Outsource Solutions: Production
Vendor Coordination Checklist
Working with a vendor that acts as your supply chain simplifies the direct mail production process. If it doesn’t, find another supplier! Sometimes, perhaps because of existing inventory or a transition in vendors, you find yourself working with multiple vendors to manufacture and mail your direct mail package. The following is a checklist that can ease the pain of managing multiple components through multiple vendors:
• Current Specifications. Make sure you have current specifications from each vendor. A new piece of equipment or a new vendor may offer better quality, faster throughput and new format options, but it also may change what you’ve been working with for maximum image area, bleed tolerance, folding options and spoilage requirements.
• Hours of Operation. It’s dangerous to assume that every vendor works around the clock. Confirm hours of operation, especially for shipping and receiving. Mail dates can be sacrificed if a shipment arrives on Sunday night, but there’s no one to accept it. Then, machines stand idle on Monday, waiting for product to be received into the system, inspected and staged.
• MERLIN Acceptance. It is critical to understand each vendor’s process for MERLIN testing. Develop a plan to provide proofs and samples throughout production to ensure a disaster doesn’t occur at the end of the process. Provide specific instructions for tolerances and clearances; confirm that your instructions are understood. Ask each vendor to complete a MERLIN checklist before production, and make sure you’ve received and reviewed the checklist before product ships.
• Format Effectiveness. Engage your vendors in a product improvement process to investigate new ways to deliver your message and to be certain that all suppliers involved can produce your new package. Using a special label device to add an interactive element to your package can be disastrous if label specifications haven’t been reviewed with the lettershop responsible for affixing the label. Challenge your vendors to work together to present new format ideas that drive response, reduce cycle time and increase personalization.
• Match Mailing. With the paper market tightening, you may be asked (or forced) to substitute stock because of availability conflicts. The last-minute substitution of a matte stock for a coated stock for your buckslip might not seem like a big deal. The problem comes when the vendor producing the other three inserts in your package tells you it was able to get coated stock, but the job already has shipped.
It’s also important to make sure color is consistent across vendors. When doing multiple press checks, bring samples of printed pieces to make sure the ensuing pieces match, especially if you had to make compromises on the first piece. Provide printed envelope samples to your form printer, and provide envelope and form samples to your brochure printer.
• Transparency of Costs. Are you paying multiple vendors to manage the same processes? Can you save freight costs by using an integrated supplier to provide multiple components of your program? Are you mailing First class to reduce cycle time rather than working with a supplier that has the logistics and distribution services to move mail almost as fast at Standard rates?
Debora Haskel is vice president of marketing at IWCO Direct, an integrated direct mail services company in Chanhassen, Minn. She can be reached at email@example.com.