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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Politics of Mailing

About fifteen years ago, when I was part owner of the print/mail/fulfillment company I learned a few things about politics. My partner and I had started this company in September of 1994 with nothing and did about $400K worth of business by year end. Our sales increased each year there after until I left in 1998.

During that time we had a full mail shop and print facility. We handled inserting, printing, mailing, all of the usual stuff. I was mostly involved with the software and financial management so I did not spend a lot of time in the mail room.

However, I did virtually all of the graphic design. This meant that I would be involved in the creation of many of the pieces that we mailed.

One fall after we had been in business a while I was in the mail room. My partner had a few hods full of mail. Each hod had a big red tag on it. This was unusual so I asked him about it.

"Oh," he said, "these are political mailings."

"Really?" I said. We had never, to my knowledge, done any of those and I was interested in what the red tag was for and what the difference, if any, between a political mailing and a non-political mailing was. So I asked.

"The red tag is so that the Post Office knows the mail should be rushed through. That way people will get the mailing before the election." Even I knew that the USPS had six weeks to get first class mail somewhere. Not that it ever took that long but they had the option, as it were.

That made sense to me. I could see the value of the red tag.

Then he said "One more thing."

"What's that?" I replied.

"I have a check here for this mailing." He handed me a check for the cost of mailing from whomever the candidate's action committee was.

"Up front payment?" I asked.

"Yup," he replied, "you can't trust these bastards to pay after an election."

I thought about this for a minute.  My partner and I did not always see eye-to-eye on things but he'd been in the business a lot longer than me and knew the ropes.

"Okay" I said.  I took the check up the accounting office.  Had the billing department create a bill and turned the whole mess in to close out the bill and deposit the funds.

Sometime later on we had some graphic art work to be done for a political piece.  Usually we received sample pieces, perhaps an example piece from a prior year, new text, new logos, and so forth.  It was one of my jobs to take that material and create the masters for print.  If the job was complex we had an outside print vendor that would take care of it.

This piece was basically just text and logos.  I put together a B/W mock up with the new elements and took it over to my partner for review.  He handled a lot of the customer interaction and the political accounts were his.  I handed him the piece.

"Oh," he said, "Where's the union bug?"

"Union bug?"

"Yeah, this," he pointed to a small graphic at the bottom of the page on the original.  "And the recycled paper logo," he continued, "that's missing too."

I knew what that was.  "Any special paper for this job then?" I asked.

"Nope, just ____" which was the standard "cheap" paper we used for low-end work.

I went back to my office and scanned in the union bug from the previous piece.  Then I whipped up an recycled paper logo as best I could and made the rest of the changes to the piece.

I brought it back and handed it to my partner.  He looked it over and said "good, I'll get this approved."

"Do they care that we're not a union shop?" I asked somewhat tentatively.

"Oh no, they're only looking for the best price."

"Okay", I said.

A few days later the piece was in the shop, happily sitting in its red-tagged hods, proudly displaying its union and recycling logos, waiting to go to the Post Office.  The check paying for the mailing was laying on top of the USPS paperwork.

My lesson in politics was complete...

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