Boston Strong – One Year Later – The Phrase That Defines the City


Boston.  Arguably the most resilient city in America.  A year ago the unthinkable happened and tragedy struck with the bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.  A couple of college kids, Nick Reynolds and Christopher Dobens, studying at local Emerson College wanted to help out and used the Ink to the People website to start a small fundraiser from their dorm room.  They coined a simple phrase “Boston Strong”, because they liked the phrasing as it was similar to Army Strong or LivestrongBoston Strong.  It’s like you’ve heard it all of your life.

They didn’t trademark or copyright the phrase on purpose, and immediately the entire world would recognize these words as a character trait for the city in anguish.  Dobens has said, “What we believe in is that this logo, this phrase, belongs to the city, not to us.”

Pairing the Ink to the People website and a dramatic flair for social media, the duo enlisted their friend Lane Brenner, and relentlessly pushed their fundraising efforts into hyperdrive.  They originally just wanted to sell 110 shirts.  That’s when things exploded for them.  It went viral.  It’s been a year, and they have raised over $1,000,000 for the One Fund for Boston selling their original Boston Strong t-shirt, and two others on our Ink to the People website.  It has been a great journey and wonderful opportunity for everyone at Ink to the People to help them in their efforts.  We’re like a company full of proud parents.

A year ago I wrote about the initial reaction and the emotional response of the tragedy with Boston Strong.  Read the article here.

One Year Later

Across the country in Milwaukee, Wisconsin we’ve been printing the Boston Strong shirts off and on for a year now, and have been literally amazed at the incredible effort and response.  We created Ink to the People to give people an outlet to sell t-shirts using social media.  We have shipped these shirts all over America, and beyond.  Every time these go to print, I’m happy to be associated with this effort, as I know the impact that this idea from a few college kids in Boston is having on the world.  Who said that this generation is all narcissistic and self-centered?  Not all evidently.

It doesn’t stop there either.  Other groups have seen the success of the Boston Strong campaign and have started using the site to raise money for their causes.  American Cancer Society, Make-A-Wish, Firefighters, High Schools, March of Dimes, Little Leagues, Political Issues, Animal Shelters…virtually any notion that you could think of someone has created a shirt and is raising money risk free.  Boston Strong is leading the way for these groups to be successful in their efforts too.  Think about all the good people can do with just a simple t-shirt.  That’s what Ink to the People is all about.

Here’s a collection of recent media coverage for the Boston Strong or Ink to the People:

Boston Strong Creators Talk About Ink to the People

Boston Strong Creators Talk About Their Future

Boston Strong Team’s Website – buy a shirt today!!  Help their cause!!

Boston Strong One Year Later – Joe Water’s Blog –

How Boston Strong T-shirts Became a Rallying Cry for the City

A Year After the Bombings Some Say Boston Strong Has Gone Overboard

Students Behind Boston Strong Top $1M in Money Raised for the One Fund 

The Business of Boston Strong 

Boston :: Stronger Than Ever – Ink to the People blog article

Milwaukee Company Prints Boston Strong T-shirts 

7 Unique Fundraising Tools for Non-Profits – good article and lists Ink to the People fourth on their list –

10 Best Cause Marketing Promotions of 2013 

Students Coin Boston Strong – Emerson College blog article


Making Our T-shirt Shop Promotional Video – Lessons Learned

Before starting this article, check out our new shop video!  Here’s the link:  Visual Impressions Shop Video

As part of being named a Top Shop from Stitches magazine for the March 2014 issue, they asked us to submit a short video that illustrates Visual Impressions as a company.  Sounds easy, but once you get started it’s a daunting task; especially if you don’t have “movie making skills”.  Daryl Cardwell, our talented web master for Ink to the People and I were the main members of our staff selected to build the video.  We leaped at the chance to try to learn something new.  Soon afterwards, we met and brainstormed, and with some input from Todd Richheimer and Jay Berman, the company’s owners, we put together a game plan.  (Also a shout out here to Ross Brandt, a creative and knowledgeable source from Coil Media in Atlanta who gave me some great phone advice during the initial discovery phase)

By the end of the process, we had a great video, learned some valuable lessons and will definitely be doing more shop videos in our future!  I’m definitely not Martin Scorsese, but here’s a step by step outline of how we constructed the video, and some tips that might save you from making the same mistakes we made.

