The Production Lifecycle
The work that a Production partner does to add value and transform a client’s direct mail program into reality is incredibly valuable. Understand the different milestones within the Production Lifecycle as a Production expert does!
Milestone 1: Pre-Production
To begin, like any successful operation, planning, budgeting and scheduling of a direct mail campaign have to be completed. Once campaign specifications are known, draft artwork exists and desired in-home dates are known, your production team can get to work to build a solid game-plan to execute production.
The pre-production stage typically takes one to two weeks. During this stage, the production manager will review the project details to identify the best print and mailshop production methods and review for any potential production pitfalls. Your production expert will competitively bid to appropriate suppliers in our network and confirm manufacturing schedules.
Once all job planning is completed, the production expert will create a budget, schedule and perhaps plan kick-off discussions between the client and/or production partners, to ensure they are on the same page to meet project expectations.
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind during the pre-production stage in order to avoid late surprises: 1) Supply as accurate specifications as possible since inaccurate specifications or changes could impact project timelines and costs. Keep your production expert in the loop if project specifications change. 2) Including the Production team on preliminary artwork is key for identifying the appropriate production methods that are being used and vetting potential production issues. 3) Sticking to the set manufacturing schedules is essential especially in fall seasons (and keep in mind this year is an election year!). While production partners will try to be flexible and accommodate, there are no guarantees when our spot in a manufacturing schedule is lost!
Milestone 2: Printing
Once artwork is finalized and released for production, your production expert will review to make sure it is consistent with what was planned and address any changes. Next, the production manager will work with partners to create printing proofs for review. The production manager and client should carefully perform q.c. checks on these proofs to make sure everything is 100% accurate meets expectations. Once the proofs are approved and final print counts are known, we are off to press! The art comes in two to six weeks before the mail date depending on the size and complexity of the campaign.
Milestone 3: Data Processing/ Personalization/ Mail Shop
When data is finalized, it should be sent with a data file layout, instructions and mail plan. The production manager will work with production partners to ensure the mailing is setup efficiently for production. There will be several q.c. steps during this phase to make sure everything is correct before moving onto the next step in the process. The turn-time of the data processing/ personalization/ mail shop process varies between about three to six weeks.
Milestone 4: Postal Logistics and the USPS
When the mailing is complete, it may be entered directly into the local post office of the mail service provider, but more often it will be handed over to a postal logistic provider to be further sorted and shipped to USPS destination facilities. During this stage, it is important to track the mail to ensure delivery. The Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) now allows transparency into the postal stream to ensure that your mail is moving. Production experts will monitor the delivery of your campaign and can advise clients of slow delivery and troubleshoot problems if needed. The timing of the mail delivery depends on the method of mailing. First-class mail will take two to five days to arrive in-home. Marketing mail (non-profit) could take anywhere from 10-15 days to deliver in-home from the time it leaves the mail shop.
Milestone 5: Post-Production
Our mailing is on its way to people’s mailboxes, but our work is not done yet! During Post-Production, the client and production partner go through a series of transactions to finalize the production process. Production costs and postage will be finalized and reconciled so that final invoices can be generated. Once all final costs are known, PS is able to create package costs to share with our clients so that they know their costs by production package. We will also send you samples of the actual mail packages that were reviewed. These final stages generally happen one to two weeks after the maildate.