Thysse Interviews Agrace on Promotional Boxes

Agrace Recognizes All Staff With Self-Care Gift for 2020

Thysse’s Marketing Director, Jen Braga, interviews Agrace’s Director of Marketing and Communications, Liz Kopling, on her experience with the project.

Agrace approached Thysse with an opportunity for a brand new project: a custom gift box for all employees to recognize them for their dedication and contributions in 2020. From March-December, these team members faced enormous challenges to providing patient care and facilitating family communications, all while navigating a pandemic themselves. Agrace’s CEO Lynne Sexten wanted to share Agrace’s appreciation for employees’ perseverance and commitment to providing the best standard of care for Agrace patients. In mid-December, I had the opportunity to sit down with Liz Kopling, Director of Marketing and Communications, to talk through the entire process, and how it was received by staff.

Agrace custom gift box

Jen: What made Agrace want to do a custom gift for your team this year?

Liz: In my 10 years with Agrace, we’ve never done a company-wide gift on this scale before, it was a unique thought for 2020. The project was really a function of wanting to reach out and personally thank each employee and surround them with care and empathy. We have about 850 employees and this year has been hard on all of them. Many of our staff are in a clinical setting and had added challenges of adapting many types of patient care throughout the pandemic.

As months and months of the pandemic wore on, our CEO, Lynne Sexten, had the idea to do something that would make people understand how much we appreciate them. To show our gratitude for hanging with us through such a tough year.

“You cannot take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first.”

Liz Kopling, Agrace

Jen: What were some emotions or themes you wanted to capture with this box?

Liz: The theme of the package was committing to self-care and creating self-compassion. The idea of giving yourself grace and prioritizing taking care of ourselves. You cannot take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Each item was chosen to encourage taking breaks and participating in self-care in a way that was meaningful to them. We included items for work and home, to provide self-care opportunities throughout the day, in any setting.

Understanding that self-care is not always about self-reliance, we also included a list of resources for employee assistance, discounts and more.

Ultimately, we wanted to provide an experience that made them feel appreciated, understood, and valued.

Jen: The final box is made up of a few Thysse-sourced pieces and some with local flair. Can you talk through how you selected the items included?

Liz: The goal for the box was for items to be helpful and things that people would appreciate. We wanted them to be high quality and locally sourced when possible. Through employee connections, we sourced Madison-area companies to provide the tea and chocolate included in the baskets, (Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier and True Coffee Roasters). Thysse was a deliberate choice too, as you’re able to provide a local connection to help us source some of the items produced elsewhere. In the end, it was more about quality than quantity, we wanted an entire gift experience that people would value and be excited to receive.

Jen: Other than proximity to your offices, were there additional factors in your selection of Thysse as the partner for this project?

Liz: I had worked with Thysse on previous projects, and knew from experience that JJ would be honest with me about the feasibility of the ideas I had in mind. Thysse has a great reputation in Madison and Oregon, for being a provider of quality work and as a company who really cares about their community.

I’d worked with JJ and Tina on sourcing third-party items in the past, with great success. I knew they would be able to get what we wanted without the need for me to constantly check in to make sure things were on track. The communication and logistical work would be seamless with Thysse which was a huge advantage.

Agrace custom gift box

Jen: Can you explain how the project kicked off with our team? What tools and conversations did you have to help formulate the project scope? (initial consult, item selection, proofing, etc)

Liz: In the beginning, we just had the packaging and quality in mind, and wanted a trusted partner for the process. In terms of timing, once the idea was out of the gate, we wanted it delivered as soon as possible to help our staff combat the constant stress.

We came to the table with a couple ideas; we knew we wanted to include the chocolates and likely a cozy blanket, but were open to suggestions. Tina added so much value with her recommendations because she took our initial ideas and pulled ideas for us to consider. The blanket in particular ended up being a unique plaid pattern that she’d suggested.

We did use the promotional store link on the Thysse website to form an idea of what we were looking for, to then share with the Thysse team. It helped us understand what our options might be and have more productive discussions with Tina and JJ about the whole set of products.

Jen: What was the overall timeline for your project, from request to delivery?

Liz: The project was about 7 weeks from first contact to completion. The team was upfront about lead times, (YETI was substantial because of high demand), but once everything we ordered arrived in Thysse’s hands, the turnaround time exceeded expectations. Thysse was very responsive throughout the process.

Jen: Were there any expected or unexpected challenges in working through these custom boxes?

