8-questions-vendor-vers2-2 Tuesday, October 4, 2016, 6:00
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8 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Print Vendor for Your Next Direct Mail Campaign

By Alex Zamorski | October 4, 2016

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After the strategy has been outlined, the creative dreamed up, and the budget approved, the next step is to find a print vendor and lettershop to produce your direct mail fundraising campaign. Choosing a reliable print vendor and lettershop is essential to a successful direct mail campaign and can make-or-break all of the strategy and creative efforts already put forth. So before you choose a vendor to produce your next mailing, ask them the following 8 questions.

 

1) How much will my direct mail fundraising package cost to produce – start to finish?

The most important question is, of course, whether or not the vendor can complete the job within your budget. If their initial pricing is more than you expected, don’t hesitate to negotiate. Vendors are trying to feel out your price point just as much as you’re trying to find out theirs. If the total cost is over budget, ask if they’re willing to work with you to come down or can give a suggestion to help cut costs. There’s almost always some wiggle room.

2) What kind of additional fees can I expect?

Ask upfront for about any additional fees that might be tacked on, such as any fees for requesting edits to proofs, UPS or FedEx charges to ship print samples, or freight or handling charges that would be in addition to postage costs. Avoid the frustration of seeing surprise charges on your final invoice by asking ahead of time.

3) Where are you located? Do you have additional shops or locations?  

Where your vendor is located in proximity to the bulk of your mailing list and to your own office can make a world of difference. First, you’ll see much better delivery times if you use a vendor located centrally to your mailing list – using a print shop in California for a job that is mailing largely to Georgia is going to tack on extra days.  Secondly, working with a vendor within driving distance to your office has serious benefits, such as being able to courier samples or drop by the print shop for a press check.


 

4) What is your typical production schedule and timeline?

In the political world, quick production times are a must! Some print vendors are better suited for quick turnaround times than others and it’s critical to your job’s success to understand not only the final drop date, but when to expect proofs, laser set-ups, print samples, etc. Request a detailed schedule along with pricing when you send out a Request for Quote so you can plan accordingly.

5) Can you send me some samples?

Everything from the machines a vendor operates to the paper they regularly stock will affect your direct mail pieces. And simply put, some printers produce a higher quality finished product than others. Vendors will always show you their best, most prized pieces as examples so be sure to ask for a sample that’s most similar to what you’re looking to have produced.

6) Do you have any specialty or niche work you feel you’re really good at?

Who you choose to produce a high end or major donor package will likely not be the same vendor who is producing your large scale standard acquisition jobs. When you need to up the ante and create a high grade look and feel, seek out a vendor partner who specializes in deluxe, high touch production. If you’re looking for something special such as membership cards or lenticulars or calendars, it may be worth sourcing those niche producers yourself and arranging shipment to the lettershop of your choice. Not only will you have a better product, your pricing will likely be lower than going through your normal printing cadres.

7) How large is your shop and what quantity would you consider your “sweet spot” to produce?

The size of a job will narrow down which vendors are best suited to produce it. Some vendors simply cannot handle jobs over 50,000 or 100,000 pieces – their facilities are just too small and their pricing won’t be competitive. On the flip side, vendors who are consistently producing 500,000 to 1-million piece jobs are not going to be very interested in doing a 10,000 piece fundraising package – and their pricing will reflect that. If you’re exploring a new vendor, ask them up front what quantity range they consider their “sweet spot” and where they’re pricing will be most competitive.

8) Will you give it to me straight?

Being able to trust the printing company and the CSR assigned to you is critical to a job well done and to a successful ongoing partnership. Things happen – deadlines get missed, trucks breakdown, data processors take an unexpected morning off to get married (yes, that actually happened) and although it’s frustrating, it’s much better to hear the truth than be sweet-talked and given the run around. If something isn’t going to mail on time, it’s best to know why upfront, right away.

The Lukens Company has over 30 years of direct mail experience and we know the ins and outs of working with a long list of print vendors. For more information on how we can support your existing direct mail efforts or create a successful campaign from scratch, email us at political@thelukenscompany.com or fill out the form below.

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Alex Zamorski

About Alex Zamorski

Alex Zamorski develops and implements marketing and communication strategies for The Lukens Company. Find her on Twitter: @AlexZamorski