Political Mailings…What’s going on with the USPS?
Over the last 4 months, we are asked every day “What’s going on with Political Mail?”
As a mailing company, or mailhouse, Political Candidates, Consultants, Campaign Managers, and others, are very concerned about the USPS right now, and it’s future. Accurate Mailing Services mails for numerous Candidates, Politicians, ballot propositions, and PAC’s, so we feel it’s important to share common questions we are receiving, and our answers, to help Political Mailers from the perspective of a printing and mailing company during this unprecedented election cycle.
A bit about us. Of the tens of thousands of mail processing companies in the USA, we are one of a few hundred mailing companies designated by the USPS as a Seamless status mailer. Seamless status is a designation earned by the USPS for consistently producing high quality and compliant mail. As a Seamless mailer, we have direct insight into the processing and delivery of mailings for our Clients. We also employ mail tracking tools and create USPS Informed Delivery campaigns for Clients adding digital marketing capabilities. Okay, so now you know a bit about us, let’s dig a little deeper into what’s going on.
A brief discussion about USPS mail rate categories and political mail designation.
Political mail as defined by the USPS is “Political Mail may be sent from a Political candidate, federal, state or local campaign committee, or political party.” This article is not discussing the Ballot, side, Official Election Mail, of what is going on.
The majority of Political Mail falls into two rate classifications.
Letter size mail:
Flat size mail:
Both letters and flats can be mailed at First Class or Marketing Mail (traditionally known as Bulk Mail). First Class mail postage is more expensive and delivery is faster. Marketing Mail is a lower postage rate and consequently the slowest delivery speed.
Political mail is a unique classification. It can be either letter or flat size, and when properly claimed and prepared by USPS rules, is considered First Class mail for processing and delivery. In other words, Political mail can be designated as Marketing Mail (lower postage and slower delivery) and get the benefits of first-class processing. Political Mail then moves to the front of the processing line, even ahead of first-class mail, to be processed as quickly as possible.
Below is a list of common questions and our answers about Political Mailings.
Q – When do I need to mail to get in-home delivery on a specific date?
A – There is no way to guarantee the delivery of a mail piece on a specific date. Although the USPS processes Political Mail as First Class, there are too many factors involved to provide a specific date. If any letter shop or mailing company says they can “Guarantee” your delivery dates, please be cautious. Also, it is important to understand that it is highly likely not all of your mail will be delivered in-home on the same day. If you mail 10,000 pieces of Local Mail, our tracking shows a range of 60% to 90% can be delivered at the beginning of the in-home delivery cycle. The balance of the mail is usually delivered in the following 2 days.
In the image below (a real Client tracking report with data from the USPS) the mailing is a National campaign mailed at Marketing Mail rate (not Political Mail). New Scanned Pieces mean the Post Office starts to process the mail on their sorting equipment. Delivery Scanned indicates the pieces have arrived at the Post Office responsible for delivering the mail and have been scanned as out for delivery.
Notice the 23 pieces scanned on the 15th. Those 23 pieces were delivered on the 16th and 17th. Next, notice that on the 16th no mail was scanned. This likely means the mail going to other States was in transit to their respective Post Offices. Then, on the 17th, 1,886 pieces were scanned. One might think with that much being scanned that in home delivery would follow closely after. However, follow the Deliver Scanned pieces and dates and you will see those 1,886 pieces are being in home delivered from the 18th up to the 23rd (when I pulled this report) and you will quickly identify the pattern of in home delivery of the 1,886 pieces is occuring in groups each day. Also note that 50% of the entire mailing are not showing in the New Pieces Scanned column. Assuming the USPS data is correct, and we do not bank on it, 945 pieces are in limbo. It is possible they were simply not Delivery Scanned but are out for delivery, yes this does happen, or, more likely, they really have not been Delivery Scanned yet so we will have to follow up with the USPS to find out where those pieces are.
For Marketing Mail, lower postage and slower delivery, this in-home delivery pattern is normal. The USPS generally says that Marketing Mail on a National level, can take up to 21 days to deliver. However, when we compare this data to a similar campaign in 2019, these numbers reflect a slower delivery time of approximately 1-2 days.
Is the point of this to criticize the USPS, NO.
Okay, so what is the point? The point is to demonstrate that Political Mail stakeholders will need to plan their campaigns accordingly for the targeted in home date goals.
Questions and Answers:
Q – If we don’t know what the delivery date is when do we mail?
A – We have a few best practices that we follow to help work with you to get the desired in-home date. Without giving away our secret sauce, here are a few things to consider when planning your campaign. First, how many postcards, or letters, will you be mailing for this campaign? What geographical area are these being delivered to, a small area, or across the USA? Will you want us to print and mail or you have the mail printed already and just want us to mail it for you? When will the art files for printing be ready? Do you have an estimated postage amount you’ve budgeted for? These questions are just a few of the inputs required to work with clients to get the closest in-home date as possible.
Q – What is the best size postcard to mail?
A – “Best” can be very subjective but we interpret it to mean two things. First, what size gets the most conversions, ultimately votes. Second, what size gives you the best bang for the buck, or cost. With these assumptions these are the answers or questions, we reply with. What is your budget? Is your postcard already designed? Has the design been verified as a USPS Automation Compatible mailpiece? The 4 most common sizes we mail are:
- 5.5″ x 8.5″
- 6″ x 9″
- 6″ x 11″
- 8.5″ x 11″
These four sizes cover about 85% of Political Mail we process so this might be the short answer you are looking for.