Liz: The timeline was out of our and your control, being based on vendor supply and lead times, which is a factor in any project. Tina and JJ were extremely upfront in setting expectations on delivery and ship dates to deliver as soon as possible. One piece we knew we wanted to include was a YETI product, which Tina confirmed at that time had the longest turnaround time of any of the items. We narrowed down that selection first, to get the order in immediately while other components were being selected.

“I had very high hopes and expectations of the project because of my past experiences with Thysse.”

Jen: What’s an unexpected benefit you found in working with Thysse through this process?

Liz: One example of Thysse’s value came when we went to order the blankets. The color patch on the blankets we’d chosen was brown and there were only about half the quantity needed in stock. Tina quickly suggested a gray option instead, that still went well with our branding and had full quantities available.

Anytime there was a hiccup, JJ or Tina would always respond with a solution which was so helpful. It kept things moving forward on our timeline, and it felt like they knew how important it was for us to get this out as quickly as possible. It also just takes the stress out of the hands of the customer or client in our case. Just knowing that I don’t have to worry about those details like I might have to with another vendor, where they aren’t as solution-oriented or proactive.

Another benefit was Thysse’s proximity. We always try to work with local partners as much as possible. On this project, it allowed us to more quickly view samples and make decisions.

I’ll just end with: I had very high hopes and expectations of the project because of my past experiences with Thysse. The feedback from staff was beyond my expectations. They were not only appreciative; they were emotionally overcome in some cases by how this package arrived unexpectedly with so much thought behind it. I think having Thysse be able to help us execute our vision was an expectation that your team far exceeded.

Jen: You had some custom messaging included in the boxes. How did you decide what to include, and who did you ask to participate in the box creation?

Liz: We wanted it to be a surprise, so we kept the working group fairly small. I shopped around a bit on the Thysse web portal and would put them into a little collage to be tweaked.

Some of it came up organically. We had the idea to do the “Proud Agrace Team Member” magnets, and I assumed that customizing them by job (RN, CAN, LPN, etc) would have a large cost associated. Tina got wind of that discussion and let us know that the cost difference would be pretty minimal. Her ability to work with the vendor gave us some more creative energy to be able to customize them even further.

The most collaborative part of the projects seemed to be after we had the items set. We started to look at the collection and wonder how to package them all together in a way that would withstand shipping, and in a way that would keep the boxes looking pristine. The Thysse team tested different boxing options, whether we should put everything into original packaging or totally customize the boxes for a better experience.

We ended up using a belly band that was glued around the bundle to keep everything in place. We did have a couple in person meetings, but for the most part we were able to collaborate with the stakeholders and Thysse virtually. I was with my design manager in my office and took a short video of a mockup idea. Thysse took that and ran with it to make a formal prototype to test with all the items and ensure the optimal fit. It was very collaborative.

In terms of the box we chose, when designing, we originally thought of using white. Someone on the Thysse side suggested the kraft brown box as these items were being shipped and could get a bit scuffed/worse for the wear in the process. The end result shipped beautifully, and that impacted the final design. 

Agrace custom gift box

Jen: We have an area in sales with space to do some prepackaging/prototyping. Tina, Ole, and JJ played your video on our monitor and would scrub back and forth on the layout to confirm it was matching your requests, and also note areas for improvement. I think that was the first time they’d used video to work with a client in that way, but all agreed it was a good process to continue for future projects, so that we can all agree on layout and assembly process. The video was a great tool for communicating remotely. Having the ability to play it back multiple times was extremely helpful.

Liz: Right! You can lose the nuance in meeting notes sometimes. The Thysse team’s expertise was a big asset in the process too. We thought that just wrapping the items up tighter in tissue paper should do the trick [to keep everything in place] and the Thysse crew did some testing. The corner of the chocolate box may break through the tissue in shipping jostling and arrive ripped/out of place. That’s the kind of level of detail where we just wouldn’t know, having never sent something like this before. Having a partner you can trust is critical. We’re not the experts in packaging and shipping, knowing that Thysse has that expertise and we didn’t have to anticipate every doomsday scenario that could occur.

Jen: I assume you’ve done some promotional product ordering in the past. What’s a mistake often made when sourcing promo products? Did we avoid this?

Liz: In the past, when we’ve been able to do something like this, we’re looking evaluating cost as first priority. Things end up being “ok” but no one is ever passionate about them. This time we had the benefit of being in a situation where we knew people would be passionate about the items received.

