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You Paid to Have it Printed & Mailed When?

Last Friday I received an advertisement in the mail from a dealership that has multiple locations within the Southeast. They were having an open house at all five of their facilities which included a hamburger or hotdog lunch and door prizes. I read the oversized tri-fold mailer as I walked from the mailbox into the house and then onto the back deck and sat down.

By Darren Gapen
Published: May 27, 2011

Last Friday I received an advertisement in the mail from a dealership that has multiple locations within the Southeast. They were having an open house at all five of their facilities which included a hamburger or hotdog lunch and door prizes. I read the oversized tri-fold mailer as I walked from the mailbox into the house and then onto the back deck and sat down.

As I looked at the specials they were offering and the various addresses, I realized that we live within a few hour ride from two of their business locations. One of which was in northern Alabama, the other just over the state line in North Carolina. Then I thought to myself; this could translate into a road trip for the wife and I on the Fat Boy. The route would take us through either the northwest Georgia mountains or the northeast Georgia mountains and into the base of the Smokey's.

Wow! What better idea would there be for a sunny, 80º Saturday than an all day scooter ride!!

Then it happened! The elevation of excitement was over faster than a thirty second roller coaster ride at Six Flags. As I glanced to the bottom of the front page, I realized the ending date for the event is the same afternoon that I pulled the mailer from our mailbox.

I'm not sure if I was actually more disappointed and upset that the trip had ended before it began (not that I need an excuse to ride) or the fact that the company that paid the printer for the material and mailing was looking at a short turn out for the event. Or in other words; a very short return on the investment.

The following Monday I made a call and talked with senior management of the dealerships. I started with a brief introduction and then proceeded to ask how the attendance was during his four day event hosted last week. He had gone on to say that the turnout was much lower than anticipated and blamed some of it on the economy.

I then proceeded to give him the scenario that I had encountered with his promo mailer and my thoughts on what and where things went sideways. Assuming that he hired an ad company to print and mail over one hundred thousand brochures without any verification checks in place was not the answer. There may have been a few of the pieces delivered with time remaining but based on the attendance rate, I would have to assume that most recipients received theirs late as well.

Many say the downfall to mailing printed material is the lack of tracking. I disagree! There are definitely ways to monitor these issues and prevent this from happening to your business. You just have to put them in place and understand how they work.

Ending on a positive note; I know the next mailing he sends out will be printed and mailed at a printer here in Atlanta that is owned and operated by a close friend of mine….

There are two morals to this story. You choose which one applies to you.
I - Be aware of who prints for you, especially when it comes to your livelihood.

II – And for those who pride yourselves on fast turnaround, pleasing color and cheap, Keep in mind that if you don't perform for the best interest of your customer, someone else will!

Darren Gapen has been involved within the printing industry now for over three decades. Throughout that time, he has held positions from a pressman up to the President at some of the most prestigious printing operations in the country. Two of which included Bradley Printing in Des Plains, IL and Williamson Printing Corporation in Dallas, Texas.



By John Zarwan on May 27, 2011

I couldn't agree more. (Though it might not be the printer's fault) How many times in my career do I return from a trade show to a stack of invitations to visit a vendor at the show?


By Chuck Gehman on May 27, 2011

I think this story makes a case against using print for this particular type of application. "The printed invitation". I know this is going to horrify a lot of people, but here goes...

Let's add to the "to do" list:

III - Use email instead of print.

In today's fast-paced world, there are a number of good reasons not to do this sort of campaign with print: so much can go wrong (per John, whether it was the creative, the printer or the USPS, it doesn't matter, it still failed); and it's too expensive. Furthermore, it's much harder to track response.

Finally, it's very likely to have a bad ROI if it could be tracked.

In the example provided, the turnout was probably because the dealership was also running ads on TV (whoa-- cross media!!!)


By Gina Danner on May 27, 2011

While on the surface it is easy to blame the printer, After 23 years printing and mailing for customers of all sizes, I can honestly say that is the shortsighted view. I have had clients who came to me on the Monday (even Wednesday) before a large event and want me to mail invitations. Poor planning on their part resulted in no one coming to their event - it had nothing to do with the speed of production of the direct mail.

I have had clients NOT follow my advice and mail anyway when mail wasn't the right channel. I have also had the post office delay the delivery on first class mail admit that they failed AND still not give the client any consideration.

While the easy answer is the printer did it (or didn't do it) - the right answer is probably something more complex.

