In the Trenches: Pick the Perfect Lettershop
The first time I set foot in a lettershop, I was in awe of all those big machines that take huge volumes of paper material and somehow create direct mail. As I stumbled around pallets and forklifts, my guide was busy giving me a lesson on cut-sheet versus continuous-form laser technology. When we finally exited the cavernous room to the relative quiet of the foyer, I thought I had just gotten off a wild carnival ride.
So, if choosing a lettershop to handle my direct mail business could be decided by the old adage, “He who has the most toys, wins,” the decision should have been easy. (This place had a lot of toys.) But if you’re responsible for the production of your fundraising appeals, you know that it isn’t just the “toys” that make a strong lettershop.
I challenged a number of fundraising-agency professionals and lettershop managers to name the most important variables to consider when selecting a lettershop.
Demand ‘service with a smile’
“Look for a lettershop that understands your specific needs and acts as a partner,” says Phil Wax, an independent fundraising consultant based in Massachusetts.
Wax advises mailers to first look for reliability, then investigate inventory, job tracking and reporting systems. And, most importantly, he cautions: “Be sure all your invoices match the original quote.”
Rebecca Altieri, director of administration at West Bridgewater, Mass.-based Mail Computer Services, echoes Wax’s sentiments.
“Look at a lettershop’s management and corporate structure,” Altieri stresses. “What are the layers of management? Are they sufficient to drive quality and communication?”
Altieri also suggests looking at a lettershop’s operating software and asking: How efficient is the system that controls work-order entry and inventory, postage and accounting? Do they link together? Do they allow for speed of information back to a client?
Peg Wood, vice president of the fundraising group at DMW Worldwide, underscores the human factors.
“Make sure your work is assigned to a decided, experienced account-service team,” Wood says. “And make sure they are supported by an IT team that understands your work.”
But David Kozak, director of business development at Hartford, Conn.-based DataMail, says that in today’s world, where fundraisers are increasingly scrutinized, data security is paramount. Kozak suggests asking a lettershop precisely how the data will be transferred and stored. Will it go through a secured site? Is the IT department protected by card-key access and security cameras?
“Your donor base is a major asset to your organization, and you must be able to trust everyone who comes in contact with the names and addresses of your donors,” Kozak stresses.
Be punctual and organized
The gripe most lettershops share is that jobs come in late and improperly organized. Kozak offers four key traits that his best clients share:
- The artwork is perfect and can go straight to prepress. Printed materials arrive in perfect shape and packed properly from the printer, if produced elsewhere.
- The data instructions are written properly and match the file sent with the job.
- All materials arrive with specifics that match the quote.
- The project has a realistic schedule. Lettershops complete the last phase of a direct mail campaign before it’s turned over to the U.S. Postal Service. All lettershops prepare for crunch times and are prepared to help clients even in the most dire of circumstances. But don’t let your organization be known as the one that runs in permanent “emergency mode.”
You probably already consider your consultant, partner agency, copywriter, designer, list broker and vendors part of your fundraising team. Make sure you save a place for your lettershop provider.
Tom Hurley is president of the not-for-profit division of DMW, a full-service, direct-response advertising agency with offices in Wayne, Pa.; Plymouth, Mass.; and St. Louis. You can reach him at 774.773.1200 or via e-mail at email@example.com.