  1. Outline & Basics.  Our first thought was “what are we going to film”?  We discussed interviewing different staff members, and also filming multiple shots of things happening at Visual Impressions.  We also Googled tons of other shop’s videos, non-industry business videos and other sources to see what others had accomplished and give us a basic knowledge base.  The basis of every video we liked had some sort of narrative, some action shots of processes being completed, on-screen text to describe things, and an overall theme.  We had a series of meetings, and through those narrowed down some key elements that we wanted to discuss.  Our core concepts that we would use for the interview portion of the video were decided: Trust, Quality, & Dedication.  Tip: Do research. Watch what others have done. Find what you like and take note of it. Think about how it was done.
  2. Storyboard.  I spent some time storyboarding what we wanted to shoot, and working on arranging the sequence of shots.  For this I just scribbled out some notes and cartoons of people on individual Post-It-Notes.  I stuck these to the back wall in my office across from my desk.  From here, I would arrange and rearrange them to see if we could come to some sort of agreement on what we needed, and how it would come together.  Our goal was to keep it to a short video, and keeping it simple looked like it was going to be a challenge.  This is definitely harder than it looks.  Tip: Plan. Storyboard your ideas, and create a solid concept. Don’t just shoot and wing it.  Talking about what we wanted to do made the filming much, much easier.
  3. Equipment.  We wanted to do it cheaply, and by cheaply I mean with whatever equipment we had on hand at the time.  Other than our time, our budget was $0.  Nada.  We used our camera phones for some shots, but most of the filming was handled with an existing Nikon camera on a tripod.  Comparing shots from the phones vs the normal camera on the tripod, the tripod shots all looked better.  Tip: use a tripod if you can.  Shots are steadier, and easier to take.  If you don’t have a tripod, balance the camera on a box, ledge or something.
  4. Filming.  We decided that we wanted an interview style format.  I wrote a series of questions that we would ask different people in the shop.  The goal was to unearth authentic sound bites that we would use as transitions into video shots of different production processes in the shop.  If you watch the video, I’m off camera (except when I was interviewed by Daryl for my shots), doing this way I think gave the video a conversational feel, and a natural look for us.  We interviewed a lot more people than we used for the actual final video.  Judicious editing to get the video down to 3:30 was necessary.  I’m sure there are actors out there that will tell you their best work is on the cutting room floor too.  Tip: Check your memory card and battery life often.  We had to reshoot two interviews because our memory card on the camera was full and we didn’t realize it.  Also, when something like that happens….chalk it up to rookie mistakes and don’t worry about it.  It was actually kind of funny when it happened!

We took some test shots around the building to find a location that would work for sound and lighting.  This took an afternoon, as we tested a bunch of locations and then would run back to Daryl’s computer and review them.  We chose the couch in our lobby, because it had some great natural light and we liked the casual but modern feel.  Tip: Blocking and checking where you want to film before you start helps you understand how the final shots may appear.  It may also give you some much needed practice with the equipment (we sure needed it!!).

Overall, we filmed about 120 clips for the video.  There is a lot of footage we didn’t use, and Daryl did a great job editing and paring it all down to three and a half minutes.  Interviewing people was really fun, but the shots of the production processes were hilarious to make.  We had a great time thinking up camera angles and planning shots of things moving to make the video exciting.  Some of the shots were planned, but others were just us taking advantage of what was going on at the time.  Tip: If you are doing an employee interview style, try to get everyone to say or do something that was the same.  At the end of the video, we have all of our people smiling and getting up off the couch.  I actually asked everyone to “laugh and say something funny”.  At the time, nobody did anything funny and everyone just smiled and got off the couch.  It actually turned out to be a good way to end the video.  It was pure luck, but prompting an action was the catalyst.

