Hot in Cleveland: Whether it's Graphic Design Or tracking down thieves, Hotcards does it their way

This April,, the Cleveland-based marketing firm and printing company, moved to a 22,000 square-foot facility on Superior Ave. The company has personalized the space, with speakers piping in dance music and a mural of innovation idol Steve Jobs decorating the wall, but move hasn't been without its hiccups.

Hotcards maintains an open-door policy that allows clients to stop in and talk in-person with designers and reps about what they want of their next set of business cards, fliers, promotional t-shirts, whatever. But three weeks ago, this openness was abused by an unidentified man who came in off the street and stole a bicycle from the rack in their lobby, brazenly in sight of the then-unattended receptionists' desk.

However, ever the promoters, the company turned the heist into something of a viral event, producing a "Hotcards Most Wanted" video with Purple Films, the production company they collaborate with and lease space to.

The video offered a bounty of 500 business cards to anyone who could offer information leading to the apprehension of the marauding cyclist. But besides marshaling the foot soldiers of justice and cardio, Hotcards disclosed a lot about its culture. Its staff is willing to roll with punches and laugh at itself. And it's aggressive at what it sets itself to: rather than just wait for law enforcement to do its job, they publicized their perp's face, packaged in a John Walsh parody. They might be described as cheerfully relentless.

CEO John Gadd says that his organization has a "well-defined culture" that seeks out people of its own kind. "We're obsessed with customers, very optimistic, and very hardworking," Gadd says.

Utterances of the word "obsessive" usually conjure up associations of introverts exhausting themselves at some eccentric project whose motivations are best understood by themselves. But Hotcards is appropriating the word for its outgoing, Type-A, 5-Hour Energy-buzzed self. Gadd relates the story of a client, the owner of a chain of restaurants in Michigan, who turned in their files for an order of promotional materials late on a Friday afternoon. The literature needed to be delivered by Monday. Hotcards stayed up all night printing, and then drove the shipment to the client's 33 locations throughout Michigan.

Gadd says that this sort of fanaticism is something that it seeks out in hires, and that he couldn't cultivate it if he tried.

"You can't teach people to be this way, but you can reinforce it, and teach certain actions," Gadd says.

At the same time, Gadd insists Hotcards cannot be, nor does it want to be, "all things to all people." This means that Hotcards stands by the product line its worked hard to develop: business cards, postcards, flyers, and websites. Probably the most successful products are the self-named "hotcards," which can serve as business cards or promotional literature, printable in any size, and with an assortment of stocks and coatings.  

Though Gadd says that his designers will make something new for each client, what is made will be made within the boundaries of their tried-and-true products. However, these outlines are broad enough to meet diverse needs. Gadd suggests they're met so well, that they can inspire loyalties clients don't even realize they have.

He is tickled by one anecdote about overhearing buyers approaching their competitors and asking about their "hot card" offerings.

"It's awesome. The more people we can have calling our competitors and talking about hot cards, that's great branding," Gadd says.

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