How I ensure tens of millions of printed pieces get where they are supposed to each month

It’s complicated, but we’ve got the process down to ensure there’s no chance of a mistake.

You’ve decided to take the plunge and work inserts into your advertising budget. Good call! But now comes the complicated part: Making sure that all creative is sent off with the correct information to the printer and then to the correct warehouses for insertion. This is where having a dedicated team, like my team and I, and steps in place to help with this process is critical to success.  

Step One

The first step involves receiving and keeping track of keycodes (that could be a promo code, QR code, URL, and/or phone number) and entering them into our system. This lets us make sure that any telephone numbers, unique URLs, promo codes, etc. are not used prior to a previous campaign’s end plus any new orders are attributed to the correct programs in the future.  

So, what happens next?  

The next step happens after our media buyers have finished ordering programs and the creative is set. That’s where I come in to assign the keycodes and ensure that what is in our system matches what is in their internal tracking documents. I look at everything: Program names, dates, costs, insert sizes, quantities, which creative is going where, and anything else that will effect accounting (a very important piece of the puzzle!) and tracking. Once everything ties out, a ship sheet is created that is sent for an internal audit process that includes testing all keycodes to make sure they are operational and directed to the correct call centers with the correct offers in place before sending it off to the printer.  

This is an extremely tedious process.  At least two members of our team are checking to make sure all of the codes are active.  That might mean calling hundreds of phone numbers or testing hundreds of promo codes to make sure they are working.  I can almost guarantee every month we catch a code or phone number that’s not working, which is a big deal.  Once the pieces are printed we can’t make changes, so this process ensures we catch those human errors before they become a big problem.  

The Ship Sheet

The Ship Sheet is the critical piece of the puzzle for this process.  Our ship sheets make it easier for our printers to see all the information that is needed for them to slide the correct keycodes into the correct creatives. Check out an example below:

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When proofs from the printer are sent back to us, a team of people look at them to make sure nothing went wonky in the versioning process and that each keycode per lot, as it appears on the ship sheet, is showing in the place(s) where it needs to be on the creative. It’s a double proof process where one person looks at the ship sheet and reads the keycode to the person looking at the proof who reads it back, for each lot. This is an integral part of making sure that things are correct because if something is printed wrong and sent off, it will be disastrous for the campaign and the client. Once I give the printer approval to move forward, there’s no stopping that train from leaving the station.  

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Once that approval is given, the shipping information follows. A media buyer will confirm all shipping information needed for a program which I then put into the ship sheet per lot. Sometimes a PDF of shipping information, known as a ship pack, will accompany it. This is especially important if there are other instructions that the printer needs to follow to get the inserts to the correct fulfillment warehouse in the way they will accept it. Anything without shipping information just yet is put on an internal list of open lots that are kept track of so those lots don’t just sit in the printers’ warehouse for them to house indefinitely.  

Aside from all the proofing and checking, which is extremely important, it’s really the relationships with the printers we use that have allowed us to develop a good system of checks and balances that ensure our clients are pleased with campaign results. Being so organized is a big reason why we get such great printing rates from our printing partners.  

To Summarize

As you can now see, if you’ve made it this far, this is a very tedious and labor-intensive process, but it’s worth it to make sure no mistakes are made.  In 19 years we’ve made one mistake where a code was wrong on a piece, and with all of our checks and balances in place, we don’t expect to make an error like that ever again.  

Deb Blumenthal is the Operations / Production Manager at Incremental Media.  If you want to learn more about Incremental Media’s production process you can email her at  

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