5 Steps To Keep Direct Mail On Schedule

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It's sad when a postcard promoting a sale at your favorite clothing store arrives the day after the sale ended.

direct mail schedule
Sad for you because of bargains missed; sad for the retailer, whose sale was probably a bust because no one got the word in time since a mail schedule wasn’t set.

Timing is critical with many types of direct mail. Political candidates’ appeals to voters do no good the day after the election. Neither does the arts festival brochure that arrives the Monday after the weekend festival ended.

Avoiding these money-sucking marketing blunders requires a schedule that realistically sets deadlines for the multiple steps that a direct mail campaign requires. Let’s work backward from when your direct mail should arrive in mailboxes to determine a timeline.

Step 1: Set your delivery schedule goal

When should the direct mail piece be in mailboxes? Think about the optimum time for delivery: too early and customers will forget an upcoming sale; too late and they won’t have time to fit your sale into their schedule. Don’t try to pinpoint an exact delivery date; instead, come up with a three- to four-day range for delivery. (Example: April 3-6.)

Step 2: Calculate mailing time

Mail delivery times vary by class of mail and the mail’s destination. For example, presort standard mail could take three days (local), 5-6 days (statewide) and as long as two weeks (nationwide). Your local post office or third-party mail service should be able to provide realistic estimates of delivery times. Most will give you an estimate that is a range. (For example, 1-3 days for local delivery). It is critical to have your direct mail piece to the post office on schedule. Otherwise, you might have to send it first class to get it to your customers on time. Doing so will increase mailing cost by around $150 for every 1,000 pieces mailed.

Step 3: Determine print turnaround

The time needed to print a direct mail piece depends on the complexity of the piece, type of printing (digital printing can speed up the process and be cost effective for smaller quantities) and a printer’s schedule. The time required for printing will shock those who haven’t worked in marketing. Printers always calculate project completion in terms of “working days.” Make sure you understand what that means in each printer’s case as work days and holidays observed vary from printer to printer.

Step 4: Set a deadline for design

Here’s another variable that is hard to gauge. Whether the design team is in-house or independent, ask for realistic estimates on project turnaround, and be sure to factor in slowdowns that result from reviews and revisions by you and your staff.

Step 5: Add a few more days

After you’ve worked your way backward to a start date, back up another couple of days to give your schedule a cushion. A project typically has a bump or two–a snowstorm slows down mail service or the CEO takes an extra day to review a postcard’s copy, for example. But by working in this fashion, you will be able to stay on track and get your direct mail delivered in a timely fashion.


Bill Nichols

February 15, 2016

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