Proofing Your Direct Mail
Don't Let Errors Mar Your Political Direct Mail
When it comes to producing political direct mail, it’s crucial to vet your copy before any piece goes out the door to avoid mistakes. As people in my life dating back to the second grade can probably tell you, typos are the bane of my existence (everyone has their thing). Minor mistakes in writing can sometimes warrant a laugh or be just momentarily cringe-worthy. We’ve all made errors in our spelling or grammar in final products at one point or another—famous authors, New York Times columnists, teachers, bosses, Barack Obama—and the stakes aren’t always sky-high. On the opposite end of the consequences spectrum, in some instances, something as seemingly small as a missing hyphen can set you back $80 million (I’m looking at you, NASA).
I’m certainly not here to tell you that a typo on a piece of direct mail for your political campaign will upend the natural order of the universe. However, a glaring error in your mail can cause unnecessary bad press, scare off funders, or leave you open to avoidable attacks from opponents (leaving out a letter in a phrase like “public education” is just one example of a mistake that makes a difference). So, how can you keep your direct mail typo-free and catch other errors?
1. Slow down. You may feel inclined to get a piece of direct mail out the door and into voters’ mailboxes as quickly as possible. Remember to take a breath and slow down before you approve a piece to go to print. You shouldn’t spend days on end re-reading the same copy or lose sleep over the placement of a single comma, but don’t oscillate to the other extreme either. Take the time to make a quality product that’s worth your precious campaign dollars.
2. Have proofing systems in place. If you’re working with a political consulting firm like ours, chances are, proofing systems are already an important part of the direct mail approval process. Here at The Campaign Workshop, we thoroughly proof our mail, digital ads, landing pages, videos, blog posts, and other communications before they go out. When it comes to direct mail, we won’t send a piece to a printer unless three staffers (as well as a professional proofing service) have laid eyes on it. Our standard checklists are designed to ensure that each proofer is keeping an eye out for the elements where mistakes commonly occur, including disclaimer language, union bug placement, and return addresses, in addition to checking for grammar and typos. We have a culture of calling attention to all potential errors to be safe rather than sorry. If you’re producing your own mail for your political campaign, make sure you have a system for assuring its quality. There’s no reason not to do everything you can to avoid having members of your community call you to say you’ve spelled your own name wrong on your mail.
3. Get a fresh set of eyes on a piece. You’ve been toiling away on a proposal or a piece of direct mail for days, and now it’s time for the final round of proofing. When possible, we have folks on different teams who have never seen a piece look over the work. This way, the mistakes will jump out to the new eyes, rather than go unnoticed by someone who’s seen the work 30 times already. This isn’t always possible, of course, so having multiple rounds of review is an extra layer in the process to ensure that someone will catch each error.
4. Proof early. Most of us get hazy brains about seven hours after we wake up, making late morning the best time to approach analytical tasks. Whenever possible, we try to get proofing done early in the day, or at least by four or five o’clock. If someone’s burning the midnight oil, they’re simply less likely to catch those hard-to-spot errors. After eight hours at your screen, everything starts to blend together, making mistakes more difficult to find.
5. Be consistent. Create a style guide for your campaign for consistency. This way, all members of your team will know that you’re spelling “health care” as two words or declining to capitalize “representative” when it’s not being used as a title preceding a name. Have a one-pager that includes any dates, phone numbers, or other critical information that your staff should be aware of as they’re proofing your direct mail.
6. Eliminate distractions both when you are writing and when you are proofing. When proofing materials I remove my headphones, close my door, and ignore my email. The more you can focus on the task at hand, the more likely you are to catch a pesky “then/than” error.
7. Look at the big stuff first. Oftentimes we look only at the body copy of a document, assuming that since the title is so big and important surely there are no errors. Wrong. Read headlines, titles, vote dates, websites, etc. before you tackle the body of the document.
Get professional help. Our team has some real eagle eyes, but we still consult a proofreading company for every piece of direct mail that goes out the door. Why? For a small fee, we have an extra backstop, and our staff can breathe a little easier. Politics is filled with pressure, and while our team does obsess over dashes and capitalization, having pros back us up gives us an extra sense of security.
Practice! It never hurts to exercise your proofing muscles in your day-to-day life so that you’re in the habit of catching and fixing errors on your direct mail. The New York Times has a bunch of “Copy Edit This!” quizzes that are super fun (clearly, I don’t get out much).
Looking for more political campaign tips? Check out some of our best practices here!