When Should I Drop My Political Mailers?
For any campaign that is investing in political mailers, the timing of that campaign mail is a crucial question. Most political direct mail consultants will talk about the political mailer sending date in terms of the "drop date." This is the date that a printer physically delivers your political mailers to United States Postal Service (USPS), typically at a Sectional Center Facility (SCF). Most political mail consultants are set up to deliver to SCFs, but it’s worth checking with your own consultants to confirm. Delivery at the SCF means that your mail is actually getting delivered a step further into the USPS process than the mail you just drop in your mailbox, and it helps ensure faster delivery times. You can expect political mail (which should carry a special red tag so that it’s treated as First-Class mail and gets where it’s going faster than other bulk mail) to actually be in mailboxes an estimated two to four days after the drop date. But since your direct mail consultant and printer can’t really be held accountable for what USPS will do once you give them the mail, they usually will talk in terms of the drop date.
Create a Mail Schedule
To determine when you should drop your political mailers, you should build a mail schedule that will contain the drop date for each mail piece. It’s helpful to print out a calendar and mark each prospective drop date so you can visualize the tempo and timing of the mail in one place (and yes, I know it may seem silly, but the activity of printing it out and looking at your plan is actually a useful exercise, just as writing out your campaign plan is a necessary step to running a successful campaign).
Know Your Collection Points
Your drop dates should be based around important campaign collection points. Typically, collection points are voting dates, but depending on the goal of your mail they could also be other important milestones (for instance if you’re sending fundraising mail, it would likely be tied to trying to get donations in the door before filing deadlines). Many states also have multiple voter collection points these days, so think carefully about Election Day as well as early and absentee voting periods, and mark each major collection point out first on your drop schedule.
Timing Around Collection Points
When building your mail schedule, it’s important to realize that the vast majority of voters won't pay any real attention to your race until about a month before a campaign collection point. Some campaigns will try to make the case that they should send out political mailers early in the campaign in order to boost their "name recognition," but in most cases, this will not be a good use of your political mailer dollars. Name recognition should be achieved in other ways, generally speaking. You want to send out your mail directly before campaign collection points in order to get the most bang for your buck and talk to people when they are paying the most attention.
One other important point on mailing around absentee voting is that ballot return rates typically follow a reverse bell curve (meaning the largest return rates tend to be shortly after ballots are mailed out, a lull in the middle of that period, and another uptick in returns right around Election
Now you can get to work building your mail schedule. To start, work backwards from your campaign collection points. You will need to account for your 2–4 mail days after the drop date. You should always drop your last piece (the piece dropped closest to a collection point) five or so days before your collection point if you’re really pushing your schedule. Ideally, I’d recommend giving yourself a full week in advance of Election Day for your final mail drop. Remember, political direct mail that arrives after Election Day is a waste of money.
Next, you should build the rest of your political mailers into the schedule by working backward from the last mailer’s drop date. In most cases, you want to make sure you leave at least one day between the drop dates on each piece of mail, in order to make sure both pieces of mail don’t arrive on the same day for your voter (e.g. drop mail on a Monday, a Wednesday, and a Friday).
There Are Days You Can’t Drop Mail
Also worth noting is the fact that you can’t drop mail on weekends, or on federal holidays (Columbus Day, in addition to its thorny politics, is very poorly timed when it comes to trying to drop mail in an even-year election cycle). Long weekends may also impact the overall turnaround time from your print shop, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead and coordinate with them to make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to holiday work.
Vote by Mail, Early Vote, and Election Day
This has already been covered here, but it’s worth reiterating: If you have three campaign collection points, say the start of absentee voting, early voting, and Election Day, be sure that you are accounting for them in your drop schedule. Depending on your direct mail strategy, this could mean there’s a brief intermission between when you send out your last piece of mail to absentee voters/early voters and when you begin sending out mail that goes to Election Day voters.
It may go without saying, but I’ll say it here anyway. When it comes to creating your drop schedule, the more you’re able to plan ahead, the better. Be meticulous when it comes to thinking through the timing, tempo and collection points you’re building around. Mail programs are meant to tell the voters a story (a short story though, not a novel), so the schedule you build should ultimately be in service of achieving that goal as you head into Election Day. Take the time to think through the details.
Have questions about political mailers, mail drop dates or building a drop schedule? Ask them here, or check out our Ultimate Guide to Great Direct Mail!