Image Is All in the Cards

Two Southern Californians took top honors in this year's best and worst business card competition. Both are in the design profession, proving that a professionally designed card is well worth the investment.

A homemade card submitted by an Arkansas man who drills water wells easily won top honors for the worst card in America.

A shiny license plate boasting "AD MAN" was voted the best card in America by a panel of judges assembled by this columnist. The card belongs to Jesse James Drummond, creative director and founder of Ad Man, a one-person advertising agency in Aliso Viejo.

Produced on high-quality glossy paper, the front flap of the card features a replica of Drummond's California license plate, including a 1961 registration tag because that's the year he started his company. Open up the card and you'll find his name and pertinent business information inside.

"We felt this completely polished product would tell clients a lot about the company and its work," Drummond said. "You just hand it to someone and bang, it [gets] an immediate reaction."

First runner-up honors go to Susan Eigenbrodt, owner of Drawing Between the Lines, a Sherman Oaks graphic design and art direction firm.

"It's a promotional piece as well as a business card," said Eigenbrodt, whose card opens matchbook-style to reveal a pop-up caricature of the blond designer behind the wheel of her fire-engine red 1973 Volkswagen.

Eigenbrodt's three-dimensional card showcases her rare boxy convertible--only a handful were manufactured in the United States--and her "2FunSue" vanity plates. (Her longtime nickname, "Too Fun Sue," wouldn't fit on the license plate.)

The card, she says, reflects the energy and effervescent spirit of her art.

"I've gotten accounts via the third generation of people handing out my card," she said.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was the downright disturbing card submitted by Clinton Thomas, a water well driller somewhere in Arkansas. The sepia-toned card has no address, so we don't know where he lives. (He did not respond to my call asking him to comment on this card.) It features a mug shot of a scowling, burly Thomas, with his attempt at a humorous slogan: "My business is going in the hole."

The judges all agreed his card was more likely to scare away customers than attract them.

Denver photographer Diane Huntress took top honors for the most elegant card of 1998. The card unfolds horizontally to a spread of Huntress' innovative photography. The muted mustard-colored and magenta monochrome images are underscored with simple slogans. Huntress said she worked with a designer to develop a card that would convey her personality as well as her work.

"It doesn't matter who I give it to, it always gets attention and starts the conversation," Huntress said. "That's what you want in business--to start a conversation and build a relationship."

(Reporting assistance by Robin Wallace).


Jane Applegate will be a featured speaker at The Times' Small Business Strategies Conference Oct. 17-18 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For more resources and to contact her on the Internet, visit or send e-mail to


Tips for a Great Card

Based on years of judging thousands of business cards, here are Jane Applegate's tips for a great card:

* Make sure the company information is clear and easy to read.

* Its design should be clean and simple.

* The paper style and ink color should reflect your business or industry.

* Spend extra for high-quality paper and printing.

* Be clever without being gimmicky.

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