The Bumps of Direct Mail
It is important to begin coordination early. A "working with" attitude must prevail between the account and creative team who are developing the program. And, the production team which has the responsibility to make it all happen.
The good folks of Lewis & Mayne of San Francisco, the catalog production group of Inmac, a mail-order computer supply house, and Polly Pattison, a publication design consultant, have each supplied me with a few ideas that will help you, your creative and your production teams to work better together.
From their ideas, combined with my own hands-on experience (including some wonderfully successful as well as outrageously horrible programs!) come two dozen IDEAS:
Plan in advance. Plan everything. Every detail.
Think about all the variables and options. Write them down, look at the list and add to it. There is no such thing as too much information.
If the deadlines are tight, it is even more important to plan ahead. So you can decide where the sacrificing will come from.
If the campaign is complex, you need a list to make 110% certain you have included everything. In its place. Just as an architect needs a blueprint to build a house -- you need a check list to insure you've covered every production base. Plan in advance.
Bring in your suppliers -- early. Talk to your most experienced heads. Ask for their input. Get their technical expertise early-on in your development stage.
Do this before you get committed to a single concept that just may not be the best way for you to go. Before it becomes too late or too expensive to make the needed changes.
Set Schedules! Having a schedule is not an option -- it is mandatory. For everyone. An entire section of The 8ight Point Plan is devoted to schedules -- that's how important it is to the success of your direct response program.
Many times we do have a schedule. We're serious about it -- but something falls out of line -- something "breaks" along the way. Do we adjust?
Sometimes -- but many times we just pressure the production team to still meet the deadline. And then wonder why quality is not up to standard.
Here is a "rule of thumb" schedule for various direct mail activities. Build these times into your schedule:
Activity Weeks List selection/rental ................ 2-5 Rough copy ........................... 1-3 Rough layouts ........................ 1-2 Approval ............................. 1-2 Finished graphics .................... 1-3 Typesetting .......................... 1 Order/receive paper .................. 2-8 Order/receive envelopes .............. 1-5 Print letters/simple pieces .......... 1-3 Personalized package letters ......... 2-4 4-color printed materials ............ 2-4 2-color printed materials ............ 1-3 Lettershop ........................... 1-2
Of course, all of this depends on many things. One of the big items is quantity. The larger your mailing, the more time you need to schedule. The more personal the package, the more time it will take.
Another is people. Don't rush people. People make mistakes and mistakes cost. Stick to your plan. Enforce your realistic deadlines. And then, be tough.
Work from your budget. Good professionals are problem solvers. It's their job to know how to get things done. And they know (so do you!) that good ideas cost money. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Even though one expert may make a marvelous recommendation, you have to live within your budget guidelines. Don't throw that good idea away -- save it for next time. Or the time after that.
Consider every idea -- many will save you money. Little things, such as a slight change in paper size, can be worth a lot to you. Consider everything -- and then decide the best road for you and this program.
Shop for services. Just as you would anything. Give complete instructions at the beginning. Start by writing specs for every job and then ask questions. Get quotes. Make certain YOU understand what you are asking . . . and what you are buying!
Consider dividing the tasks among several direct response printers and lettershops. Don't assume all printers are alike -- they are not. Using specialists from a number of sources may save you money. As long as you keep control and can maintain your schedule.
Copy "fit" as you write. This is directed to copywriters. By working with production from the beginning, it is much easier to make certain your copy will fit where it is supposed to fit. Know how many characters fill one line (about 40, please -- it is much easier to read). Know your limits, and copy fit as you write.
Make a dummy. A "sample" of your package. With all of the elements cut and folded to final size. With the weight paper you will be using. As close to the final and real package as possible.
Why? For at least two reasons:
Be acutely aware of machine requirements. Today we can truly get anything we want done. Somewhere. Someway. Somehow.
At a cost -- in money and/or time. But, if we can get some machine to do it, it sure saves on wear and tear of mind and body. Not to mention the budget.
Use standard everything -- where practical. Sure, it is exciting to use an "odd" shape or size envelope or package. only problem is it may not fit in the mail box/may not work through the machinery/may require hand work.
This is not to say the different or unusual doesn't have a place in direct marketing -- it does. Just make sure it is worth the extra effort and cost.
I can't save this copy. A quote from an art director. Copy is king in direct response. The graphics can (and should!) make the copy better. Just like television and radio. Even with the same message, television is more exciting. Because of graphics.
But, unless the copy is good, the art director cannot be expected to save it. If it is bad to begin with, it will still be bad afterwards.
What do graphics do? The prime purpose of graphics in direct marketing is to get the copy read.
Illustrate first with photography. Using people in pictures and captions underneath. Why? Because research indicates photography is more believable. It enjoys higher readership when compared to illustrations.
And why captions? Because they too get read. Your audience learns quickly what it is you are telling them. They get your message.
Does this mean that art doesn't have a place in direct response? Absolutely not! It most certainly does. Sometimes a mix of art and photography makes for a better mail package/brochure/flyer/fulfillment piece/technical brochure.
Consider stock art and photography. There are times when what is available in stock is just as good -- if not better -- than going to all the time and effort of creating your own originals. Keep ego out of it -- it may save you a considerable bundle.
Any decent-size print production house has scores, if not hundreds, of type ornaments. Borders, backgrounds, corners, and other decorations you can use to "dress" your mail, brochures, print ads. Know what is available -- and use them where they fit. They too can offer a cost savings over original art.
Some other cost-saving graphic ideas include these:
If nothing else, use screens of your basic ink color. Screens can take the place of the second color. Overlapping screens of two colors can even replace a third or fourth color.
