Political Direct Mail: An Edit Too Far?

by Elena Veatch

Political direct mail:7 clocks showing different times on a shelf in front of yellow backdrop.

Political Direct Mail:  Keep It On Point and On Time

Building a strong political direct mail program for your campaign doesn’t have to involve the amount of back-and-forth you may expect (or fear). Having a clear dialogue and a shared understanding of goals between the political consultant and the campaign team from the get-go can streamline the process and reduce the number of headaches for both parties along the way.

Below are some tips for making the editing process as smooth as possible on both ends, so that your direct mail can remain on point and on time.

A Collaborative Process: We view the process of working with clients as collaborative and enjoy putting in the effort to make sure both we and the campaign can be proud of the final creative products at the end of the day. The road to final approval on a mailer often has unexpected twists and turns. Circumstances change on the ground on a day-to-day basis, and it’s important to be nimble in building a program to account for unexpected wrenches that can be thrown a campaign’s way. Sometimes this means changing the front side of a comparative piece a day before it needs final approval; other times, it may mean scrapping a piece entirely when variables change or adjusting the order of pieces. That said, some editing crunch times are entirely avoidable, and we do everything we can to avoid letting direct mail edits get out of hand.

Don't Over Edit: While flexibility in building a political direct mail program is important, the tendency to over-edit a piece is very real (and dangerous). This sometimes happens when a campaign goes back and forth on a round of edits they’ve sent us (re-editing their own edits). Other times, indecision over a specific bullet point or phrase leads to a longer-than-ideal editing process. A single word or phrase will rarely ever be the deciding factor in an election. When approval timelines are derailed over small details, resulting delays can hurt a campaign. It’s important to know when to make a decision and move on to the next one.

Be clear who the client is: At the same time, we’ve seen consultants get stubborn in pushing for political direct mail that a campaign doesn’t view as a good fit for the community in question. These instances are counterproductive and can waste valuable time for a campaign as well. At The Campaign Workshop, we’re not shy about making recommendations for any program we’re working on, but at the end of the day, it’s the campaign’s mail and we want them to be happy and comfortable with the final product.

Remember that print deadlines matter. Specific timelines are important to keep campaigns on track to meet drop-dead print deadlines (e.g. We need written approval on Piece A by 2pm ET on DateX in order to stay on track to drop Piece A on DateY). Approval timelines are ultimately a two-way street. It’s the consultant’s job to remind the campaign of deadlines every step of the way and to clearly communicate delays that will result if approvals are lagging. Printers have limited physical space for pieces to go to press and we can’t say with certainty how quickly pieces will move through the U.S. Postal Service to voters’ mailboxes. These factors make timelines particularly important so we do everything we can to stay on track. On the other end, it’s the campaign’s job to do all they can to meet agreed-upon timelines (and in instances in which they can’t, to understand that delays will result).

Gang printing requires planning ahead. When we’re printing multiple political direct mail pieces together to bring costs down, this requires even more planning ahead to ensure that we’re keeping several pieces moving at once. If Piece A and Piece B need to approve and print together, both direct mail pieces will require the same level of attention from the campaign (even if Piece A drops a week ahead and feels like more of a priority).

Know the financial consequences of late edits. We have written into our contracts that any edits requested after a client has already approved a piece can incur additional fees (not to mention delays). Thankfully, we rarely have to enforce this rule; our clients don't want to waste time over-editing pieces any more than we do. Most campaigns know when to stop messing with direct mail copy if all parties have agreed on timelines from the start. We work to clearly communicate the financial and timing consequences of late edits—particularly those requested after a piece has gone to the printer.

Respect the workload on both ends. September–October of even election years are particularly crazy times for political campaigns and consultants alike. We strive to be realistic with campaigns about our turnaround time on deliverables and what we need from them (and when) to turn around high-quality direct mail pieces. At the same time, we understand that campaigns are at their busiest on the ground as well. We keep designed materials, timelines, and invoices as organized as possible (and try to lay out all deadlines and needs in single emails when possible) to help campaigns make decisions and access the information they need quickly. Empathy on both ends always helps keep the process smooth.

Leave time for thorough proofing and fact-checking. Ensuring a campaign mail is error-free is important. We’ve all received pieces in the mail with embarrassing typos, and in some instances, these sorts of errors can make for bad press for a campaign. We work to catch typos and other errors every step along the way of the edits process, utilizing professional proofing services once a mailer has been approved and having several sets of eyes proof pieces internally as well. It’s always crucial to leave enough time for proofing, as we’ll never send a piece to a printer without having thoroughly proofed and vetted it.

Loop lawyers in early. If there’s an aspect of a direct mail piece that’s potentially controversial (calling out a candidate’s record on domestic violence, for instance), the consultant and the campaign should consult their respective lawyers early on. Sometimes making a change to the framing of an issue early on can avoid potential legal issues. If anything, both parties can have comfort ahead of the game in knowing they’re on solid legal ground in bringing up an issue. Don’t leave legal consultation to the day before a piece needs to go out the door.

Do you have more questions about building an effective and efficient political direct mail program for your campaign? Check out our ultimate guide to direct mail, or reach out to our team for help!