The Team Approach
Despite a rocky 2002 economy, catalogers are forging ahead, turning their attention to new manufacturing practices to support—and, in some cases, supplement—their sales efforts.
Order forms aren’t the only things you’ll find nestled in your favorite catalog these days. Increasingly, catalogers are partnering with third-party mailers to insert advertising into catalog pages. And the ads are taking myriad forms, most commonly as blow-in and bind-in inserts. (Blow-ins are loose ad inserts, while bind-ins are inserts that are bound into the book.)
For catalogers, these initiatives often mean extra revenues. And for advertisers, they’re a way of targeting a specific demographic, while the cataloger picks up the postage costs.
To be sure, relationships between catalogers and advertisers must be delicately managed, and once formed, must be extended to a third party, as well—namely, your catalog’s printer. Much like the relationships that blossom between magazine publisher, printer and advertiser, this triad must form a seamless network of communication, as well. All parties must be apprised and in agreement about the project’s objectives. And everyone must be intimately aware of creative, production and manufacturing deadlines. Moreover, each must have a comprehensive understanding of the production process, specifically, its costs, strengths and limitations.
Fortunately, catalogers and advertisers aren’t flying solo in these initiatives. Third-party agents are there to lend a hand by marketing advertising programs for the cataloger and helping to keep that all-essential communication between parties flowing.
The LH Management Division of Leon Henry Inc. sells blow-in, bind-in, package-insert and ride-along programs to non-competitive advertisers, in turn generating revenue for clients such as Current catalog. Explains Debra Goldstein, divisional manager of LH Management: “We’re the insert manager responsible for selling blow-in or bind-in space into the Current Social Expressions and Scrapbooking catalogs. In addition, we manage their package-insert program, [for which] inserts will be collated into an envelope and placed in the shipments with merchandise purchased from the catalogs.”
The Christmas in July 2002 issue of Current was delivered with two advertising inserts, including a four-page bind-in for Checks Unlimited and a blow-in promoting Crossings Book Club.
Other catalogers taking advantage of these ad revenue streams include Solutions (one of the titles from the Norm Thompson catalog group), which offered a blow-in order form for Designer Checks in its Early Summer 2002 issue. And Brooks Brothers’ Late Summer 2002 catalog included a tri-folded blow-in advertising Bose sound equipment.
Goldstein predicts more advertisers will take advantage of these types of promotional methods in the future. “This is a popular alternative method of advertising for mailers. It’s certainly less expensive than direct-mail and package-insert placement.”
Advertisers look for key pieces of information supplied by companies like Leon Henry, which provides a comprehensive report to clients, telling them much of what they need to know about a catalog and its customer base, including: descriptions of products, customer demographics and buying trends, mail dates, and circulation figures, etc.
Caveats for catalogers: In some cases, you must approve the content and “insertability” of the piece before it goes into your book. A restriction may be the date by which the finished insert must arrive at your catalog printer’s facility, which sometimes can be as much as six weeks prior to the actual insertion date.
As a cataloger, you have plenty of choices when it comes to tapping into these types of ad revenues. You can build relationships with advertisers themselves, which may necessitate hiring new sales and production personnel. Or you can outsource the work to a third party responsible for apprising advertisers of available catalog programs.
“Most advertisers work with insert brokers who are continually looking for insert opportunities for their mailers,” Goldstein adds. “The insert recommendations can include blow-ins, bind-ins, statement and invoice stuffers, package inserts, ride-alongs and co-ops. Most catalog companies don’t have the time or the staff to develop these types of relationships, so they turn to managers who typically charge about a 10-percent commission.”
It’s no secret that catalogers tend to keep their business practices close to the cuff. So what do they think about developing these partnerships? “Catalogers were resistant at first,” Goldstein confides. “They were solely concerned with making their own sale, not making a sale for some other company. And they were a bit reluctant about renting files. In most cases, it requires approval from key executives and sometimes that’s difficult to nail down.”
But the culture is changing, Goldstein continues, and catalogers are beginning to broadly embrace the idea.
