In the Trenches: Savvy Approach to Production Can Help Slash Your Bottom Line
Saving money is imperative in today’s economy. With budgets being slashed and revenues down, nonprofit organizations are under tremendous pressure to cut costs. It’s a challenge, especially when trying to maintain an appropriate image.
In direct mail print production, doing more with less always has been the name of the game. But now more than ever, finding hidden savings means reviewing all the options — suppliers, equipment and the many factors that influence cost, including paper, sheet sizes and printing techniques.
It’s important to remember that your advertising agency (whether it’s general or direct response) is part of your marketing team. A competent agency will help you navigate the production maze to save both time and money.
Savvy nonprofits encourage their agencies and production experts to work closely with the creative staff to ensure that creative solutions are cost effective. This collaborative effort can make a substantial difference to the production bottom line.
That said, there are multiple ways to save money on production costs. Here are a few of them:
Start saving early on
Savings can be found far in advance of a job being sent to press. For instance, before going to print, carefully evaluate the number and type of versions you require. Have your team make recommendations for reducing the number of plates and make-readies. This will result in tremendous savings that won’t compromise the objective of your creative solution.
Pick the right size print shop
Components in a direct mail package can vary from one-color envelopes to full-color brochures. Print shops vary, as well — from small copy shops to large, state-of-the-art facilities. Not all printers are appropriate to handle every component of your campaign. The best solution is to match the work to the capabilities and expertise of the shop.
Remember, it’s not only OK, but also often advisable, to employ different size shops on various components of a campaign. That’s where your agency can really help; your partners will know where to find the cost-effective production resources to deliver the printed materials you so painstakingly created.
Consider envelope options
Printing on pre-formed envelopes using a jet press is much less expensive and usually faster than printing flat sheets on a sheet-fed press. Printing flat-sheet envelopes requires die cutting and converting, which add to bottom-line costs.
Arts organizations and other nonprofits whose missions focus on nature or culture, etc., often wrestle with this issue.
Case in point is a well-known urban botanical garden forced to choose between producing a gorgeous carrier envelope with lots of colors and a magnolia on it and a less expensive, two-color pre-formed envelope. In this case, the organization found a happy medium, choosing a still-stylish but less expensive envelope.
But that isn’t necessarily the right answer in all situations. Keeping costs in check is a priority, but it has to be balanced against the visual nature of a direct mail appeal to ensure that the effectiveness of the creative doesn’t suffer from the cost-cutting measures. The goal for the botanical garden was maximum ROI, and keeping total production costs as low as reasonably possible was critical to the success of the campaign.
Large envelope companies manufacture standard-size envelopes in mass quantities, and you might be able to purchase a smaller quantity — say 50,000 — from a lot of a million. Another benefit of printing on pre-formed envelopes is that it saves time. If you typically use the same size envelope, consider printing a larger quantity for use over a longer period of time.
Pick the paper to match the job
Sure, everyone likes a premium, bright-white paper. But this option is expensive and won’t always be necessary, or even advisable, for nonprofits. This is especially true for organizations that are concerned about contributors’ perceptions of how donated dollars are spent. For instance, a fine-stock paper would be more appropriate for an appeal to major donors of a university alumni fund than for a crisis appeal from a local social-services agency.
That said, unless there’s a reason to look elegant, strive for the “well-dressed” look. There are many good-quality paper stocks that don’t cost as much and still allow the ink to lay well.
Determine what attracts you to the premium paper. Is it whiteness? Opacity? Texture? Then work with the creative team to choose an alternative paper that meets the same objectives without breaking the bank. Many organizations like to use recycled paper as well.
Limit the number of colors
Using an eight-color press costs more than using a six-color press. One obvious way of watching costs is to stick with six colors or fewer. A smart creative team will achieve the same effect without blowing the budget by creating a PMS color out of a process color. This eliminates the need for a seventh color. But don’t expect the designer to build a corporate color or logo out of a four-color process. When color is critical, it’s important to stick with the PMS to ensure consistency and accuracy.
Negotiate contract pricing
If your volumes warrant it, your agency might negotiate contract pricing. Remember, the more printing you buy, the bigger the discount. If you’re ready to experiment with this process, the agency might start with a simple component, such as a business reply envelope or courtesy reply envelope.
Organizations, such as those in public broadcasting, with six to eight efforts in their renewal programs are good candidates for contract pricing. Their agencies could commit to a manufacturer for a 12-month supply of carrier and reply envelopes. The manufacturer will produce the envelopes whenever it has time, keep them in stock and pull them to print quarterly. Why would the manufacturer do this? Because the organization or its agency is guaranteeing the manufacturer a portion of its business for the year. And the manufacturer counts on the fact that it’ll be offered the opportunity to quote on the outer envelopes, too.
Consider the personalization
If you’re printing a standard letter and a simple reply slip, laser printing might be a more expensive option than necessary.
However, for more versions and higher overall quantity, laser printing the letter versions becomes more appealing. Rule of thumb: With jobs of 50,000 pieces or more, and with more than two variations, laser printing is more cost efficient than printing a separate letter and ektajetting or laser printing a separate reply slip.
But don’t try to economize too much by sending the same letter/reply slip version to both prospects and donors. While the themes can be the same, always acknowledge your relationship with current and past donors and thank them for their support.
Optimize mailing for postal rates
Depending on where you’re mailing, be it national or regional, consider optimizing your mailing for the best postal rates. Try to pre-sort as much as possible, and talk with your lettershop about additional postal discounts. Where postage can make up almost half the cost of a piece, anything saved is extra money for the organization.
But wait ... there’s more.
To save additional production dollars, on-the-ball agencies will use common colors on both the front and back of components and take advantage of electronic proofing and consolidated shipping.
The bottom line is that your agency should be adept at combining the knowledge and expertise of both its production and creative teams to help cut your production costs while preserving creative integrity. With the agency on your side, you’ll save both time and money — two resources that are critical to the success of every nonprofit organization.
Tom Hurley is president of the not-for-profit division of DMW, a full-service direct-response advertising agency with offices in Wayne, PA; St. Louis, MO; and Plymouth, MA. In each issue of FundRaising Success, “In the Trenches” will provide practical techniques designed to help fundraisers make the most of every marketing dollar. Email Tom at email@example.com.