Now in Direct Mail: Navigating New Paper and Printing Challenges

In a time of postal delays, paper shortages, and supply chain disruptions, CCAH is helping organizations rise to unprecedented challenges in print and direct mail production.

If you’re looking at an eight-month lead time for envelopes and wondering how to plan now for November mailings, you’re not alone. Direct marketers face new challenges in getting direct mail out the door—from postage increases and rising paper costs to labor shortages and shipping delays.

But direct mail is a major (and often primary) source of revenue for many organizations. Few organizations can afford to scale back direct mail programs or cut campaigns. Not to mention, many folks who comprise your direct mail audiences might not have access to computers or mobile devices; they rely on the mail to stay connected to the issues they care about.

The good news is that there are ways to navigate the new landscape, and we are here to help you through it. 

Shannon Murphy, Principal and Senior Vice President of Production

A Closer Look

According to the Bureau of Labor, over 4 million people voluntary quit their jobs in the month of January. An additional 3.6 million people called in sick from work that same month due to COVID-19 and other factors. On top of that, many people who spent their careers working in print are retiring from the printing trade, and so far, fewer workers in younger generations are stepping in to fill these roles. Like many sectors, print production is contending with a reduction in the workforce.

In addition to labor shortages, COVID-19 impacted paper supply and demand. In 2020, paper production was reduced by 40%, and many paper mills converted their lines to produce other materials. In 2021, demand for paper increased but mills couldn’t keep up. They weren’t and still aren’t able to import as much paper because of mill closures and logistical challenges, including trucking shortages, container shortages, increased dock time, and railway bottlenecks.

Some mills are completely sold out of certain types of paper, and mills are allocating paper to printers based on historical purchasing to prevent stockpiling. These factors have resulted in increased costs and lead time.

Because of the increased demand for paper that is expected through 2022 and into 2023, prices will continue to increase. Mills will consolidate offerings, and some brands will be discontinued. A worker strike in Finland at UPM, one of the world’s leading producers of label stock, began at the start of the year and is lasting through March, further impacting the paper industry.

Meanwhile, postage rates continue to rise, with the next rate increase set to take place on July 10, 2022.  At that time, rates are projected to increase by as much as 9% – 9.5%. Starting in January 2023, the US Postal Service has planned for two postage rate increases per year.

“However long the day, the evening will come – bad times don’t last forever.” – Irish proverb

Adapt and Overcome

CCAH is fortunate to work with suppliers who are going above and beyond to accommodate our clients’ needs in this challenging environment. While there are no easy or immediate solutions, there are steps you can take to stay in the mail and get your message in front of your donors.

At CCAH, we work with our clients to apply for USPS promotions to cut costs, leveraging USPS Gateway as a savings tool. We gang print for multiple campaigns, across programs and across clients. We also track mail for our clients to stay on top of delivery times and ensure mail pieces are delivered. And we implement innovative production techniques to offset cost increases and decrease production time. Here are additional steps we are taking that everyone can consider:

    • Choose the appropriate class of mail for your campaign. Build time into your plans so you don’t need to mail as much first class.
    • Keep mailing lists clean using NCOA and ACS, and purge undeliverable addresses from your lists.
    • Sign up for USPS Promotions. For Example, Informed Delivery will take 4% off your postage costs for the last five months of 2022. It has the added benefits of being free, potentially boosting response, and keeping your organization as visible as your competitors.
    • Be open to alternative paper stocks and different formats, which allow for flexibility in sourcing.
    • Stay away from print flat & convert envelopes, which take more time to produce.
    • Think about the BRE – how essential are white mail codes? The answer might be different for everyone, but it’s important to ask the question.
    • Is SRE postage warranted?
    • Tint paper to match a color. Color stocks are becoming harder to come by.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do now to ensure a successful year-end is  plan ahead and stay flexible. Don’t just have a Plan A. Have Plans B and C too. Already, many envelope suppliers are booked through August. So, start strategizing for your fall campaigns early, order paper now, and book press time. Come autumn, you’ll be happy you did!

And if you have any questions, please leave a comment below or send me an email at smurphy@ccah.com.

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