  1.  Lessons Learned.   In a nutshell, here are our take-aways…
    1. Plan. Storyboard your ideas, and create a solid concept. Don’t just shoot and wing it.
    2. Know your strengths. Do what you know. If you are more suited talking in front of the camera, do it. If you enjoy shooting and editing, do that.
    3. Daryl imported all of the clips into iPhoto and used iMovie to edit it.  These were already on the Mac he had, so we didn’t purchase any special software.
    4. It only took about a day and half for filming, but over twice that for editing.  If you are under any time constraints, make sure you plan accordingly.
    5. Don’t go overboard on humor, graphics or transitions. It may be tempting to use a spiral cross-dissolve to transition scenes, but remember…less is more. Keep it simple and professional.
    6. Don’t buy background music.  There is a ton of free and well organized clip sites.  Just do a Google search.
    7. We learned that even if you do a sound check, you won’t know the sound levels for each interviewee.  After we finished we went out and spent about $10 for a lapel microphone for next time.
    8. Review your footage several times to see where the good stuff is before starting to edit.
    9. Check your camera battery and memory card often.
    10. Take some test footage to get familiar with the equipment, software and different camera angles.
    11. Don’t use everything you shoot. Shoot a lot and pick the best clips.
    12. Shoot as high quality as you can. You can always make it smaller when you need to.

Well, that’s about it!!  I hope you enjoyed our video and admittedly beginner’s effort.  Like the former art director in me says, “Done is better than perfect.”  If you do try to tackle this, post your video below and let’s share the experiences so others may benefit!  You can also always e-mail me at for more information or help.

When Lightning Strikes – On the Production Floor with Boston Strong T-shirts

I’ve been in the apparel decoration business a long time, (over 25 years) and until recently thought I had seen it all.  It’s not uncommon for reporters or television news crews to come and film for public interest stories when you are printing a large hot market production run after a Super Bowl or World Series.  One might show up, or maybe two.

Last Friday, we had four.  And right after the last one was pulling away in the parking lot a producer called me wanting to know if the local morning show could do a live remote and film our Saturday crew.  They ended up doing three break-aways.  (Here’s a link to one of the telecasts from Friday –

So what’s all the commotion?  Let’s backtrack to Monday April 15th.  That’s when the unthinkable tragedy at the Boston Marathon occurred.  Like 9/11, the entire nation stopped what they were doing and helplessly watched in horror after the improvised bombs went off.  This is such a huge sporting event, and even though I now live in Wisconsin and am originally from Florida, I knew people at the Boston Marathon.  I’m really happy and grateful that none were injured in the attack.  For the rest of the day and night we were all glued to the coverage about the terrorist attack on innocent people.

There were two college kids at Emerson College in Boston, Nick Reynolds and Chris Dobens, who felt just as helpless.  They lived nearby and this really was an emotional time for them.  They were going to go down to the Boston Marathon and were warned to stay away, and then were just stuck watching the coverage from their dorm room.  They felt that they had to do something to counteract the helplessness they felt.  But what?

They decided to raise money for the victims.  Searching online they found Ink to the People (www.inktothepeople) and created their simple, but striking royal blue with gold t-shirt “Boston Strong”.  They coined the term.  (Think about that)  Using the design tools on the website, they finished their design and uploaded it to the web. (  Then they pushed it out to their friends, families and fellow students at Emerson.  They hoped to sell 110 shirts at $20 each, and they were going to donate the proceeds to whatever official charity came out of the tragedy.  When they started, one hadn’t been created yet – but they knew one would be.  Sadly, we’ve been down this road before.

Flashback to Milwaukee, where I work.  Ink to the People started as a reaction to an apparent industry need about two years prior.  The owners, Jay Berman and Todd Richheimer, recognized a challenge as different people would always come into their t-shirt printing shop and have an “awesome idea” for a new t-shirt design.  They would get a bunch of shirts printed, but lacked the resources, connections or skill to sell the shirts later.  Most would be stuck with a bunch of shirts in their garage.  The Ink to the People website was born out of that need, where people could either create their design on the site, or upload one, and then use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, e-mail contacts, etc.) to sell the shirt.  Users would set a minimum when they created their online design, and if they met the number – the shirt would go to print.  If not, then everything would automatically cancel, and nobody would be stuck with a bunch of shirts that won’t sell.  Here’s a really funny video we made about the Ink to the People site –

So here’s where the lightning strikes.  The Reynolds & Dobens “Boston Strong” shirt takes off like a rocket, mostly due to the incredible job the two guys did with promoting their design.  (I’m sure you’ve seen their hashtag #bostonstrong)  They were relentless with their social media campaign with Twitter, Facebook & Instagram and made a number of supportive YouTube videos ( at different stages to discuss the progress, present information, and basically cheerlead the process into even greater success.  If anyone needs a primer on how to work social media towards a frenzy of success, just follow those two guys.

