I had been waiting for a couple of weeks for some critical decisions to be made so we could finish developing a timeline for an appeal mailing that a client wanted to hit at a specific time. When I finally connected with the client and asked (for the third time) if the decisions had been made, I was asked, “why is it so important to put together a timeline, anyway?”

To be honest, I was a little stunned. I have been working in direct mail for 27 years and I don’t remember ever being asked that question. Besides, I would have thought that the answer would be self-evident, but after thinking about it for a few minutes, maybe the answer is not that obvious. Afterall, “assuming” that everyone knows why it is important to develop and follow timelines would go against the number one rule around here – “never assume”.

Direct mail campaigns have a lot of moving parts like developing a concept, creating artwork, printing various pieces that take different amounts of time to produce, dealing with the time for the final production, and of course my favorite, predicting on how USPS will handle the delivery of the final piece. If you don’t get a handle on how all those moving parts interact and make sure they are handled on time, the success of your direct mail campaign will suffer. So, lets start with the most obvious answer to the question and work our way to maybe the less obvious.

  1. Timelines help to create a schedule for the various activities to be completed: Pretty obvious, huh, however, if I had a quarter for every time a client didn’t meet a deadline on the schedule and still expected their mailing to drop “on time”, well, I probably would not have to write this blog. Anyway, an effective timeline makes it clear to everyone what needs to be done, when it needs to be done by and who is responsible for that activity.
  2. Gets everyone on the same page; Timelines can foster discussion: This is a “cousin” to answer number one, but what we mean here is that as a timeline is established, a real discussion can go on about the goals for the project, the options available to perhaps lower costs or have a message more clearly sent and information can be shared to increase the likelihood of success.
  3. Saves Money
    A. “Time is money” is a cliché but a true cliché’. Timelines help to visualize how long a project should take and allows all the options to be on the table. Please take our advice – the more something is “rushed”, the more expensive it will end up costing and the more likely something will go wrong.

    B. Meeting the deadlines on a timeline will allow the cheapest postage options to be used. For example, if you have an event that is coming up in two weeks, your option for Marketing mail is out the door. Having to use a more expensive postage option can break the budget on a project.

    C. Not understanding when a mailing needs to be dropped into the mail stream and how long you need to plan for delivery can devastate the success of a mailing. One of the discussions that is so frustrating is when a client’s expectations for the success were not met because the pieces arrive too late. Nothing wastes more money than an ineffective mail campaign. The sad part is that some issues can be easily avoided with a conversation and a realistic timeline.

Timelines are important to success. In our next posting, we will describe the elements of an effective timeline and how to go about creating one. I know I sound like a broken record, but your mailing professional should be a terrific resource in helping you develop an effective timeline. We here at Cox would like nothing better than to sit down with you and help you achieve positive results from all of your marketing communication.