By Dennis Fay & Vince Marini, InnerWorkings Inc.

Direct mail is still considered one of the most economical means of communicating key messages to customers. However, those involved in direct mail production know the complexities it entails.
Project managers have to work with more parties than a typical production process requires and have detailed criteria to adhere to. Since more than 90% of all direct mail is sent through the U.S. Postal Service®, it’s especially important to know its rules and regulations to ensure your mailing makes it into the mail stream. 
Here are some simple guidelines that will help you simplify the direct mail production process.
• Pay attention to dimension. Mail must fit in certain size ranges to meet postal regulations. For letter-sized mail that means between 3.5 inches by 5 inches up to 6.125 inches by 11.5 inches. And these sizes must remain within aspect ratio (length divided by height). Your piece must have an aspect ratio with a minimum of 1.3 inches but no more than 2.5 inches. Your piece cannot be more than a quarter inch in thickness.
• More than one ounce will cost you. You can mail any weight material but in the current economic environment, staying within budget is essential. To avoid increasing your campaign budget through mismanaged postage costs, try to stay within 1 ounce for First-Class Mail®. For Standard Mail® you’re allowed up to 3.3 ounces per piece.
• Clean your data — and keep it clean. For both First-Class and Standard Mail, you must run the address file through the National Change of Address (CCOA) database to ensure recipient address accuracy. For First-Class Mail your list has to go through this “cleansing” every 189 days. As of this November, Standard mails also will need to be “cleansed” and both classes of mail must be run every 95 days. There’s a cost for using this service, which will increase production budgets for all mailers.
Your mailing house can be a tremendous help. The USPS® has given mailing houses more responsibility in processing the data file and preparing the mail to be entered into the postal system. In addition, if you work with a mailing house that has an in-house postal employee that can weigh and certify mailings, you will save a lot of time in getting your mailing into the postal system. This can also help you when you need a judgment or an explanation of a USPS regulation. The Postal Service® provides multiple discounts in postage depending on how carefully your mailing house prepares your campaign.

• Comply with privacy guidelines. You should be familiar with your company’s privacy policy. Most importantly, make sure your mailing list does not include recipients who have opted out.

• Single sourcing has advantages, but so does multisourcing. While using one supplier with a single point of contact may seem like the easiest way to produce a direct mail program, there are advantages to working with multiple suppliers such as having the piece printed in one facility and then stuffed and mailed at another.
• Engage the creative team early. Trying to meet the creative team’s demands for any type of print production can be difficult, but in direct mail it can sometimes turn your headache into a migraine.
• Make sure that the call to action in your direct mail package makes responding easy. This may seem obvious since the point of direct mail is to get a response, but too many times pieces are designed to be eye-catching and little attention is paid to how easy it is for recipients to respond.

• The more components you personalize, the more you need to monitor matching accuracy. As with any project, the more customized you make it, the more you need to accurately manage all variables to ensure it addresses the specific recipient.
• Seed your list. Add your name or the names of a few other people from your company to the mailing list. This will allow you to know when targets receive the mailing and how the mailing appeared.
• Don’t be late. Any campaign can suffer if the mail doesn’t get out on time. This is especially the case when you’re limited to a specific time frame for your mailing.
To avoid this embarrassment, push suppliers to deliver their products on time and build a cushion into your timeline to ensure you don’t miss your deadline if there are any mishaps during the production process.
These guidelines should help you avoid the typical problems associated with direct mail production. As with any project with so many moving pieces, practice makes perfect. Learn from your mistakes, employ proven practices such as these and make sure you’re working with knowledgeable suppliers you can trust. 

—Source: Direct Magazine Oct 1, 2008 issue ( Dennis Fay is vice president for operations and Vince Marini is direct mail specialist at InnerWorkings Inc., a managed print and promotional solutions firm.