Planning Your New Catalog Launch

Planning your catalog mailing involves managing your timeline and working your way backwards from the mail date to figure out the many deadlines involved. For a new catalog launch, the catalog circulation plan should be completed at least ten weeks or more before the catalog in-home date. Here are suggestions with a sample, three-month timeline based on our experience:

August – Month #1:  Three Months Prior to Catalog Drop

If you’re planning a mailing in November, now is the time to start putting together your circulation plan.
  • For new catalog launches, allow at least two to three weeks to send out printer bids and finalize decisions regarding catalog page count, paper weight, and print quantity.
  • Schedule time with your catalog printer now.  Holiday drops can be very busy and the co-mail pools fill up fast.

September – Month #2:  Two Months Prior

  • Review customer transaction behavior and other metrics, using insights to design the catalog circulation plan.
  • Run house file counts by segment and check that the counts match projected counts from your catalog circulation plan.
  • Order outside prospect or rental lists for delivery by the merge cutoff date.
    • Lists ordered from a list broker can take up to three weeks and might require pre-payment plus catalog samples for first-time orders.  In addition, your request to order a mailing list could be denied if the list owner deems your offer is too competitive.
    • Although co-op databases offer speedy one week turnaround times for participant members, you first have to sign contracts before you get started.  Any contract revision takes time on both sides to be reviewed and approved.  Plan on at least four weeks to fill out the initial contracts, send in a customer file for modeling, and order your prospect lists.

October – Month #3:  One Month Prior

In the month leading up to the mail file due date, you need to coordinate delivery of the house and prospect input files, create a list of lists (LOL) to establish list priority during processing, decide on your merge/purge logic, run the merge/purge, create the mail file, and deliver it to the printer:
  • 10/9 — Catalog merge/purge cutoff date. All input files are due by this date.
  • 10/11 — Catalog merge/purge is complete. All input files have been run through data hygiene and address validation. The merge logic dictates what is considered a duplicate (e.g. tight or loose logic) and whether you mail more than one catalog to the same address (e.g. individual, family).
  • 10/13 — Backend splits are complete.  Backend splits are where you take the merge/purge output and decide which records to keep or drop, create versions, test or control groups, rekeys, etc.
  • 10/16 — Review your backend splits confirmation report to ensure that the proposed output file matches your final select decisions.
  • 10/17 — Create the mail file and ship to printer.  The mail file contains the mailing list with names and addresses and key codes for the catalog drop.
  • 10/19 — Catalog mail file is due to printer.  This date varies from two to three weeks prior to mail date. Co-mail usually requires 3 weeks. A co-mail provides greater postage savings because your catalogs are pooled with other catalogs and trucked to postal facilities across the country. Delivery is improved and more predictable and postage is lower than if the mailing was all entered locally. If local entry, then mail file is due two weeks before mail date.  Postcard mailings can be sent within one week, or less, of the mail date.
  • 10/20 — Provide the printer with print instructions that outline the catalog versions, catalog circulation, catalog print quantity, catalog mail date, bulk copy shipments, etc.
  • 10/26 — Within one week of receiving the mail file, expect to QC inkjet simulations and approve the postage estimate. Postage is almost always due in advance of the catalog mail date.

November – Last Month and the Catalog Drop

You are in the home stretch now!
  • 11/9 — Catalog mail date.  It is usually seven to 12 days prior to the in-home date.
  • 11/17 to 11/21 — Catalog in-home date, also known as catalog window.  The majority of your catalogs should arrive in-home during this period.  Expect a few early arrivals as well as some stragglers.  You remembered to use decoys, right?  Including decoys will help you confirm catalog arrival across the country.
  • 11/17 to 11/21 — Check catalog decoy report.  Review your decoy report to confirm catalog is arriving in-home on time and not delayed in any region of the country.
In this blog post we discussed a timeline for a new catalog launch.  Many of these timelines can be compressed if it is an existing catalog.  The initial catalog launch requires extra time but after the first mailing is out the door, the subsequent catalogs can be on a tighter schedule.
Are you considering adding a catalog to your existing business?  If you don’t have the catalog expertise or resources in-house, consider partnering with an experienced catalog agency.  Contact us today to discuss how we can help manage the details involved in a new catalog launch.

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