Mistakes happen. The goal with training, checks and balances, and defined procedures is to prevent as many as possible – hopefully all of them.

However, some things inevitably are not thought of, appear out of nowhere, and catch even the best organisation off guard.

To keep mistakes to a minimum, when helping companies launch direct marketing efforts, I give them a list of the top 10 things that will go wrong in hopes that they can avoid everything on the list. I’ve come to realise that many of the mistakes seem to be unavoidable, and each client will make them regardless of any advance warning.

The inside joke is that there are now more than 25 things on my top-10 list.

Between problems with dirty data coming in, mistakes in selections, broken software, or even problems with the type of ink in a printer, mistakes happen. And they result in everything from having a good chuckle (the AMEX logo next to the VISA check box) to a major financial issue (the entire 80,000-piece mailing sent to the newspaper’s office instead of the prospect’s because the remittance address of the newspaper showed through the window envelope rather than the intended prospect due to production collation problems).

One of my favourites is the 1-800 phone number used for many years that wasn’t verified prior to an annual mailing. Well, the client had “lost” the phone number when in a budget crunch. The phone number was released, and the telephone company re-assigned it.

However, it was re-assigned to a phone sex company. True story.

Get your campaign started on the right foot with these three rules:

  1. Know the postal rules. Work with the post office, and remember that postal employees can’t always guide you. They can answer questions but aren’t always able to guide you through the complex rules for delivery.

  2. Your competition can do 98% of what you can do, and they will use every mistake you make to take the customer from you.

  3. You will make mistakes that, with 20/20 hindsight, will fall into the “I can’t believe we did this!” category.

Here are some of the mistakes you will make (even after reading this):

  1. The creative will be late, forcing you to miss a mail drop date.

  2. The list will be in the wrong format and IT will be too busy to recover fast enough.

  3. Typos on the piece will include incorrect phone numbers, incorrect dates, incorrect (or inconsistent) rates, and the wrong “fine print.” Read every word. Check every phone number.

  4. The sticky labels won’t stick.

  5. The ink used in the printer won’t dry and will smear.

  6. The walk sequence file will be backwards by the time the piece is bundled.

  7. The wrong “optional endorsement” will be used, costing an extra fee per return.

  8. You will send the piece first class instead of standard A. (The “or current resident” option doesn’t work in first-class mail.)

  9. You’ll need to deliver to a ZIP you haven’t CDS certified or CASS certified, thereby bumping postage rates.

  10. You’ll find the postal service doesn’t do CDS from November to January.

  11. The paper stock selected is under postal spec minimums. This requires a do over.

  12. Page two won’t align with page one.

  13. The deliver-to name will be used with the bill-to address, making the piece (sometimes) non-deliverable.

  14. If the mail house has the chance to mess up the merge of multiple address blocks (mail-to, bill-to), it will.

  15. Your NCOA processor will end up having pieces mailed to Alaska, following the person rather than staying with the address given.

Other things to watch:

  • Make sure the data you need to select for your list is in the file you will work from.

  • When ordering lists, make sure you have requested all information you will need when systems starts processing the list. Confirm on arrival that the file contains all requested information.

  • Make sure all components fit into the carrier (outbound envelope). And watch the total weight of all the components.

  • Be sure the reply device fits into the business reply envelope without folding side-to-side.

  • Make sure the carrier window is positioned properly so the correct laser-printed name and address block show through.

  • Suppress current customers from prospecting lists so they don’t get solicited for a product they already have at a rate lower than they are paying.

  • When dealing with multiple versions of the same component, use inventory codes to ensure correct insertion. Visit the mail shop during insertion to ensure quality.

  • Check for consistency of dates, names of forms, prices, rates, phone numbers, return addresses, etc. from component to component.

  • Always get an Nth record selection proof from the mail house to ensure the outcome of at least 200 records selected are accurate.

  • Make sure to order print quantities of any pre-printed element over the amount of your mailing file to allow for waste and spoilage (5%-10%) during production.

  • Develop strategic alliances to ensure expertise and expectations are set in advance.

  • Verify addresses with permit numbers on business reply envelopes.

  • Verify proper ZIP, ZIP+4, and delivery point barcodes on business reply envelopes.

  • Weigh the completed package. The weight of the total package must be managed or you will have to pay weight penalties in standard A or first class. The weight penalties are very expensive.

  • Return address must be on the front of the carrier if mailing in bulk or using an indicia (postal rules).

  • If using an indicia, order the permit well in advance as it cannot be done quickly.

  • If using an indicia, make sure it is for the proper class of mail. (As a rule of thumb, all subscription offers need to go out standard A with an “or current resident” caveat. Avoid first-class mailing at all costs!)

  • Copy on carrier face must meet postal specifications for the barcode clear area and so on.

  • Work with suppliers well in advance to establish firm component delivery times.

  • Watch postal rules for aspect ratios on each piece. Miss the ratio limits and postage can double.

  • Watch postal rules for clear zones, colour contrast, and type size.

  • Verify “optional endorsement” type needed (address or forward service requested).

  • Watch NCOA rules (use “or current resident” as an escape until that loop-hole is closed) and use standard A only.

  • If buying a list that includes rural, P.O. box, or highway contract routes, verify that you are getting actual addresses, not a simplified rural delivery list.