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Inserts made simple

Nov 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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Magazine inserts are an effective way for companies to distribute information to a wide array of customers. They can be used to introduce a new product, publicize a special promotion or even kick off an advertising campaign.

For printers taking on that kind of work, however, inserts can make the print-production process complex. Many insert programs are scheduled for placement in a variety of publications, and each publication has its own set of production specifications. A typical production run could be in the millions.


Inserts allow anyone from small, nonprofit groups to major corporations to reach large, targeted segments of the population. Here are eight of the most common uses (and reasons why your clients should consider them):


When customers want to make their information stand out from the rest of the publication, the insert size and paper weight can help distinguish it.


Inserts can drive traffic to a website or gather information about readers. Inserts that contain response vehicles, or are themselves a response vehicle, such as business reply cards (BRCs) and envelopes (BREs), allow readers to act immediately on an offer.


New products or enhanced services may require a high-visibility launch to create marketplace awareness. Magazine inserts enable a single design and message to be distributed to diverse segments of the population at once.


Tabs or tear-outs get people to interact with the insert, which leads to higher retention and response. At Meredith Print Advantage, we recently helped create an insert format for a paint company that featured a series of scratch-off spots that beckoned readers to pick their favorite paint color. Under each scratch-off was an offer for a discount on the paint at a series of retail locations.


Inserts can introduce readers to the products themselves — examples include scented fragrance strips and tipped-on simulated product-sample packets.


Retention devices, such as removable information cards and coupons, allow the reader to save something from the publication for later use. One popular use for a retention device is to provide a link for additional information on a corresponding website.


An insert can present an impressive image that creates a high perceived value to the reader, through such devices as diecut pop-ups and foldouts.


For many corporations, the highest priority with any outbound marketing message is having control over the final look of the piece. This is especially true for a program that runs in multiple publications. An insert allows companies to control color, size and quality of the printed image. That's very important for such products as food, clothing and makeup, which require a high level of visual accuracy to maximize their appeal.


The design of an insert should do three things: attract the reader's attention, move the reader to action, and provide clear and concise information. Printers can suggest various design elements to accomplish all of these goals:


The weight and finish of the insert plays an important role in how it's perceived by the reader. Paper quality should mirror the message of the insert. While an information sheet for a new prescription medicine may be simple, straightforward, and require a low to midrange weight and paper quality, a launch for a new automobile model may require a heavier, high-gloss, higher-quality paper to draw attention.


Diecutting can be used in a variety of ways on inserts. Foldout panels can be diecut into different shapes, and diecut windows can be created to register to print. In addition, diecut pop-up panels create memorable, eye-catching effects.


Foldout panels can provide additional information or build intrigue in your customer's message. A perfed foldout lets readers remove an information card or coupon for later use. With some designs, a gatefold can effectively double the amount of space on the insert.


Presenting readers with an enticing offer is only part of the equation. Immediate response vehicles such as BRCs and BREs greatly enhance the effectiveness of an insert.


Why let people just read about your client's products? Tip-ons, such as fragrance strips, fabric swatches, plastic cards and simulated product samples, add an attractive visual appeal and allow readers to interact with the insert.


Scratch-off areas, foil-stamping and embossing can all be used to draw readers to special promotions, or associate the perception of high value with a particular message or product.


With so much variation in magazine production, printers and their customers must plan inserts carefully. Like all print programs, inserts involve frequent communication of details throughout the production process.

GET ALL THE DETAILS ABOUT EACH PUBLICATION. Every publication has a set of specifications for inserts. Before you design and/or print an insert, obtain all the production details about each publication. For example, an insert that's created for a perfect-bound magazine is typically not compatible with one that's saddlestitched. An insert that will be placed in multiple publications with different binding types will typically need separate formats for each binding method.

INSERTS MAY NEED TO BE PRODUCED IN DIFFERENT SIZES. Printers must take extra care when the clients' inserts will be bound into publications of varying specifications.

EACH PUBLICATION MAY HAVE DIFFERENT BINDING PREFERENCES FOR INSERTS. Inserts that are smaller than a fullsize page, such as business-reply cards and envelopes, will usually be positioned to the head or foot of the publication. Make sure you know the binding direction of each publication, as this will need to be factored into the insert production process.

SOME PUBLICATIONS HAVE PAPER-WEIGHT GUIDELINES. These guidelines are designed to match inserts more closely with the rest of the magazine. The same insert may need to run on different stocks to accommodate each publication's requirements.

USE A PRE-PRODUCTION PROOF. When inserts are set to be bound into a publication, it's a good idea to provide a production proof to the bindery. This proof is a replica of the creative file (or film), and should include all images and text, and have all trim and fold locations clearly marked.

WHEN PLANNING INSERTS FOR VARIOUS FINAL TRIM SIZES, MIND YOUR MARGINS. Advise your customers to avoid placing copy or images too close to trimmed edges. For inserts designed for perfect-bound publications, make sure copy isn't placed too close to the binding edge, where it can be “swallowed” and become difficult to see. As a knowledgeable print-services provider, you can help plan customers' inserts to accommodate each publication's trim and margin requirements. You may even supply a template that identifies these important production variables.

IF IMAGES OR TEXT CROSS OVER THE GUTTER, BE SURE EVERYTHING LINES UP PROPERLY. This is especially true for complex gatefold pieces, which may have copy or a single image crossing over three separate panels.

VERIFY THAT BRCS AND BRES MEET ALL POSTAL-SERVICE REQUIREMENTS. As printers that offer mailing services are fully aware, in addition to maintaining proper size and weight requirements, mailpieces must have the proper bar codes, indicia and address information to qualify for the lowest postal rates available.

WORK WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS TO PLAN THEIR NEXT PROGRAM. As the production run and number of publications increases, so does the complexity of an insert project. It can be challenging for your clients to manage both the creative aspects of insert design and the many production details required to make it happen. That's why it's important for them to have a reliable insert-production resource with the expertise to guide them through the entire process.

UNDERSTAND YOUR CLIENT'S CREATIVE INTENT AND OFFER SUGGESTIONS TO MEET THAT GOAL. Your customers don't want a resource that limits their creativity because it doesn't understand the many different printing and finishing options available. A wider range of production options can mean greater efficiency, saving customers both time and money.