You Want the Appeal Out by When?
President John F. Kennedy gave NASA a decade to get to the moon. My kids give Santa a year to come through with presents. But I wonder if the rocket scientists and St. Nick have the same “under-the-gun” feeling that many direct mail fundraisers have when preparing the next big campaign.
Both experienced and newbie fundraisers alike know that successful campaigns require an investment of financial resources and time. We’ve dealt with the financial issues, now let’s deal with time — the one resource of which we all have the same amount to spend.
I consulted numerous fundraising-industry colleagues at other agencies and organizations to find out how these folks use their time and what variables trip up even the best in the business. The consensus among more than a dozen of my peers is that it takes at least eight weeks from concept to mail to avoid overtime charges and mistakes due to haste.
That said, emergency appeals can be launched in hours if you’re prepared. Large quantities of 1 million addresses or more, coupled with a new agency-client relationship, can also add more time. So, while eight weeks was the median response, everyone agrees that each campaign is unique.
Most of my sources, however, mentioned two major phases that come into play. There’s the “concept to disk phase,” in which the campaign is designed and written; and then there’s the “disk to mail” phase, which sends the campaign into production and then into the mailstream.
Again, most agree that you must devote at least four weeks to the strategic and creative phase, and at least another four weeks to production.
Managing the process
There are myriad variables that can wreak havoc on even the most sound campaign strategies. When working with prospect-generation campaigns, for instance, you will have to manage the aspects of bringing in outside lists.
“The list decisions and execution should happen at the beginning of each campaign,” says John Graham, vice president of Ministry Advancement of In Touch Ministries of Atlanta. “First, because it takes time to clear the list orders and exchanges and, second, because it’s important to make sure the campaign is within budget guidelines.”
My colleagues agree that wasting time can lead to higher costs, poor morale and missed mail dates.
“If you’re planning 10 or 11 house mailings per year, and the client misses deadlines for approving copy on any kind of regular basis, it’s not uncommon for one of the mailings to push back the next,” says Geoff Peters, president of Crofton, Md.-based Creative Direct Response. “If this happens two or three times per year, you find yourself doing fewer mailings that year. That can be 10 percent of planned revenue lost due to missed deadlines.”
From concept to disk
Jack Doyle, president of Peabody, Mass.-based Amergent, has found the greatest opportunity for clients to cut time and expense in the creative-development process.
“Before the first meeting, all parties involved are asked to look for things to bring to the table around a new idea or strategic concept,” he says. “Preparing to actively contribute something at the meeting is key.”
Doyle’s ultimate objective is to keep people on task.
“Once we have agreement on everything that we want the donor or prospect to do, we go through the supporting-story content and photographs for consideration,” he explains. “Prompt attention to details before, during and after the initial creative-development meeting can really save a lot of time.”
Industry author and lecturer Ken Burnett advises fundraisers to prepare a brief in advance of every campaign, which all parties should sign off on before work starts.
“Clients who constantly change the brief should face some sort of penalty, like being charged time and a half, at least,” he adds. “Constantly changing the brief is de-motivating and leads to second-rate work.”
From disk to mail
Four weeks later, it’s time to print the direct mail appeal. Gina Kneib, senior vice president of production at DMW Worldwide, offers the following tips for in-house and agency-production managers:
* Avoid corrections at the proof stage. It’s better to take time for a complete review of all components with all appropriate parties prior to disk release. Proof review should then be limited to as few people as possible. Having too many people involved with proof approval can slow down the process. Additionally, changes made at the proof stage are costly in terms of time and money.
* If appropriate, have proofs sent to multiple contacts simultaneously, but always have proofs returned to a single point of contact to compile corrections before sending them back to the printer.
* Send a previously printed sample to the printer for color match, even if you plan to attend the press check. By giving the printer something to target up front, you could avoid hours of adjustments on press.
* If a previously printed sample doesn’t exist, request an ink draw down on the specified paper stock to avoid surprises and wasting time while on press.
* When jet printing envelopes, get the envelope blanks manufactured as soon as the window position is determined.
* When working with data, make sure there are data audits at intervals during the processing. If there’s a problem, it often can be resolved simply, quickly and with fewer people involved.
After a project mails, most domestic fundraisers allow for at least four to eight weeks for revenue to flow into a lockbox. So if your fiscal year ends on June 30, you should have your campaign planned and almost ready to mail by now.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.