Digital Printing Helps Fletcher Win Kentucky Governor's Race

A congressman from Kentucky who was elected as his state's first Republican governor in 32 years last month has a digitally produced direct mail campaign to thank in part for his success.

Ernie Fletcher, who was the U.S. representative from Kentucky's 6th District, won the election, boosted by a direct mail campaign that used pieces customized for each local voter. Each mailer carried the voter's name along with a picture and a quote from a local figure.

Fletcher initially had success with a personalized mailer in his 2000 congressional re-election campaign, when he faced stiff opposition from the American Medical Association. Improvements in digital technology since then have made personalization cheaper and more convenient, said John Grotta, president of political consultant firm John Grotta & Co., Washington, which managed the mail campaign.

Through digital technology, Fletcher expanded his use of personalized mailers to a statewide campaign in his 2003 gubernatorial effort, Grotta said. Digital print reduces the number of steps required to customize mail pieces, which on older technology had to go through several versions and be run through presses multiple times.

“It's a lot of work to do 18 versions,” Grotta said. “It's very expensive due to plate changes.”

USA Mailnow, a division of USA Direct, New York, printed the campaign using a Xerox DocuColor 6060. Considered the flagship of Xerox's DocuColor 2000 series, the DocuColor 6060 is capable of variable-data printing and prints 60 full-color pages per minute.

USA Mailnow enables users to design and implement mail campaigns online. Clients include John Deere and the American Red Cross.

In the 2000 campaign, Fletcher faced a challenge from the AMA, which said it would spend $300,000 in television advertising to defeat him because of his opposition to the AMA-supported Patients' Bill of Rights. Fletcher, himself a physician, recruited 300 doctors in his district to provide a picture and quote to run on mailers sent to constituents in their areas.

The campaign sent mailers to about 70,000 voters at a cost of $25,000. Fletcher won the election with a personalized mailer up against a much more expensive traditional television campaign.

In the 2003 campaign, Fletcher switched from an 8 1/2-by-11-inch mailer to 6 by 9 inches and from black and white to four-color. Yet the per-piece cost of the effort fell about 25 percent from 2000 because of the new technology, Grotta said.

The 2003 effort involved 300,000 mailers and a higher degree of personalization. Voters were referred to by name instead of “Dear Friend.” In addition to doctors, other local figures were included.

The digital press, along with digital photography and proofing, made the process less cumbersome and cut turnaround time on the production of the campaign by half compared with 2000.

“It's much easier,” Grotta said. “Just upload a photo, put a text block on the front, variable text on the back, upload a signature and there we go.”

The mailers print as one job, so they can be sent to the mail drop in one batch, providing savings on mail costs, Grotta said. In 2000, the pieces had to go to different mail drops.

USA Direct provides fulfillment from its facility in York, PA. The company produces 500 million mailers yearly.

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