How to plan and develop publications - ESRC


Designing, printing and distributing publications

Where possible, you should employ professional designers to produce your materials. Go by personal recommendation and work with a small number of agencies.

If you are not confident in dealing with printers, you can ask your designer or design agency to handle the process for you. Be clear about how much they charge for this project management. You can ask the designers to secure a range of competitive quotes for you which allow you to make the final decision.

Choosing the quantity

Fixed costs for preparatory work such as preparing plates and setting up machines mean that small quantities can be relatively expensive to produce. Generally, the unit cost drops if you increase the amount.

However, while you may get a cheaper price for more copies, only order what you actually need. Accurate estimates will reduce the cost of print and avoid storage problems.

You should:

  • ask printers for estimates based on different quantities so you can see the marginal cost
  • work out an accurate estimate of how many copies you actually need – an initial run of 500 and a reprint of 1,500 will be more expensive than getting 2,000 copies printed upfront
  • think about the shelf-life of your publication – if it will only be relevant for a year, there is no use ordering two years’ worth of supplies
  • consider how you will store your publications – materials can be bulky and you do not want to end up with boxes of unused publications in small offices
  • consider publishing your material in electronic format such as a document on your website if the cost of print is uneconomical. Only do this if it is an appropriate way to reach your target audience.

Distributing materials

Think in advance about how you will distribute your materials. The size and weight of the material are important factors.

If you are posting publications, weight will determine the cost of distribution. You’ll need to allow for the cost of special envelopes or packaging for anything that does not fit into a standard sized envelope.

Weight will also be a factor if you are asking other organisations to distribute material on your behalf. For example, most magazines will charge a price based on weight for inserting materials such as leaflets.

It can also be time consuming to mail out large amounts of material. If you do this infrequently then you may wish to handle the work in-house, but if it is a regular occurrence it may be more efficient to use a local mailing house.

Depending on the target audience and distribution channel, you may also want to include a covering letter. This is especially important when targeting high-profile audiences such as MPs or CEOs, where you cannot assume that a secretary or researcher will know what to do with the material you have sent. The covering letter should be short and explain the purpose of the material and its particular relevance.

Generating mailing lists

Whichever way you handle distribution, you will need accurate mailing lists and labels.

Key points to consider when building a mailing list include:

  • using reference books such as the Civil Service Year Book or the Whitehall Companion, or buy in mailing lists from specialist suppliers
  • be aware of the Data Protection Act when using any information you gather
  • keep your lists up to date – you will look unprofessional if you are sending out material to people who have left the target organisation
  • using a postcard or other reminders in publications, asking people to update their details.

You may find it useful to invest in a contact management system. This is software that helps you keep track of your contacts and generate lists. For smaller projects, some basic systems can be downloaded free of charge.

Last updated: 31 August 2021

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