Know the Specs
First decide on the types of programs to offer third-party advertisers, including the physical specifications. Deciding whether to offer advertising ride-alongs, blow-in cards or bound-in inserts can come down to your own aesthetic preferences. However, the selections more often should be based on the specifications of your catalog itself (e.g., trim size, type of stock, type of binding).
The choice between blow-ins and bind-ins automatically can be made depending on the catalog’s size specifications. Says Goldstein, “The smaller the trim size, the more likely that blow-ins will fall out. That hurts results, and in that case, you’re better off with something that’s bound in. Of course, in the case of mailers or advertisers, they prefer not to bind-in, simply because it’s costlier for them. And it can be more complicated, because they have to adhere to exact specifications, like dimensions for a [gutter] lip.”
Give it Time
No matter the project’s design, establishing an accurate lead time for material submission to the catalog printer is vital.
At McAdams Graphics, an Oak Creek, WI-based printer, the average turnaround from the date the artwork is received up to the shipping date is six or seven working days, according to Dan McAdams, vice president of sales and marketing. Freight time is additional.
“Ten days gives everyone time to handle any issue that develops along the way. Many times, the design team wants to make changes after they’ve seen the first proof. At 10 days, there’s still time to do that,” he says.
There’s no shortage of niche printers like McAdams Graphics (which specializes in blow-ins, bind-ins, cover wraps, envelopes and direct mail). Other companies include B&W Press (bind-in order forms, order-form envelopes, reply cards, self-mailers and brochures); Champion Printing (bind-in order forms, blow-ins and self mailers); and TRANSCO (flexible packaging and four-color poly wraps). Many already have long-term relationships with catalog printers and can manage the printing and delivery of ad materials on time with ease.
“The lead time varies dramatically depending on the type of program and the individual requirements,” explains Goldstein. “Most blow-in and bind-in programs can require a lead time from one to six weeks prior to printing the catalog.”
Dan Kimball, plant manager at B&W Press, Georgetown, MA, adds that today’s technologies, such as PDF file transfers and computer-to-plate production, have significantly shortened lead times. The result, he says, is that a company like B&W Press can produce 45 million pieces every week.
Building ample time in the schedule for printing and shipping inserts, tip-ins and wraps is essential for guaranteed success. Time is very much of the essence, Goldstein stresses: “The print job cannot, and will not, typically wait for an insert to arrive. If the mailer wants to be in a certain catalog, the deadline must be respected.”
“Size can make a difference in the sheet that’s required,” McAdams says. The minimum size of a reply card is 3-1/2˝ x 5˝, and the maximum is 4-1/4˝ x 6˝, says McAdams. Any card that’s larger than 4-1/4˝ x 6˝ must then be printed on nine-point stock, which can add as much as 30 percent or more to the cost of the job.
Kimball adds that bind-ins always are made to the catalog or magazine trim specifications. “We always start the production cycle by contacting the printer for bindery specs. Perfect-bound pieces require a removable gutter or perforated strip to remove the piece from the book.” These formats use a minimum of 1˝ of paper stock for the stub, he notes.
Saddle-stitched pieces must be designed with a bind lap to allow the high-speed stitcher to pick up the piece for saddling onto the bindery machine.
All of this must be researched before any production, Kimball continues. “Often, the cataloger or publisher develops artwork before he or she has confirmed how the insert will be handled by the book printer. This is a mistake that will most certainly lead to production delays. We advise clients to allow us to interact with the catalog printer in the early stages. We then create electronic templates built exactly as the piece will be bound or blown into the book. A finished proof always is sent to the bindery for approval before any production.”
It’s not only important that add-on materials arrive in time for insertion and according to specifications, it’s also vital they arrive in decent shape—specifically that the inserts arrive in the proper packaging, allowing smooth insertion by the machinery, Goldstein says. “Slick, glossy inserts or curling of the piece will jam and slow down the entire process. The thickness of the paper and the fold of the insert all play a part in smooth insertion, too.”
It’ll be interesting to see how the budding relationships between catalog producers and advertisers blossom further. There’s a world of possibilities for which the two can pair and plenty of production strategies to ensure lasting—and enriching—partnerships.
Gretchen Kirby Peck is president and chief creative officer of P.A.G.E.s, an editorial consultancy and freelance writing firm specializing in graphic arts.