My most recent travels took me to Hallmark’s hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, where I lived for seventeen years, bought my first home, made forever friends, gave birth to three children, and built a rewarding career that shaped me as a leader and taught me how to dream.
I flew in from Dallas to attend Hallmark’s Creative Leadership Symposium – a day-long conference held in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, one of Kansas City’s most breathtaking structures and home to all manners of creative brilliance. The wide-open spaces were flooded with sunshine, thanks to walls of windows that appear to stretch to the sky. There were over 900 people present, including Hallmark’s creative team, key business partners, members of Kansas City’s local creative community, and the media.
The theme of the event was We are One. Threads carefully woven together to convey this theme ranged from creating a winning culture to collaborative economics. As with any creative encounter, what you get out of an experience like this depends on your mindset going in.
I’ve been a Hallmarker (as we affectionately call ourselves) for almost twenty years. A lot has changed since I started as a greeting card writer all those years ago, not only for me, but also for our business. Computers, mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…you know the drill.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by competitive threats when you represent a high touch product in a high tech world. Technology has certainly changed the game. If you’d asked me twenty years ago whether I would have sent the equivalent of an email to express my sympathy after a significant loss, I would have looked at you sideways. And yet, today, we do this and more in spaces that didn’t even exist when Hallmark became a household name. When I was trained, there were universal truths we relied on to meet consumers’ emotional needs. If we’re honest, some of those truths are no longer true. And the formulas…well, many don’t matter like they used to. Which begs the question – what does matter?
What makes something Hallmark? Is it the words? Design? The use? The quality? The brand? Is it the institutional knowledge about who we are as relational beings, why and how we care for each other, and what tools we might use to express our caring in ways we can’t do on our own? Is it merely the inspiration for some who actually can do it on their own, but want ideas for how to do so uniquely?
What makes it Hallmark when there are so many ways to say Happy Birthday? I miss you? I need you? I support you? I accept you? I love you? I believe in you? I forgive you?
I walked out of the symposium moved by a declaration that time and space had somehow allowed me to shelve. The people in that room? They make it Hallmark. Not with formulas or once-reliable universal truths. But with empathy. With new twists on the familiar. With deep belief that tangible expression is worth savoring.
In my nightstand, I keep every card my husband ever gave me. I don’t keep them because I need proof of his love for me. I keep them because they chronicle our relationship. The cards tell my very favorite story, over the course of anniversaries, birthdays, Mother’s Days, and ordinary days. It’s not the same as scrolling through my newsfeed. In each card, I can touch the page where he touched it. I can trace the words he wrote. I can see the sentences he underlined, adding emphasis to specific messages he wanted to be sure I received.
I love social media. It’s fun and timely and entertaining, and I’ve seen it do a lot of good in the world. But I also love holding in my hands an array of love letters that remind me I am worth the time, the search, the personal touch, and yes – the thought – a paper card requires. The world has indeed changed, and we must change with it. But some things remain…and personally, I’m glad Hallmark is one of them.
Thanks for the reminder, Hallmark. It was a good day.
Tara Jaye Frank is Corporate Culture Advisor for Hallmark Cards, Inc. and the author of Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, written to help women from all cultural backgrounds chart a career course they can believe in and achieve. Follow her on Twitter @tarajfrank, Instagram @tarajayefrank, Facebook at Facebook/tarajayefrank, or visit her at tarajayefrank.com.