That first Tuesday morning after the design was posted I clicked into the Ink to the People site like I do a lot of mornings just to see what has been posted.  Their shirt was up there, with 110 for the minimum and about 90 or so sold. In an hour or two, they had tripled that.  As the office came into work, we begin to look at this design and closely follow the numbers.  Jay & Todd reached out to Nick and told him that what he was doing was incredibly inspiring, and volunteered to donate the cost of running the shirts up to a quantity of 1500.  This way all $20 could go to their charity.  We all had the site up on our computers all day and had it tuned to the Boston Strong shirt.  I would work for a few minutes and then click the refresh button just to see the number jump by increments of 20, 30 or 100 each time.  It was incredible.  I bet Daryl, our master web designer, $1 that it would surpass 1000 sold by 5:00 pm.  (I lost as by 5:00 the number was only 846.  It didn’t hit 1000 until about an hour or so later)

By the following day, Wednesday, people around the country were starting to talk about the site and word was getting out about the Boston Strong fundraising efforts.  It didn’t hurt that Reynolds and Dobens did a masterful job relentlessly sending out messages and updates on social media.  It only took three days to raise $100,000.  In five days, they were at $300,000.  (Here’s a nice video they made at that point – )  When the one week mark hit and their original sale ended they surpassed the $500,000 mark.  Not bad for two college kids in a dorm room.

What was nice for me was that the work that we put into the site paid off in a small, but positive way.  Everyone associated with the Ink to the People website has spent countless hours designing, building, tweaking, and talking about the site for many months prior.  We’ve had long discussions on all sorts of minutia, and have worked with focus groups, UX studies and all sorts of different people to try to understand how people might use the site.  It wasn’t until the intense strain that the Boston Strong campaign dropped onto the site, did we understand where the stress points really were.  Previously we had some moderate success with users taking the site and using its tools to design and market their ideas through their social media contacts.  However, that was nothing compared to having 250-650 people simultaneously using the site at any given time for hours on end.   Here was our press release

One week goes by and the original Ink to the People Boston Strong campaign closes for Nick & Chris on Monday April 22.  In that span of time, they sold over 34,000 shirts and would raise over $500,000 for the One Fund Boston.  They reposted the shirt of course, and it’s still selling and raising even more money.  I’m convinced they will raise over a million dollars by the time this thing ends.  However, behind the scenes – we’re busy frantically getting the production set up for orders to ship.  We preordered chunks of thousands of t-shirts in all sizes before the campaign ended so we could get a jump on production.  These came into our shop in waves, as we basically bought all the royal blue shirts that our distributors had on their warehouse floor.  Like American’s pulling for Boston; these shirts shipped in from all over the country; Florida, California, Illinois, and Texas.  We printed over the weekend, and after the shirt closed that Monday night we started printing 24 hours a day, as we had the final order numbers, to make sure we could ship immediately.  The shirts were folded, packaged and double checked with their packing slips to make sure they were correctly distributed.  The first wave of them went out on Tuesday April 23, and we were sending them out as fast as we could print a packing slip and mailing label.  We have an incredible group of dedicated and skilled professionals at Ink to the People, and everyone pulled together and got the job done.  Here’s a cool Vine video that our social media guru Steve Schumacher put together

One day, maybe the world won’t have evil people seeking out to harm and terrorize others.  As Americans, we all grieve for the three people that died, and scores of many that were injured.  The victims and their families of this tragedy will have long, painful days ahead of them trying to sort out and live their life to the fullest.  The One Fund Boston charity that was created will help them with their effort.  I believe that it’s the incredible altruistic spirit of Nick Reynolds and Chris Dobens, and the scores of people that helped them with their campaign, publicized their efforts, bought a simple t-shirt to help, or just matter-of-factly stood symbolically with the city of Boston that makes this country so unique and wonderful.  If we can get New York Yankees to sing Sweet Caroline at a game, then anything can happen

Here are some links to other media outlets surrounding the Boston Strong fundraising campaign and Ink to the People:

Huffington Post:


USA Today

Boston Globe

Fox News

NBC Nightly News


Seventeen Magazine