Paper, labor, transportation shortages…oh my! I am sure you are well-aware of these nation-wide economic challenges that are impacting the direct mail supply chain and leading to not only increased prices, but longer lead times.
There is no indication that these disruptions are going away anytime soon and as we plan for 2022, we need to find ways to accept the conditions of this new reality and settle into how we can best navigate these obstacles over the long-haul.
Our best strategy to succeed in this environment … Planning Ahead!
But what does “Plan Ahead” really mean when it comes to direct mail production.
The key ingredient to planning is to build and share your desired annual mail plan with your production team. What does this entail specifically? Ideally, these are the details that are needed:
We recommend that these details be provided at least 6 months out and would even encourage 12 months out, if possible. This information will arm your team of production mavericks with the details they need to start building the game-plan and production schedules needed for the successful execution of your direct mail campaigns.
In addition to planning early on the production side, keep in mind that schedules may also need to be adjusted in pre-production steps in order to accommodate potential longer production lead times. Key strategy discussions, decision points, creative layouts and list purchases may have to move up as well. As an example, maybe in 2020 a paper order had to be provided in 5 weeks in advance of the mail date, but this time we anticipate we will need to get the order in 10 weeks in advance. A change like this could mean a chain reaction in moving up the timeline for other key steps and decision points within your campaign schedules.
By sharing your mail plans and package format details up front, we can share with partners our expected needs when it comes to paper ordering which in today’s paper market is more important than ever. Some papers are not a problem, some papers that used to take 6 weeks to order take 12 weeks to order, some papers are simply no longer available. By providing these details in advance, potential paper concerns can be spotted early and there will be time to adjust campaign timelines as necessary.
In addition to paper ordering, it is important that we can source partners and reserve time in manufacturing schedules for the equipment needed to complete the job. Not all equipment and suppliers have the same capabilities, therefore it is important for us to know the specifications of the packages so that we can be assured we are reserving time with the correct sources. Schedules are filling up faster than ever and many partners are simply turning away work because they are at capacity (meaning we did not get in line soon enough!) By planning early, we are assured a spot in the queue and if there are concerns, there is time for contingency planning or finding an alternative source. In addition, partners can advise if manufacturing lead times need to be adjusted based on labor or other constraints.
No matter how good our planning is, none of us have a crystal ball and can plan for every twist and turn that a direct mail production campaign may encounter. And twist and turns are happening more often in our current environment. A paper delivery may be late because it is stuck on a rail car, a mailshop can’t complete a job on time because a crew suddenly had a COVID exposure and needs to quarantine, or a shipment being a day behind because a truck could not be secured. Build a little breathing room and buffer into production schedules to offer some cushion to these unexpected events.
We get it! Strategies and plans change. Keep your production team apprised of these changes as early as possible as some changes can dramatically change the game-plan when it comes to paper orders and supplier schedules. We will always make every effort to be flexible and accommodate changes but help us to help you by communicating them as early as possible.
I leave you with the words of Confucius “A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.” Plan so that we can help you avoid finding trouble at your door in 2022!
Shannon, PS' Senior Sourcing Manager, has been serving with PS since 2010. Shannon is PS’ expert in all things production. She trains each person that joins the company with genuine care and support, grace, and she uses her expertise to help others truly understand, learn, and grow. She has held a variety of production-related positions in the printing and publishing industry and has over 24 years of experience in our industry. Shannon leads by example with her open-mindedness and her determination to listen with curiosity.
Shannon telecommutes from Trinity, Florida, and she loves to play tennis and she is interested in nature photography. Shannon also is interested in music, and her favorite holiday is Christmas.