How to Get the Most out of Your Political Printing
The world of political printing is varied, vast and mysterious for many. But it doesn’t have to be a mystery (unless you’re into intrigue, in which case, I’m sure you can keep the mystery alive in whatever manner floats your boat)—this blog will help you navigate the ins and outs of choosing a printer for your political work. From direct mail, to yard signs (buyer beware, they don’t vote!) to walk lit, the world of political printing comes down to a few important (and common-sense) criteria. Before you hit print (so to speak) make sure you take stock of what matters most to you and do a little digging to make sure your chosen printer(s) can rise to the occasion. Here are some tips to find the best fit for your particular political printing needs.
Don't just use the cheapest printer
Cheap is great—I love cheap. BUT, there are times when quality has to be balanced against cost. The lowest bid may also be the best, but (sadly for anyone who loves a deal) the saying “you get what you pay for” didn’t come from people who felt like they’d gotten a great deal AND a great product. Take the time to weigh price against the other things you know about your potential printer. What are the things you can compromise on (e.g. a slightly flimsier stock)? What are the things that aren’t up for negotiation (e.g. crisp, clean images)?
Get recommendations from people who appreciate quality printing
You wouldn’t get a restaurant recommendation from someone who hates food (unless you also hate food, or maybe you like to feel punished when you go out to eat, in which case, you do you). The same goes for print recommendations. Talk to people whose printed materials look like they care about quality. If the candidate who recommends a printer to you has ugly, poorly printed materials, chances are your political mailers or walk cards won’t look any better.
Ask for political printing samples
Part and parcel with asking for recommendations is asking for samples. Make sure you ask prospective printers for political and non-political samples. There are definitely printers out there who don’t invest the same resources in their political clients when it comes to producing quality, and it’s a useful exercise to see whether there’s a drop-off in quality between the two types of client. In fairness to these printers, shifts in quality are a two-way street. A quality printed product relies on careful and collaborative communication between a campaign and its political printing partners.
What are you looking for in a sample packet?
- Paper: Are the materials printed on a piece of paper that feels sturdy? Does it feel good in your hands (yes, this is a thing, though don’t overthink it)?
- Image quality: Are the images crisp and sharp, or are they grainy/pixelated?
- Color: Are the colors vibrant and what you’d expect them to be?
- Smudges: Dirty presses = dirty pieces. Are there ink smudges or other imperfections on the samples they’ve provided?
Paper stock matters
It’s likely that the samples you’re given will be on nicer stock. Understanding what paper stock your printer is using for you is important. Don’t just assume that the stock used for political printing will be the best or what’s in the sample packet. Often it is not. Ask what stock is being used for your print work and make sure you’re not surprised when the samples come in. I also recommend having this conversation at the outset, before you get a price quoted, as this is an easy way to have a misunderstanding over the costs of your project.
Who is your printer?
If you are working with a union printer directly, make sure you know who is actually printing the piece. Many printers farm out their work to other printers (sometimes you’ll hear this practice referred to as print brokering, though many in the industry eschew the term). In practical terms, this means that the people you think are doing your printing may not actually be the people doing your printing. Ask. I would also note that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to understand the trade-offs and set-up before making that determination. Bottom line: be an informed consumer.
Where is your printer?
Printer location can be an important part of the decision-making process when you’re looking for a political printer. Unless you’re doing a national mailing, it’s likely you’ll be dropping mail and delivering lit locally, maybe regionally. Unless printing in-state is an important political consideration (and it often is), it may be useful to query printers who are nearby, but not necessarily in your state. Location can impact shipping costs and timelines, so it’s important to be clear at the outset about where you want your printing to be delivered/dropped and what your expectations are with respect to timelines, from posting art to completion.
Security is important
Most folks don't think about security when it comes to political printing services, but they should. The security of your content, as well as your lists, is a critical piece of political campaigns. Make sure your printers and consultants take this issue seriously. Again, this is mostly a matter of due diligence and asking the question to make sure security is also something your political printer takes seriously.
You don't have to navigate the world of political printing on your own
If you have the resources to hire a campaign consultant, we recommend you do it. Yes, we have a vested interest in that particular recommendation, but it’s also honestly the best way to make sure the hours of call time you put in to raise the money to fund your political printing projects are used wisely and result in a quality product. It will also open up your schedule for more call-time and canvassing, and less wondering about the tactile differences between high-gloss and matte coatings for your direct mail (trust me, you don’t want to dive into that rabbit hole). To sum up, make sure you work with consulting partners who work with a lot of high-quality union printers and understand their strengths and weaknesses.
Want to learn more about political printing? Check out our blog, Best Practices for Political Direct Mail.