Q – How soon can we get something printed and mailed?
A – This one can be a bit nerve-wracking as soon as it is asked. The two biggest inputs required to answer this question are budget and preparation. If you have a print-ready design art file and the mailing list, smaller quantities, 2500 – 100,000 can be printed digitally and mailed in one or two days. Digital printing is more expensive in the higher quantities but is the best way to go for quantities under 25,000. If you do not have artwork ready or you need more than 100,000, plan on 3-5 days for printing and mail production. This does not include USPS processing and in-home delivery time.
Q- Is the stuff I hear about in the news about slower delivery or unreliable delivery true?
A – Treading on a delicate subject here as I do not want this to become a hot button issue, the short answer from our experience is yes. Now, with that being said, our statistical analysis on the mail we have been producing and mailing, shows a delay of about 1 to .75 days longer when compared to the last election cycle in 2018. Presidential election cycles have more mail so it is consistent with the increased volume in this election cycle to anticipate a delay. Currently, our recommendation is to mail one day prior to your target drop date (that day we deliver mail to the USPS).
Q – Can you provide a mailing list?
A- Yes. This sounds like the simplest question and answer so far but again, it’s a bit more complex. Seasoned Political mailers have list sources that provide them with the exact criteria they are looking for. For example, one of the most common lists sought for a Political Mailing is a list of voters that have voted in the last several general elections and what party affiliation. Another example, a list provided by the municipality the election will take place in. These lists are very helpful to know who in the electorate has not mailed in an early ballot so your campaign can target these voters. For some campaigns, party affiliation is not as important as demographic information like age, gender, zip code, income, etc. Demographic lists are more common for local to hyper-local Propositions. Saturation lists, just like the name sounds, you are mailing to every address on a postal carrier’s route, can also be an option for specific campaign types.
Our observations and analysis over the last few months about mail processing and delivery yields interesting results. Disclaimer…what we are sharing is not clinical science, non-partisan, and not intended to be used for any purpose other than to inform Political Mail stakeholders what we have, and are, observing with the USPS.
Our Suggestions for Political Mailings:
- Local mail should be delivered to the USPS 2-4 days prior to your desired in-home date
- State mail should be delivered to the USPS 3-5 days prior to you desired in-home date
- National mail should be segmented into geographical areas, with the mail that is furthest away delivered to the USPS first, deliver the midrange mail 1-3 days later, and local mail last. This strategy produces a closer in-home date for all the mail.
- Find out the EXACT date when the Absentee ballots in your election will be mailed to voters. You need to have your first Political Mailing planned to arrive just before (1-2 days) or just after (1-2 days) these ballots are mailed out. Elections can be decided within the first 10 days of Absentee voters receiving their ballot so it is critical that you are in front of them with your mailing at this time.
- Know your audience. Study the voters diligently and discover their hot button issues
- Segment your voters into groups, if appropriate, by a demographic, psychographic, geographic, or any other way you can to tailor your messaging to each group
- Find a good printing and/or mailing company you feel comfortable with. Interview them by asking questions of years of experience, assessment of the current area they typically deliver mail, are they a USPS Seamless mailer? Can they meet your goals? Do they want to work with you? What type of capabilities and capacity do they have?
- Can they help you respond quickly to last-minute hit pieces by the opposition? This is a critical component of your campaign success when the clock is ticking to November 7th.
- Some printing and mailing vendors have “spies” that can alert opposition to a hit piece that is being produced and will mail soon.
- Ask your mail house if they provide you the USPS Postal Receipt, a PS 3602 form, that documents the handoff from your mailing vendor to the USPS. It contains critical details such as the date mail was delivered to the USPS, the total number of mail pieces delivered, and the total postage cost for the mailing. This is a Legal document that a quality mailing company should provide any Client. Gone are the days of a mailer answering your “When did it mail?” question and never really knowing if the answer you receive is correct.
- Remember, after your mailing vendor delivers the mail to the USPS and the USPS accepts it, in-home arrival time is not the responsibility of the mailer so please be kind to your vendor if they did what your service level agreement (SLA) called for.
- Mail Tracking. Use a vendor that provides USPS mail tracking reports. This allows you to see updates on your Campaign as it progresses through the USPS system.
- Ask your printing and mailing vendors if they are doing any work for your opposition, you will have to be specific about the opposition like Candidate names. Some will disclose this and some will not. It is worth asking to decrease the chance that opposition can be tipped off about your mailing without you knowing it.
Again, these are our recommendations, not a guarantee. There are so many factors that influence delivery you really never know when the mail will be delivered. For example, we have delivered local mail at Marketing Mail postage rate to the USPS and it was in-home the next day. We have also delivered local mail and it was in-home in 5 days. State mail can follow a similar pattern. It is critical when planning state, or larger geographic mailing areas, to discuss a plan with your mailing partner.
The USPS is taking more time to deliver mail this election cycle than in 2018. Statistically, the difference is slight and can be overcome by working closely with your mail house, especially Seamless qualified mailers. I hope this was informative and helpful.
For a general overview of what’s going on in the world of Ballots and Voting, Ballotpedia is a great resource.