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Direct Mail and Print Production Checklist

Quick Checklist

Proof. Proof. Proof. Have someone else review it as well.
If possible, read backwards.

Don’t forget to:

Proof headlines (hedlines are taken for ganted)
Phone numbers
Email addresses (general inbox recommended)
URLs. If appropriate, use shortened URLs (we can do this for you)
Event dates (is the 20th a Thursday?)

Print shop. Make sure they can meet your deadline. We’ll oversee this if we’re managing your printing.
U.S. Postage. In all cases, this is due in advance. This is critical.
National shortages. This happens and take it into account.
Critical deadlines. Give yourself an additional week. Print shops are notorious for missing deadlines.
If you are working with us, follow all deadlines, including what we need from you when (images, copy, logo, etc.)
Read below completely. It is useful!

When it comes to print production and direct mail, there are a lot of moving parts to track. That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive checklist to help with your projects.

Some of the items are in your direct control, some are not, and some can be gently nudged to go the way you need.

The bottom line is this: You can streamline the timeline of any deadline-driven project by planning ahead. And whether it’s a holiday message (Thanksgiving and year-end mailers) or a legacy society event, give yourself an additional week or two on top of any deadlines you have. This will help keep expectations in check.

Read this entire checklist before your next project, and keep it bookmarked. Although not every point will apply to you, you’ll find yourself coming back to it time and again for those that do.

Print Production Checklist

Before you begin your project, choose your printer and mail shop, find out how much postage is, and get that postage check cut in advance. Print shops and mail houses will hold your mailing unless they have the funds in place. If you haven’t paid, others’ projects may be moved up in the print que, pushing yours even farther behind.

If you are working with us, we’ve reserved the pint shop. All we’ll need is the check for postage.

The Message

Get creative with your content. The nonprofit world is full of vanilla marketing that does not get read.
However, do not obsess over design. We constantly see ugly postcards with compelling content outperform shiny, award-winning pieces with weak verbiage.
Don’t worry about paper stock. These days content rules. The only time stock may matter is for a cornerstone brochure.
Ensure you include a call to action. CTAs are critical to motivating your prospects to become donors. Without one, even the most engaging campaigns can fail. Make your CTA visible and bold so it can’t be missed.
Give your audience more than one way to respond. People are busy and prioritize accordingly. They might not use the tear-out card or call the listed phone number but will use a QR code or personalized link. The more options you give to respond, the more likely you’ll get one.

Use bullet points, numbered lists, graphic elements, and white space. Your busy donors don’t have time to read 400 densely packed words. Make the information you present easy to absorb.
Consider including a P.S. — they are often the most read part of any letter. You can use this area to reiterate key campaign points and your CTA.

The Process

Rule of thumb for the planning stages: If two out of 10 board members do not approve of your concept, go with it. If all are ho-hum, it’s not a good piece. If all are excited, wait a day and think on it.
Ensure those giving you opinions are business-minded, and not just academics. A client once handed one of our direct mail pieces to an English professor for his input. He tripled the content with fancy words and put some vanilla toping on it. The client was forced to use the revisions in order not to offend the professor. Result? ZERO response from a mailer that had previously worked great.
Ensure all copy is approved before it goes to production. Redoing your entire content once it is in the design or print stage gets costly. Minor edits are fine, but not wholesale revisions. Try to hold editorial work to no more than three rounds of proofreading and revisions.
Who needs to see the project? Who gets final approval? Your boss? The board? The CEO? Be sure you know the answer to these questions before you start the project. Finding out the president still needs to see the copy when the project is in the last stages could spell disaster.
To the best of your ability, minimize the number of “cooks” in the kitchen. The more people who can make changes, the more unnecessary changes you’ll likely be making. Tip: If one person keeps on insisting on minor changes, blame a “third party” or just say that because of the looming deadline, you’ll need to take their advice for the next mailing.
Most typos appear in headlines, phone numbers and email addresses. Always proof these carefully. We also suggest using a general inbox/email address that never changes, in case the person listed moves on.

Final Steps

We mentioned this already, but it bears repeating: Before you begin the project, choose your printer and mail shop, find out how much postage is, and get that postage check cut in advance. Print shops and mail houses will hold your mailing unless they have the funds in place. If you haven’t paid, others’ projects may be moved up in the print que, pushing yours even farther behind.
Is your mailing list ready? Has it been sorted to include your “move list” and eliminate bad addresses, duplicates, triplicates? Our mailing house normally handles this to a degree, but final accuracy depends on you. Expect some bad addresses; this is normal.
Is your mailing list segmented by audience? Even if you’re not fully personalizing your mailing, it should still have basic segmentation so that you can speak relevantly to your target audiences.

Printers are notorious for missing deadlines, especially if there are supply shortages. Often, they are so busy they may forget to inform you. This is why we are on top of them as your “go to” sheriff, and keep you in the loop every step of the way.

Remember… once you sign off, all typographical errors are your responsibility. If you continue editing, there will be fees for author’s alterations, and you will likely miss your deadline. Never take the risk of rushing a print job with a print shop. Mistakes happen at their end, too.

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