Avoid Production Pitfalls
Good planning can help circumvent cost missteps with your catalog mailing.
By Kathy Johnston
Launching a direct marketing campaign is not so different from hosting a dinner party. You select the place (vendors), time (schedule), guests (mail list) and menu (printed pieces). And, like other events, direct marketing campaigns are fraught with the potential for hiccups and disasters.
The manufacturing process begins when your project moves from concept to reality. Like the dinner party, everything prior is conceptual—the design, mail plan, even the merchandise. Once you begin putting ink on paper, however, it becomes real. Any error becomes a costly mistake instead of a minor revision.
To smoothly navigate the production process, perform periodic "reality checks"—points at which concepts are compared against manufacturing limitations. Here are some potential pitfalls and workflow solutions.
It Can't be Manufactured as it was Designed
It's frustrating to design the perfect package only to find you can't manufacture it, or at least not for less money than a space shuttle launch. Problems can crop up in design, size, location of perforations and folds, and ink-jet areas. Special printing treatments may require additional set-up or passes through the press.
Reality Check: Involve your production team—including all vendors—at the conceptual stage of the project. Have them review the concept from a manufacturing perspective and ask them to offer alternatives if the original concept won't work.
The Price Increased
Last-minute changes to the estimated manufacturing prices can occur if the price was dependent on a special order of materials or based on a standard schedule instead of the rush schedule you need.
Reality Check: Place your order as early as possible with your printer. Determine when it will need to place the materials order, and agree to confirm the quantity and specifics before the actual purchases are made. Also, agree to the schedule when you place your order. This allows the printer more planning time and gets you the best prices.
"The Stitcher Ruined the Order Form!"
Situations like this occur when the component moves through multiple pieces of equipment and/or vendors. A printed piece may look great, but won't feed through the laser printer because it's too small, thick or glossy. An aqueous coating added to make the printing really pop may be causing the ink jet personalization to smear. The potential for snags is great.
Reality Check: The more pieces of equipment a printed component goes through, the greater the opportunity for a problem. Plan your pieces from the last piece of equipment through to the first with your vendors. Communicate what each piece is used for and what process will occur when they're finished. For example, on a package with a personalized letter, communicate to the printer that the letter will be laser personalized. The printer will use special inks, paper and perforations to make sure the letter will then pass through the laser equipment without a hitch.
The USPS Rejected the Mailing or Increased Rates
If your mail piece doesn't meet postal guidelines, the U.S. Postal Service can reject or reclassify it, increasing your postage rates. A mail piece can be rejected for size, thickness, orientation of the mail panel and even the contents of the package. There are extensive guidelines for each postal category and they can be difficult to interpret.
Reality Check: The USPS will review, at no cost, your piece for all postal specifications. Send a mock-up of the mail piece to the design coordinator at your regional postal center before you output your final proofs.
Since postal guidelines can be open to interpretation even within the post office, it's a good idea to have the design coordinator sign off on the mock-up. If a question arises at another facility, you have proof of your due diligence.
The Brochure Doesn't Fit Into the Envelope
The situation has many faces—the brochure doesn't fit into the outer envelope, the printing isn't backed up correctly, the address doesn't show through the window of the envelope, etc. All of these pitfalls occur when the three-dimensional aspects of the package aren't considered thoroughly.
Reality Check: It can be difficult to visualize your package when looking at a flat proof. Create mock-ups early in the creative process. Quick and inexpensive, they allow you to see and correct problems early.
The Pre-press Vendor Can't Read the File
With all of the variation in computer equipment and software these days, it's possible the pre-press vendor or printer won't be able to read your graphic file. It can be expensive and time consuming to rework the files.
Reality Check: Anytime you're working with a new vendor or have changed your software, discuss the file formats you will be using, and send a test file at least a few weeks prior to the live file. If you've previously worked with a vendor, verify its software requirements haven't changed in the interim.
A Component Runs out of Stock
Many mailings have multiple components. If you run out of any one item before the mailing is complete, the time to reprint can delay your mailing.
Each piece of equipment a component passes through will generate a little spoilage. A few pieces may be damaged in shipping, and machine counts can be inaccurate. These factors add to the risk of running short on stock.
Reality Check: Be a little generous with overs. Discuss the amount of waste the vendor will need for each component and order accordingly. Don't assume the printer's standard overs will cover the waste needed for your project. If your mailing is time sensitive and a reprint would be costly, print a little extra to allow for unexpected situations.
The best strategy for avoiding production pitfalls is to focus on planning and communication. Using various tools and strategies to check your concept against the manufacturing reality improves your chances of pulling off your direct mailing event flawlessly.
Kathy Johnston is creative services manager for J. Schmid & Assoc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.