Five Choices to Make for Paper in Direct Mail
The production manager (or perhaps creative director) of a direct mail package usually chooses the paper. Historically, it’s never been an easy decision. It hinges on weighing (with postal rates, I mean that literally) quality against cost, including the selection of paper stock/weight, grade, coated or uncoated, and so on.
Recently, that decision just got harder, with the now viable option of using more environment-friendly paper (groundwood/high-yield/nonvirgin-offset sheets, more post-consumer recycled content and environmentally certified) in all components of a mail piece.
Unless you’ve already done so, here are five choices you may consider adopting.
1. Go High-End (but not Necessarily High-Cost) with the Outer
If you’re going to spend money—or experiment with unusual paper (which may or may not increase cost)—choose the outer envelope. “I’ve had a lot of good luck using higher-end, or unusual paper with the carrier envelope. It’s been pretty clear that some kind of heavier or textured stock seems to improve response,” says Jeff Brooks, creative director at Merkle, a database marketing agency based in Lanham, Md.
To create an outer envelope with more texture, Brooks gives the example of taking normal paper and running it through a machine that scores it, putting parallel or diagonal grooves across it. “That adds very little cost but makes the envelope definitely different than other things in the mailbox,” claims Brooks, who says it appears that textured paper slows the prospect down.
“The caveat, of course, is: Is it enough of an improvement to justify the cost?” asks Brooks, who works in Merkle’s agency division that serves nonprofits. His agency hasn’t been able to justify the increased expenditure for acquisition mailings, where getting cost down is paramount to success. “You may get a great response but kill yourself because you sent 3 cents too much per package,” he explains.
2. For Buckslips, Brochures and Bookalogs, Keep Up the Quality
In the effort to lower the paper cost throughout the package, there are some components worth preserving to show off a brand, publication or organization properly, as well as create the right impression (visual- and touch-based) for the prospect.
Meta Brophy, director of publishing operations at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports in Yonkers, N.Y., gives a few examples. “We still use 50-lb offset for full-color components to show our publications off to best advantage, which a whiter, higher-end stock does. If appropriate, we may print buckslips or flyers on uncoated high bulk, whereas brochures are generally printed on 50-lb coated paper.” Meanwhile, she says that high-end stocks are used for magalogs, bookalogs, slim-jim covers and order cards.
However, Consumers Union hasn’t simply stood pat, as it has tested out of the 60-lb coated to a great extent for its brochures and continues to test new creative on lighter-weight papers from the beginning of each campaign.
3. Elsewhere in the Package, Go Lower in Stock and Grade
So while the outer and such key components as the brochure or buckslip warrant high-quality paper, the rest of the package can be downgraded without suffering too much in quality or hurting response rates. “Frankly, I’m not sure if it matters anywhere else in the package,” states Brooks, who only uses higher-end paper throughout a package for higher-end donors.
Brophy concurs, reporting that Consumers Union has made a concerted effort to move to lighter basis weights across the board. “We have successfully moved nearly all lift notes and many text-only letters in our component packages onto high-yield groundwood instead of virgin offset. We have tested this stock on a variety of different components, and this is where the change supports a strong response rate,” she relates.
4. Inside, Catalogs also Can Go Lower-end
Over the years, catalogs have also used progressively lighter basis weights. “It was common to use a 60-lb inside stock in a catalog in 1999-2000, and now 45 lb is more common,” says Kathy Johnston, general manager at J. Schmid & Associates, a catalog and multichannel direct marketing agency based in Mission, Kan. Also, ahead of the mail piece trend, she says that catalogs began using more groundwood in their pages a few years ago.
5. Ride the Green Wave, Especially if it Resonates with Your Prospect Base
“Nearly all environment and progressive cause organizations are requiring that we use recycled paper. For others, it really isn’t on their radar,” summarizes Brooks. He describes two kinds of prospects: One will complain and not respond if you don’t go green, while others, like medical nonprofits, may not notice … yet.
He encourages you to think it through. “Does this organization have a commitment to the environment even though it’s not your cause? And do the donors? Does it matter or not? With many of our nonenvironmental clients, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. But that is something that may change over time,” asserts Brooks, who also mentions that the backlash against direct mail can be undercut with that handy recycled logo.
For Brophy, when asked if motivated by green initiatives versus cost, she doesn’t make a distinction. “When we purchase paper directly, we have more in-depth conversations with paper companies about sourcing, certification, recycled content, etc. We have always been directed to manage expenses and to cut costs when and wherever possible. We are highly motivated to make better environmental choices all the time … We set out to identify a preferable size, method, material that works with our budget.”