Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Variety Nurtures Creativity at Greeting Card Companies They'll Try Anything from Ceramics to Hip TV Shows

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Variety Nurtures Creativity at Greeting Card Companies They'll Try Anything from Ceramics to Hip TV Shows

Article excerpt

In a large studio at the headquarters of Hallmark Cards Inc., Robert Hurlburt bent over a potter's wheel.

His fingers stained with clay, his face clenched in concentration, Hurlburt was completely out of his element.

And in his 17 years at Hallmark, he had never been happier.

A metal engraver by trade, Hurlburt was in the midst of a three-month rotation into an artist's heaven - a carte blanche to do whatever he wanted to regenerate his creative spirit.

After three weeks in the ceramics shop, Hurlburt was producing pots and vases that looked like the work of a professional. His work likely will only end up on a shelf at his home, but if Hurlburt's mood is any indication, Hallmark is likely to see a payoff when he returns to his regular duties.

"It's given me an opportunity to get back to thinking wild, crazy things," he said.

Keeping its artists and writers happy and creative is a top priority at Hallmark, the nation's largest greeting card seller with $3.4 billion in sales last year. For this Father's Day, Americans will snap up some 99 million cards; Hallmark traditionally captures about 42 percent of the market.

Sabbaticals like Hurlburt's are only one way Hallmark tries to help workers be creative.

Staffers can desert Hallmark's midtown Kansas City headquarters for a downtown loft, where teams of writers and artists get away from phones to exchange ideas. They may spend days in retreat at a farm in nearby Kearney, Mo., taking part in fun exercises such as building birdhouses.

Some go farther afield, sent by the company on trips overseas to soak up atmosphere and culture. Not all the methods are high-budget; for the creators of the irreverent Shoebox line, there are free movie passes and daily screenings of the hippest TV shows.

Hallmark isn't the only greeting company that makes a special effort to nurture its creative staff. …

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