Why Use a Traditional Lettershop?
By Alicia Orr Suman
It used to be that a lettershop was where you turned to get your mailing out the door and to the post office. These days, your printer may offer some of the same services. So when does it make sense to stick with a lettershop to do your mail preparation?
A traditional lettershop may be better for more complex mailing projects, according to Kathy Johnston, creative services manager, J. Schmid & Company. In her experience, one-stop printers are great at "simple and quick lettershop work." For example, she says you may want to use a one-stop printer for ink-jetting a name and address on the mail panel only. "However, if you need list services, complex versioning or inserting, a lettershop is your best bet," she asserts.
Unusual creative also is a consideration. "If a package is unusual and it pushes the envelope in terms of postal regulations, a traditional lettershop that has a good working relationship with the Postal Service can help you avoid unpleasant acceptance problems by working with the USPS folks every step of the way," says direct mail consultant David Yale.
Speed and Cost
Getting your package into the mail quickly and at a reasonable cost is always a priority. When a mailing is large, a traditional lettershop sometimes can shave a day or two off the delivery time by working closely with the U.S. Postal Service, Yale says. "Ask your lettershop if they have USPS representatives working on site and what arrangements they have for getting your drop into the mail stream faster," he suggests.
When it comes to postage costs, a lettershop may be the best source if you need your mail trucked to a Bulk Mail Center (BMC) to get the best postage rate, Johnston says.
Cost control issues beyond postage also are worth consideration. Look at what you're paying for all of your lettershop services, says Kelly Herman, direct marketing production director at Bernstein-Rein Advertising.
When doing projects for her direct mail clients, Herman tends to avoid one-stop shops. "Not all—but many—either really outsource one aspect or another (and don't necessarily disclose that to you) or are economically priced on one side and not the other. Therefore, you could end up paying more in the long run."
If you're considering a one-stop print shop vs. a lettershop, she recommends doing a cost comparison. "And don't be afraid to ask the one-stop shops to break out pricing on the print vs. the lettershop [portions of the job] for a true apples-to-apples comparison," Herman adds.
Lettershops often provide ancillary services. Of course, before turning over additional work to any vendor, determine if costs are comparable and be sure the quality is up to par.
Our experts suggest you ask whether your lettershop offers any of the following services:
>List services: especially merge/purge, CASS certification and postal presorting.
>Mailing services: arranging trucking to BMCs; helping you design your mailpiece to maximize postal discounts.
>Printing services: Johnston notes that some lettershops provide digital printing or variable black-and-white imaging on laser printers.
>Bindery capabilities: die cutting after imaging; fugitive glue. Keeping everything on the floor so that the direct mail product doesn't have to be sent out and returned to be mailed will limit the number of times the product is being transported and handled, Herman says.
>Print-on-demand capabilities: Herman explains, "This is the future of direct marketing—creating Web sites that allow selective creative options, ability to print as needed, and accessibility to mailing."
Ask many questions and do a good deal of research—the more you understand about printing and mailing, the better.