I noticed a difference in the quality of each piece too. The engraving and branding on every single item, from the $.99 ear saver to the patch on the nicer blankets, the imprints were so beautifully done. I was almost shocked at how good everything looked. Engraving/imprints/etc are not always done so meticulously. I don’t know if that’s a credit to the vendors that Thysse works with or Tina’s attention to detail or if we just got lucky. I mean, again, even the ear saver has just the most crisp, absolutely pristine logo on it

Jen: It’s a combination of all of the above. Tina knows the vendors doing the imprints, and selects those that do an outstanding job engraving/embossing. There’s also a difference depending on the product chosen, certain materials will receive embossing or imprints a little better, and look really clean. If something’s printed on lower quality material, or in a way that’s less conducive to the application, it will end up being less crisp or doesn’t leave as clean of a line. Tina has such a high level of expertise in that area, and she will let you know if a combination is not going to work out as desired. She’s great about sharing alternate options that are still in line with your vision, but will have greater impact, often at roughly the same price point.

Jen: Color management, brand consistency, and overall experience are important to Thysse. Can you describe how Agrace evolved certain components or values into physical pieces and experiences with the box? The theme was self-care, but did some of the values of Agrace make their way into the box?

Liz: Our values as a nonprofit and a healthcare organization frequently revolve around compassion. That’s compassion for patients and families, but we took this as an opportunity to show compassion for our staff. They’re such a valuable resource to Agrace themselves, so we used self-care inspiration and quotes in the box to draw those feelings out in a way that was tied to Agrace but wasn’t simply our mission, vision, values plastered on the inside of the box. This was something created for our staff, so it needed to be fresh and a little unique application of our core tenets. The box was something a little different meant to engage in a fresh way.

“…what would make us feel valued and seen and understood and heard? We were invested in creating an experience that was relatable to our own staff as a target audience.”

Jen: What should companies know about when it comes to employee gifting on a large scale?

Liz: I think we were so successful in this project because our leadership team (CEO, another director and I) thought about what we’d like to receive in a gift like this. I put myself in the recipient’s shoes as I am an employee but I’m not a clinician providing hands-on care. That exercise of thinking about the emotions we wanted to evoke, what would make us feel valued and seen and understood and heard? We were invested in creating an experience that was relatable to our own staff as a target audience. You can typically do focus groups to understand these audiences and find out what they’d like. In this case, we wanted to keep this as a surprise to keep the mystique, so we didn’t really have that option. We did a bit of projecting, if you will. In particular, one of the quotes used was “talk to yourself as you’d talk to a friend.” Thinking along those lines of, what would you want to get that would make you feel valued?

Agrace custom gift box

Jen: Can you share some of the feedback received about the boxes?

Liz: It was so exciting to hear from the staff. They were surprised and so appreciative and emotionally touched by the gesture. There were some common themes which were:

  • It was clear each item was picked out with love and intent.
  • It was that the box arrived just at the right time. Some went on to describe the day they’d experienced and the ongoing challenges of providing care during a pandemic.
  • People felt it was speaking to them when it arrived at their home and felt like it was made just for them.

It was exciting to hear these things from my coworkers and repeatedly gave me chills. Hearing their comments and seeing how much it meant to people, there was a lot of tearing up over the shared emotion and people sharing their heartfelt gratitude.

A lot of the staff went directly to our CEO to share their gratitude. Some went to our internal forum, some shared to social media to unveil their boxes. To share how they felt, there were comments like “wow! That’s the reason you work for a place that appreciates you in this way!”

Jen: Are there any additional thoughts you’d like to share about the experience?

Liz: It was just something we were really proud to do for our team. People know I oversee the marketing department and assumed I had something to do with it. They would approach me to ask about it and say it was really well done. We heard this multiple times!

That was feedback I appreciated because we put out so many things each day and you don’t always hear the impact they have on people. That feedback was really meaningful to me. Not only did people feel appreciated but they felt like they were receiving something of quality.

Jen: That makes us feel great about the work too! Even if it had not been as collaborative, and was purely transactional on our part, producing the box and procuring the items, we would have been so proud to be a part of it. Knowing that we were able to also add input and help along the way, makes our staff feel so proud to have assisted with this effort too. We love being a partner to projects that help in this way because we can bring together multiple service. By combining the custom kit packaging, with the promotional items, and shipping direct to the team, we were able to have a greater impact and assistance to the Agrace team.

Liz: Your team was excited to work with us and that really shined through in every interaction we had with Thysse. Obviously this wasn’t the only project you were working on, yet it felt like we were given priority and we were the only project. They were very responsive and happy to talk with us about the project.