Direct Mail - as well as email - can easily go wrong without a clearly defined set of strategies and metrics. Success and failure goes beyond response rate - it goes to overall strategy and overall return on investment.

Email is NOT the only answer especially when only 20% of all email sent actually gets through to the recipient and a 5% open rate (no one has even responded as yet) is considered good. Email has no perceived value, and obtaining correct email addresses for people who are interested in your solution continues to be a challenge.

The direct marketing industry, and the professionals involved in the industry, need to remember that a single channel is rarely the only answer. A mix of media is important and critical. Direct mail is not dead and email is not the end all be all. Every channel has a place and can provide a great return on the investment.


By Darren Gapen on May 31, 2011

Gina, Good point! Maybe it wasn’t the printers fault. Maybe it was rain, sleet or even snow that could have caused the delay but regardless of why it was late; it was late.

I’m trying to emphasize that cheap is not always the answer and too many print buyers shop on that theory alone. This makes for a very unstable client base for anyone. You might print one or two jobs but chances are jobs three and four will print at the guy that offered the job for thirteen cents less.

We need to put the focus back on the clients and remember the relationships that made us successful. Listen to your customers needs! Understand and guide them to their goals. Don’t just take the money and run to the next wallet.

And Chuck; you are absolutely correct!!!! Not about the direction of email blasting but the fact that you did horrify everyone in the printing business with that statement. Cross media can be very productive but if people forget about ink on paper, we’ll all be looking for a job.


By Gregory Smith on Jun 01, 2011

Yeah, e-mail would work MUCH better. Like, I don't already get enough spam to filter through, let's just add more to the mix. At least a physical piece of mail gets the courtesy of a shakedown before it's tossed in the trash. E-mail blasts have to contend with filters and spam services, and then if they make it through that much and actually get to the end users inbox, THEN you have to hope the reader actually pays attention and remembers what the e-mail was for...


By Gina Danner on Jun 01, 2011

Gregory... we printers need to understand that email isn't going anywhere anytime soon, neither is social media. We also have to realize that the cost of direct mail will continue to rise. We have to figure out a way to deliver more value for the dollars spent. It is not a matter of either/or... it is a matter of helping marketers understand there are lots of channels and it is their job to figure out which one is the right one for the message.

It is also our job to provide our clients metrics for all of their marketing efforts. We can no longer just leave the results in their hands. We have to educate and provide more service at every step in the chain.


By Gregory Smith on Jun 02, 2011

Totally agree about using all channels. The fellow earlier intimated that print is doomed to fail in this sort of campaign however, and that is the thought with which I take issue. There are so many potential hurdles for an e-mail campagin to overcome that aren't really burdens for regular mail that the earlier guy just didn't address at all, like "Oh, e-mail is so great at this sort of thing - just rely totally on it... Dude..." when in fact e-mail blasts are quite often blocked, blacklisted, filtered, or just plain lost in the daily white noise of our inboxes. I think for one to suggest e-mail is a panecea for typical marketing campaign woes as compared to print though is just plain silly.


By Chuck Gehman on Jun 03, 2011

I absolutely understand the value of using multiple touch points. Use Print AND Email. And TV and Radio.

But I think you folks are living in the past, though, in terms of your skepticism of the power of email, notably Gina and Gregory.

Saying that only 20% of emails get through, and trying to make points about blacklists and filters shows a deep misunderstanding of how email marketing is effectively done today.

One of my cars has a lease-end coming up in the next few months. Since I live in New York, where we have a large number of car dealers, I get 3-5 direct mail pieces A WEEK, and have been since the beginning of the year. All different shapes and sizes and production quality.

They don't even make it into the house, they go right in the trash. How effective is that?

I'm not talking about spam, which quite frankly sounds a lot like what the car dealer in question here did-- spam direct mail: let's just buy a list of consumer, buy some cheap print and drop it at the last second.

There are many applications where email alone is going to be the correct channel to deliver a message. Wake up and smell the coffee!


By Gregory Smith on Jun 03, 2011

I see.. You're the guy responsible for all of those Viagra blasts that clog up my filter aren't you?? How many servers do you have to bounce in order to get that spam through....

LOL. Have a great weekend. Dude...


By Bob Herion on Jun 03, 2011

Your points are well taken, but I'm not certain they are morals to this story. It would have been helpful to know when they thought it mailed versus when it actually mailed - and at what class.
I'd hate to think your buddy just got work which was taken from an innocent printer.


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