Gang your production. Gang your photos. Gang-run printing jobs. Choose your photography with uniform contrasts -- and then do standard reductions.
When you can print more than one piece at the same time, on the same press, costs drop dramatically. All of this applies "when practical". At least think about it up front -- it saves a little time and a lot of money.
Avoid white space. Avoid blank pages. Avoid accordion folds. Avoid "fancy".
Avoid the things that add nothing to the success of your direct mail or brochure. It's not that on occasion some of these ideas aren't worthwhile -- they are. But in each case you have to decide if they really help your sales message to be understood.
On white space and blank pages remember: "Nobody reads the white space".
Allow your copy to breathe, yes. But white space for the sake of artistic beauty wins no awards in direct response. The graphics are to support the copy -- make it better, more readable -- not replace it.
Avoid tight registrations. Avoid overprinting photos. Avoid bleeds and heavy ink.
Ditto! Tight registrations require rules around photos -- which means extra care in the printing process. It costs money. Why, oh why, anyone overprints photos with type I'll never understand. It destroys the photo and you can't read the copy!
Bleeds and heavy ink are similar to tight registrations; if the "feel" of the piece requires it, fine. It just takes more time and costs more money. Be sure you can justify both. Remember. Awards hang on walls. The money goes to the bank.
Avoid reverse type. Avoid italic type. Avoid ALL CAPS. More of the same. A little reverse works well. Too much is unreadable.
Italic in small amounts adds emphasis to your message. Too much is unreadable.
CAPS are fine in small doses. Too much is unreadable. Since you want your message read, give it to your audience in the most readable format possible.
S C A N: Square / Clean / Accurate / Neat It's amazing how sloppy we can get in this business. It's also amazing how our sophisticated production processes pick up exactly what we give them. As in the computer industry: GIGO -- garbage in, garbage out.
The same thing happens in direct response production. Yes, it takes a little longer to apply the S C A N formula. Do it.
Use serif typefaces. There are thousands of different typefaces, and they are divided into two large groups: Sans-serif and Serif
Serif is better for anything you expect or want to be read. Use it where there is lots of copy. (And copy is the rule rather than the exception in direct response.) Why? Because serif is type with the "feet". As the type in this book. Which we trust is very readable!
Does sans-serif have a place in direct marketing? Probably yes, but not if I can help it. Why do anything that makes it more difficult for your audience to get your message?
Sans-serif is used heavily in certain media. Such as outdoor, bus cards, and with many audiovisual aids, such as slides and overheads.
For readability -- use the serif typefaces. Out of all that are available you'll find several you like.
A quick note on type size: Make sure your type is large enough to be read easily. Most newspapers use 8-point type. My suggestion is to use 9-point or larger. I personally prefer 10- or even 12-point. (This book is set in 11-point type).
Anything smaller than 8 is too difficult to read. Which may be just fine if you're forced to include the legal requirements or other necessary information that nobody reads anyway. (There are laws about all of this . . . make sure you know and follow them).
Look at your audience and decide if a few more pages of larger type might be worth it. There is a reason most of the world wears glasses!
One more "avoid". Avoid dating materials. Unless it is absolutely necessary, don't put a specific date on anything printed. It immediately becomes "dated", which may mean a perfectly good piece of literature or a direct mail package becomes "old" before its time.
A little trick I learned is to include the DAY of the week on the letter in the package. The day -- let's say Tuesday -- gives a feeling of current. It can't be more than a week old. And yet that same piece could be used as is for months.
Include your corporate name, your logo, your complete address, telephone number, area code, and any special project coding on every piece in your direct mail and fulfillment packages. Do this on your brochures, flyers, take-ones, and hand-outs. On everything.
Why? So if any one of your pieces is separated from the others your audience can still find you. Be easy to do business with: Be available.
When you must make changes, make them early. Don't design on the press.
Some people truly cannot visualize a package until they see it. Which is another reason a dummy package or tight layout can be so important.
But, some people at the approval level seem to always decide at the last minute that something just has to be changed.
My rule is this: If it is truly an error -- wrong, a mistake -- then it gets corrected. If it is a desire, a want, a feeling, then you get to pay for it. It will cost in money first and probably time. You may miss your place in line or you may miss an important "drop-dead" date.
And, put it ALL in writing. So everyone knows what to expect and when.
Because production people are busy, many times with a number of balls in the air, they tend to prefer not to put everything in writing. Don't do that to yourself. Or let it happen to you.
By now you can certainly understand the advantage of having all the decisions, directions, dates in writing. If for no other reason, to catch something that fell through the crack.
In Summary ...
I have not attempted to recommend, suggest, or debate pros and cons on the way to do anything. Or to discuss the very detailed technology that is available to us today.
For someone like me, who has difficulty closing the ironing board or hanging a picture straight, production itself is something of a miracle. Frankly, I don't really understand how it all happens -- how it all comes together.
And you know what? I don't care. I do care that it happens.
Within a reasonable schedule. For a fair cost. How is of no real interest.
What this attitude does say is you, like me, must have on your team -- either inside your organization or out -- people who do understand all the options. Who are capable of making the best decision when it comes to an either/or choice.
People who know how to buy. Who understand paper. The envelope business. Printing in all its various formats. Who know when you can do it "down and dirty". And when it must be five stars.
People who can negotiate with brokers. Who understand what real deadlines are as opposed to those we artificially throw up from time to time. Who can first understand a budget and then work within it.
by ROCKINGHAM*JUTKINS*marketing, all rights reserved.