Friday, June 21, 2013

Strategic Partnering: A Special Interview with Katherine Dikeakos, Marketing Manager for The Madison Park Group

As part of our Seattle and Washington State On the Road tour we are publishing an interview we did with Seattle-based The Madison Park Group, a classy manufacturing company that, with its partner companies, sells a wide range of stationery, gift, and accessory products to over 6,000 retailers across the country. Many of their products are also available via distributors in other countries including Canada, England, Australia, Japan and New Zealand.

I met with the lovely Katherine Dikeakos, Marketing Manager of The Madison Park Group while I was at the Surtex show in New York city this past May and walked their beautiful booth at the National Stationary Show. She graciously allowed me to take a couple of pictures of their colorful paper products.

Tell us a little about yourself, The Madison Park Group and its philosophy as a company: The history of The Madison Park Group can be traced back to 1977 when Judi Jacobsen began one of the earliest specialty greeting card companies in the USA. Now run by Judi's son Brian and his childhood friend, Glen Biely, The Madison Park Group has expanded through a unique business model of partnering with other companies in the industry via strategic manufacturing and distribution arrangements. Each partner company retains ownership, branding and creative control while benefiting from The Madison Park Group's infrastructure, sourcing, sales, marketing and industry expertise.

Tell us a little about your company selection process: We cull new artists through a variety of ways: self-submissions, artist agents, Surtex and keeping in touch with our local Seattle artists. We license existing artwork and commission new illustrations for card ranges and collections and are always on the lookout for the next new look.

What makes for a great art collection? For every release we select a range of styles for balance; gauging general send-ability, giftiness, whether it's on trend or modern traditional. We need to make sure the line remains diverse and fresh – which for us usually means incorporating lots of color. When we talk about send-ability and giftiness we're making sure that the art/designs we choose are ones that we believe our audience will be excited about and (most importantly) purchase. When speaking about greeting cards that means finding art and pairing it with text that create a product people will buy and send (aka 'sendability'). It's similar with 'giftiness' — we always ask ourselves 'will our target market like this design enough to buy it?'

What is the typical production timeline from the initial art selection to product arrival in stores? What are the various stages of the process, and which ones do you like to have the licensing artist involved in? We kick off a release about 6-8 months in advance. We brainstorm new product ideas we want to incorporate in the release. Once that's finalized we decide on the best art/artist for each format to create cohesive collections. We work with artists anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months on artwork for card ranges or dimensional items.

What are some of your favorite design trends right now? Our art department loves hand drawn, quirky but pretty, simple art with touches of humor, Kawaii (still) and designs with subtle mid-century nods.

Can you offer any advice to new artists wanting to break into the industry, and more specifically, advice for working with your company? We do look at all submissions! The most important piece of advice we can give is to know your audience. Study what a company currently carries and align your offerings accordingly. Be thoughtful about your choices for submission. We ask that you try to customize what you send so we can tell you put thought and effort into your submission. It's also incredibly helpful to have an active blog or website so that additional artwork and information is easily accessible and you're just a click away.

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