Outsource Solutions: Lettershops
The Proof Is in the Process
Personalization can boost response to a direct mail campaign because of its ability to establish a connection with each member of the target audience. But it can have the opposite effect if errors in the data or its presentation mangle the message.
One of the keys to executing a successful personalized direct mail campaign is working with your lettershop to create a proofing process that leaves no personalization element uninspected.
The variety of proofing methods available to direct marketers can be confusing, says Sylvia Konkel, vice president of marketing at EU Services, a full-service mailing facility in Rockville, MD. That’s why it’s important to discuss with your lettershop the proofing options it offers, communicating your needs for the type of campaigns you mail.
But regardless of the proofing process you develop, the two campaign aspects you will be verifying are the data and mailing set-up.
Before you even think about looking at page proofs, be sure your data are in order. For this, you need a data audit, also called a quality assurance report, says Konkel. This report confirms that the lettershop received the correct files, with the right records and keycodes. Additionally, the report will measure the accuracy and completeness of the records, as well as provide a breakdown by Bulk Mail Center/Sectional Center Facility to help assess opportunities for rate optimization.
Toni Bodle, production manager at Bernstein-Rein, a Kansas City, MO, advertising and direct marketing agency, notes that audits should include the mail file and all linked files, such as those that contain the data to be used to personalize each mailing.
After the audit and the data processing work, the next proofing step is the data dump. This report takes a look at the data input versus the data output, Konkel explains. For example, if your campaign features a salutation, check that the set-up of this text section has been constructed properly, i.e., “Dear Ms. Smith” versus “Dear Smith Ms.”
At this point, you’re ready for copy proofs, which let you look at the text copy you’ll be using on your variable messaging components. Copy proofs are used to make sure the message to be personalized is correct—with no bad text wraps or paragraph breaks, etc., Konkel explains. It’s dummy copy, however, because the information is not yet positioned on the final stock.
For the ultimate in data verification, Konkel suggests live copy proofs. As their name implies, these forms pull data from your file to generate proofs on the stock that will be used. Live copy proofs should be created on the stock used in your campaign, she stresses, especially if the templates will contain any pre-printed text or graphics. You want to make sure the personalized information does not cover any of the pre-printed sections and that the font selected for personalized text meshes with the rest of the design.
You also want to make sure the format of the lasering looks good, says Bodle, who checks for widowed text and bad line breaks.
Once you’re satisfied that the individual forms will print correctly, you need to verify the insertion order and assembly of your campaign.
A pre-insertion proof, says Konkel, is a dummy of the carrier and all inside mailing components that the marketer reviews for insertion order, postage to be used, accuracy of keycodes and any other mailing details.
For marketers who want a more representative version of their campaign, sample package proofs are mock-ups that show placement of all personalization and addressing. These mock-ups also are known as John Q proofs, Konkel explains, since they use fictional data.
For mailers who prefer fact to fiction, live proofs are the ultimate in mailing proofs. Using data straight from the processing file, says Konkel, they also are the hardest proofs for a lettershop to generate since they involve setting up the job, pulling a few records out of the production stream, re-setting the job and sending the samples to the client for sign-off.
But for complex jobs that include a great deal of personalization, it’s better to be safe with high-level proofing than to be sorry about not having looked for errors.