5 Questions to Ask a Direct Mail Company Before You Buy

We’ve worked with many clients who’ve left their previous direct mail company because they felt blindsided by extra costs and information they didn’t receive upfront or fully understand before signing up. To avoid the pain of paying for unexpected costs or the frustration of poor campaign performance, make sure you ask your next direct mail company the following questions before you sign on the dotted line.

1. What’s the Total, All-Inclusive Cost?

Imagine signing up with a direct mail provider at an incredibly low rate. You’re excited about the money you’re going to save as you grow your business. That is until your bill doubles because they charged you for items that weren’t included in the original quote.

Before signing on the dotted line, ask mailers what the total cost of your job will be. The price many providers show in their marketing materials or on their website doesn’t include every part of the job. For example, you might be billed extra for design, revisions, or list upcharges. While they may look cheaper on the surface, these companies usually end up costing you more money.

2. Do You Have an On-Site Post Office?

Lots of printers and direct mail companies advertise direct mail services. But the true pros are the ones that work closely with the United States Postal Service. Direct mailers with on-site post offices can ensure your pieces meet USPS standards to qualify for the lowest postage rates.

Companies with on-site USPS facilities can audit and verify your mail on the spot, reducing the likelihood of costly mistakes. They’ll format your pieces to meet machinability requirements, presort them by ZIP code, and remove undeliverable addresses from your mailing list. Direct mail companies can even send you a receipt confirming when your mail has been sent out. If your direct mail company isn’t working closely with the USPS, you’re probably paying more for postage than you should be.

3. Who Owns the Design of My Mail Piece?

If a direct mail company provides design services, ask them who owns the rights to use your artwork. Do you have full rights to use it in the future regardless of which printer you use? If you don’t own your design outright, companies might hold your artwork hostage. This is a dishonest tactic some businesses use to force you into printing with them in the future.

In this case, you’d need to create a new design if you switched companies. This can lead to branding inconsistencies. Not to mention the extra costs of paying for a new design. Creating new artwork can also result in longer turnaround times depending on the number of revisions, delaying your campaign even further.

4. Are You Using the Right Mailing List?

Many printing companies advertise their direct mail services, but only offer the USPS’ EDDM® program as their mailing option. And while EDDM® works fine for many saturation direct mail campaigns, these companies often can’t offer the same level of service and audience segmentation you can get with a full-service direct mail company.

A good full-service direct mail company will be able to offer saturation and targeted mailings. Full-service saturation allows you to remove certain types of residential addresses (like apartments, drop addresses, and seasonal dwellings). With EDDM®, you don’t have that option. If your business offers specialized products or services or you want to mail to a specific list of people, a targeted mailing may be best. It’s important that your direct mail company can provide the right mailing list to meet your marketing goals.

5. What ROI Can I Expect?

This is a trick question. Every business is different. This means that every aspect of your direct mail campaign – who you’re mailing to, what you’re mailing, how much you spend, and the value of each new customer – is unique to you. Take the time to learn what ROI is acceptable for your business, instead of relying on other people’s generalizations.

Although it’s difficult to predict an exact rate of return, the DMA reports a 9% response rate to house lists and a 5% response rate to prospect lists. Just remember that these are averages, rather than rules.

If a direct mail company ever guarantees you a specific ROI, you should walk away.


Asking direct mail companies these five questions can help eliminate misunderstandings and problems before they happen. But you should also be sure to ask questions that are specific to your business and marketing needs. Don’t settle for a direct mail company until you feel confident that they’re credible, honest, and capable of carrying out your marketing goals.