Tom Schwendler is a freelance communications consultant with more than 30 years’ experience in corporate communications, including at General Electric. His first book – Love in a Suitcase – unpacks the wisdom from hundreds of handwritten love letters from the 1940’s. We caught up with Tom so he could share some of his expertise, and tell us what inspired him to write a book about the handwritten letters he found.
Tom, as a communications expert, what would you say is most important when it comes to having impactful communication?
There are many factors. First, it’s important to know your audience. That will influence not only what you say but also the channels you use to deliver your messages. It all starts with having a good communication plan that lays out who will communicate to whom, when, and how.
What would your guiding principles be?
#1: All communication is local. When it comes to communicating on global themes or messages, people want to know “what does this mean to me?” You have to make it personal. One way to do that is to “put a face on it,” which is a good storytelling technique used by the media or by companies which use testimonials. Use of handwriting can do that too.
Why do you think that is?
It’s personal. And it’s appreciated now more than ever. Psychologist Deborah Smith told the Huffington Post last year that “a carefully crafted, handwritten letter really stands out against the backdrop of Zoom calls and What’s App chats.” Sure, she was talking about personal letters, but customers are people too. I read one report that handwritten notes have a 300% higher open rates and a 20-50% higher response rate (vs. printed mail and email.)
Did you use handwritten notes in your time at GE?
Note cards were actually included in a Managers Toolkit that was focused on how-to engage with employees. One low or no-cost way of showing appreciation of an employees is to send them a “thank you” which means a whole lot more when people take the time to write it on paper or say it publicly.
Are there any other benefits of a handwritten note beyond personalization?
It’s a good way to grab someone’s attention because letter writing has become a lost art. You have to get noticed before you can get someone to read you messages whether that’s through the use of graphics or headlines or clever phrase. For some companies, a handwritten letter can be an extension of their brand.
Your upcoming book 'Love in a Suitcase' shows us what you learnt from hundreds of love letters you found between your aunt and uncle. What was your initial reaction to finding them?
I was kinda thrilled to get an insight into their relationship in such a special way.
What inspired you to write a book about them?
I learned a lot of great lessons on life from my aunt and uncle and, putting my writers hat on, I wondered, ‘how can I categorise them so they can be useful?' I wanted to help transfer some of these analogue experiences to the digital age.
What did you learn from reading hundreds of love letters for your book?
I realized that handwritten letters are the gold standard as a meaningful format and channel of communication.
And finally, any advice for letter writers?
Just sit down and write. Try to write like you speak. I’ll even help you get started. Start with this: “Dear…”
'Love in a Suitcase' is set for release on May 1st 2021. Till then, you can find Tom over at revtomschwendler.com, or stay tuned for more collaboration between Tom and Scribeless!