Print and Production: Controlling Print Costs
It's true postage is usually the single-most expensive part of any direct mail campaign. But if you're not careful, printing costs can consume a large portion of your budget, as well. Here are eight tips you can implement tomorrow to keep your print production costs on a healthy diet.
1. Optimize Formats With Your Printer
Engage your suppliers to optimize your print formats. Format optimization will reduce cost by increasing throughput and "runability." Once you have identified a format for your mailing, ask your supplier to optimize the specifications for the equipment they will be using to produce the job.
This applies whether you plan to produce an envelope package or a self-mailer. It also applies whether you're using a conventional print platform or digital equipment to produce the mailing.
Be sure to share your design concept with your supplier as early as possible. For example, if the supplier knows the piece is being designed as a full bleed, it may impact equipment options and paper specifications. The earlier this is communicated, the earlier a menu of other considerations can be mapped out.
2. Align Your Partners
Make sure your agency (or internal creatives) and printer are working from the same playbook. If you work with an agency, be sure they are working with templates and specifications from your printer(s) to ensure you're not paying an unnecessary premium to accommodate a slow-running format or substrate.
It's never a happy surprise when artwork arrives and it doesn't match the specifications for the job. Cost savings rarely result when this happens—especially when you're facing a deadline, and the schedule doesn't allow time to start over and meet the delivery date.
3. 4-Color Flexo Envelopes
Investigate four-color flexo printing for your outer envelopes. It has come a long, long way in terms of quality and line screen—and it may offer a substantial cost-savings opportunity over a litho/convert envelope.
There was a time when flexo printing could be used only for "low-color, low-resolution" work on uncoated paper stocks. Those limitations are gone. While four-color flexo is probably not yet an option for high-fashion or high-end automotive work, it makes sense for many subjects and substrates, especially those that were previously printed as sheets and converted to envelopes.
Ask your supplier about using four-color flexo for your outer envelopes, and be sure to discuss design and production considerations. It's smart to request samples, too, so you can make the best decision for your project. Saving money on the outer envelope can actually be a very expensive decision if the end product lowers response and, in turn, increases your cost per sale.
4. Litho Roll-to-Convert
If flexo isn't right, consider litho roll-to-convert for envelopes. You can also save on envelope printing and manufacturing (if flexo isn't appropriate for your campaign) by using a litho roll-to-convert workflow rather than traditional litho convert.
Even if you eliminate one cost-saving option as "just not right for this program," don't hesitate to ask for other alternatives. If flexo printing is not the right solution, you can stay committed to your cost consumption diet by changing your workflow to roll-fed, rather than sheet-fed litho print. If your supplier doesn't offer this option, you may want to investigate alternative sources with a broader equipment base.
5. Balance Digital and Offset Printing
Engage your suppliers to ensure the optimal platform is being considered for each and every project. Digital may save you money on some projects, but can add more cost than conventional offset on others.
Cost is not the only factor, of course. It's important to discuss all attributes of the platform with your supplier to ensure factors like speed-to-market, version requirements, paper options and finishing requirements have all been considered.
6. Facilitate the Process
Optimize design by considering all the processes the printed piece will undergo—some layouts that work well on press are a challenge for personalization or folding.
Think about all the components that will be part of the mailing. Are you adding a plastic or paper card? Will it be loose or affixed? Does the package include a Post-It Note? If a lift note or buckslip will be included, can it be printed as part of the letter to slit and nest?
When using an envelope package, be sure all of the components can easily be inserted in the envelope. Perfect printing can be very costly if your lettershop charges a penalty because a component requires special treatment to be inserted. This may result in a surcharge for friction feeding or machine slow-downs, and no one appreciates unexpected costs.
7. Simplify Versions
If the printed component has multiple versions, think about simplifying version changes. With litho print, don't change all four-color process plates. Instead, limit changes to a black plate wherever possible. Another option that may be less expensive is adding a fifth color for version changes, as opposed to making changes to four-color process print.
Use laser or inkjet personalization for your black text by limiting variability to the personalization so you can use one, or just a few, base "shells."
If full-variability is a requirement, investigate full-color, continuous inkjet printing. Like four-color flexo, the technology has improved dramatically and quality restrictions have largely evaporated.
Again, it's important to stay on the same page with your suppliers. Review paper options and design concepts to ensure you understand how to optimize the technology available.
8. Look Beyond Print
Print is only part of the recipe. Evaluate opportunities to save money on finishing, shipping and mailing, too.
Your print format can help drive savings on postage. Be sure your mail piece is compliant with all postal regulations and is eligible for all available automation discounts. The regulations for self-mailers changed recently (bit.ly/uspsfsm), so be sure you have current information to avoid surcharges that could be imposed if you fail to follow the new regulations.
Talk to your suppliers about ways to optimize your postage spend. Ask about co-mingling to improve your tier qualification and lower your postage cost. Co-palletization may offer logistics savings, as well.
Consider using a supplier who can produce all components of your direct mail package in-house. This integration will reduce freight cost between suppliers and, as an added bonus, your environmental impact. You'll use less packaging, too.
These eight tips are simple to implement, highly effective and will eat deeply into your direct mail print production costs. The common theme is engaging suppliers early and often. Make them partners in your cost-saving objectives by focusing on efficient design and optimal use of technology. Costs will drop, results will inspire, and your direct mail campaigns will stay on-point and on-budget.
Debora Haskel is vice president of marketing at Chanhassen, Minn.-based direct marketing solutions provider IWCO Direct. Reach her at email@example.com.