By Diane Mastrull The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Kim Bensing hears it again and again from clients when she first meets them: They have no story.
After gentle questioning, followed by careful listening, she gets them to realize they do. And then they hire her to make sure others get to know it, too.
The Bucks County entrepreneur is a biographer of sorts. Her job -- in no more than a few pages, usually measuring 6 by 6 inches -- is to better acquaint wedding guests with the couple, coworkers with the retiree, consumers with a product.
Yes, in Bensing's world, even a perfume, Lanc"me's Climat, has a story.
For the exclusive reintroduction of the fragrance, first released in 1967, at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bensing created a booklet that reads like a romance novella to acquaint Saks employees with Climat's history -- its name from the novel about unrequited love by André Maurois.
"There's always a story," said the 48-year-old mother of three, who chose a house in New Britain Township that is more than 200 years old because it has a rich history.
"I have learned that my passion is sentimental connection," she said recently from the cottage studio of Kim Bensing Design, a serene, creative space behind her house. It is where she turned what was essentially a hobby that started with designing her own wedding invitations in 1998 into a full-time profession in 2004.
Her work -- typically $1,000 to $5,000 per job -- has earned the prestigious Philadelphia Addy and Philly Gold awards, which honor creative advertising and marketing.
Though that's a thrill for a woman who once worked as an art director in traditional advertising agencies, Bensing's priority is helping clients make milestone events more memorable.
That starts, she maintains, with the invitation, or what she calls "conceptual invitation suites."
Her message to clients who initially balk at such a detailed and intimate approach: "We're not just inviting them to a mere event, we're inviting them to see your life."
For Peter and Kelly Jerrom of Pipersville, a twig and a "Love Tree" passage by Kahlil Gibran on the cover of their wedding invitation booklet captured their passion for the outdoors. Peter Jerrom owns a landscaping business. Inside, trees documented the generations of ancestral couplings that led to Peter and Kelly's marriage in October 2004.
For Ileana and Tamas Szene, Sea of Love in elegant silver script on the cover set the theme for the sea-related writings inside by Thomas Love Peacock, Hans Christian Andersen, and Edgar Allan Poe, among others. The Drexel Hill couple met about 10 years ago working on a cruise ship and married in June 2007.
"I was really blown away," Ileana Szene said of Bensing's work. "Who gets a book to be invited to a wedding? I still get comments about it, actually."
In the case of Stephanie and Clayton Kissel, it was all about clay -- the sculpting material, not him.
The Quakertown couple met in a high school ceramics class and married in May 2011, the ceremony and reception held at historic Fonthill Museum in Doylestown, home of archaeologist/tile-maker Henry Chapman Mercer.
The invitation by Bensing included a commissioned watercolor on the cover featuring Fonthill and reminders of the couple's travels (the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Big Ben).
Bensing also lined up a local tile artist who created clay favors for each table representing the Kissels' travel highlights. A giant tile that served as the guest book has been glazed and fired and now hangs in their family room.
"She took the time to understand us and how we came to be together," Stephanie Kissel said, "and really designed something that was special to us."
Even in a space as tight as 21/2 by 41/4 inches, Bensing has managed to convey a story. It's a colorful hang tag for Ferocious Love, a small clothing line based in Hood River, Ore., that promotes wildlife conservation and supports advocacy groups.
The tag depicts an elephant, a tiger, a sea turtle, and a rhinoceros, with soft clouds and the words love wildlife repeating to form the background.
"I've been getting a lot of compliments," said Ferocious Love's owner, Michele Thomson, who grew up on the same block as Bensing in Hellertown, Northampton County, but only recently reconnected with her through Facebook. "She really listens and kind of gets what a person's true desire is."
With about 40 projects a year -- except during the recession, when business dropped about 25 percent, presumably not because people stopped marrying -- Bensing said a goal for 2015 was to attract more corporate clients.
And she wants to address an ironic shortcoming: "I have a hard time marketing myself," especially at trade shows such as bridal expos, she said.
"I can't hand people something and say, 'Here's what I do.' I have to talk about it."