Thursday, January 18, 2007

Never Underestimate the Power of the Staple Gun

This piece recently appeared in my DIY column in Alarm magazine.

Long before the world went digital, before creative and marketing tasks were performed online, the DIY entrepreneur had one rough & tumble, indispensable piece of equipment: The Staple Gun!

Think about it. How do you get warm bodies to show up to see your band? How do you advertise a yard sale, massage services, a second hand store, a screen-printing business? You run off a couple hundred flyers, grab your trusty staple gun, and head out into the hood to spread the word. True, you will post to Craigslist (and other on line locations), you will email friends and send a stack of postcards. But don’t forget to paper the town with fliers if you want results.

Veterans of the postering trade know where the most productive forests of phone poles are found, they know what bulletin boards will yield the biggest crop of fresh faced college kids swilling cheap beer at the gig. They also know where the cops will chase you away, where the retailers will yell at you for defacing their precious avenue. Sure, every kid with a stack of posters and a staple gun knows they are, in fact, littering. An etiquette of sorts is observed. Most will pick up old, worn fliers that have fallen by the wayside and stick them in the trash, and most will not paper over an obviously new flier.

The fact is, it is necessary to be tough minded out there when postering, if not downright brazen. It’s normal to feel self-conscious about sticking fliers on every phone poll on a crowded street in a thickly packed urban neighborhood, or university enclave. Get over it! If you are trying to make a living, trying to drive a crowd to an event, trying to make the phone ring, recognize that you are a warrior on a mission. You are trying to stay alive; the fliers must go up! One note: try to avoid that hitter of stinky green bud before setting out on your mission—you’ll feel a lot less self conscious if your not laced to the gills on thunderfuck weed! And, you can reward your self by taking a little lift when you get home, if that’s your thing.

I came at my relationship with the staple gun and postering from an oblique angle. As a painting student at the University of Massachusetts on a budget, I purchased my first staple gun in order to stretch my own canvases. From the get go, I really liked the thing, an Arrow model painted industrial blue, it was a simple, elegant machine that perfectly executed the job it was designed for.

Upon graduation, faced with the horrid reality of working full time for minimum wage (the fate of many a painting student!), I turned to T Shirt printing to pony together the few bucks I needed to survive at the time. The T Shirt trade provided me with ample beer and date money as an undergraduate, so I dove back in. It was the path of least resistance between hunger and a burrito in my belly.

As I built up my clientele, I explored every avenue open to the low budget entrepreneur for getting the word out: Postcard mailings, postering, small ads in weekly or college papers, cold calling (yeccch!), and so on. Over time, I found postering to be one of the most reliable ways of attracting new clients—I actually got The Residents as a shirt client that way, as their merch person saw a flier on a phone pole near her house! I did their shirts for about nine years, and it was fun and challenging to produce their spectacular designs.

As a dedicated cartoonist, plying the T Shirt trade has always been a secondary concern for me. A cash cow, if you will. That being the case, I’ve had a tendency to do just enough commercial work to pay the bills, and spend most of my time making comics. There have been many times where, lifting my head from an obsessive bout of cartooning, I would notice I was down to about enough money for, say, two beers and clean laundry. In times like this I would dust off the trusty staple guy, grab a stack of my ever-present fliers, and head out to do battle.

I’d relocated by Oakland by then, and I knew my way around every nook and cranny of Oakland and Berkeley’s phone poles and bulletin boards. It would take most of a day and about 250 fliers to do the justice to the totality of the East Bay. Let me tell you, it is serious grunt work. But after making those rounds, I would feel relaxed enough about my economic prospects to quaff a cold one, nip a hit of bud, and uncork my ink bottle for another round of cartooning. In due time, the phone would ring, shirts would be printed, and more burritos would appear on my table!

These days, with the splendid power of Google Adwords and a million other digital and online tools at my disposal, the trusty staple gun rarely gets a workout. But I plan to dust it off soon, as I’ve lined up a couple punky power pop bands to play the publishing party for my new graphic novel. If I want to drive a crowd to the gig, I better head out to the streets with my staple gun and a stack of fliers.

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