar.

Continuing the “gifts you can consume” motif, in the following years SEDA has featured locally produced ice cream, coffee, spices, and BBQ sauce. All wrapped in custom-designed packaging that tie in with the theme of the year, but are still recognizably SEDA.

custom labeled BBQ sauce bottles.


Over the years it has become clear that SEDA’s clients, prospects, and supporters have come to actively look forward to seeing what unconventional gift SEDA is sending out this year. Due in no small part to the strategy of celebrating uncrowded holidays with thoughtful one-of-a-kind physical gifts. That’s a pretty valuable place to be with the people you’re talking to.