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For Northern Nevada printer, trashing campaign mailers means they’re still working

Tim Lenard
Tim Lenard

In an age where more and more aspects of life are becoming paperless, there’s one paper product that remains as ubiquitous as ever — the election mailer.

Perfectly posed portraits of politicians and their platforms on glossy postcards, or scary-looking attacks on their opponents, are filling up mailboxes across the state. What is it about these biennial pleas for attention that keep campaigns coming back for more?

“I mean, I print this stuff. My mailbox is just as full as yours and everyone else's,” said Kurt Hoge, President of Reno Type, which produces election mail in Northern Nevada. “I take it straight to the garbage as well.”

But as you take the same candidate's postcard to the garbage over and over, Hoge said, you start to gain name recognition. If it’s a well-done campaign, your message might even resonate with potential voters.

Predicting the demise of direct mail campaigns goes back to the early days of the internet. In 1995, a study by pollster Mark Mellman, who has conducted polls for The Nevada Independent,  suggested that direct mail was on the way out. 

But in 2007, a subsequent study by Mellman and marketing consultant Charles Pruitt found that direct mail would do well for at least another 10 years.

And it appears that President Barack Obama’s campaign proved them right, raising $230 million through direct mail, according to a PowerPoint presentation obtained by Politico.

Mellman also told that voters who respond to digital campaigns often don’t respond to direct mail, and vice versa. One of the ways Reno Type has capitalized on this dynamic is by offering a companion digital product as well as printed mailers.

Outside of election season, Hoge said his company expects to have 60 to 70 jobs pending, but just under a month before the election, it has 184. October is also open enrollment for health insurers, who are big clients for the print shop. But, Hoge said, a large portion of those jobs are election mailers.

One of the unique things about political mailers is the turnaround time. 

It’s all about speed “because everything is reactionary,” Hoge said, explaining campaigns’ strategy: “This campaign did a hit piece on me. Now I need to respond to the hit piece with my own hit piece, or my own refutal. And it has to be in the mail by the next day.”

Also, there are a number of regulations associated with political messaging through the mail, mostly aimed at making sure the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is not seen as favoring any particular candidate. Totes filled with campaign postcards must be tagged, and printing companies must provide samples of every mailer for USPS records.

Most of Reno Type’s political jobs are for candidates in the greater Reno area, but Hoge said the company has also printed material for candidates in statewide races. The two big products are postcards and walk cards, which are handed out during canvassing.

While all the paper waste Reno Type produces is recycled, Hoge said he finds some of the rules around it frustrating. Paper clippings and misprints produced in the shop are classified as “pre-consumer,” meaning it costs money to have it hauled away. Identical items after they have been mailed out are labeled “post-consumer.”

“It’s the same product,” Hoge said. “We pay to take it and get it recycled. If it were post-consumer waste, they would pay us for it.”

Under Hoge’s directive, Reno Type unionized in 2019, becoming members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. A number of union print shops exist in Las Vegas, but Reno Type is the only one in Northern Nevada.

“The power of unions isn't the money that they donate to candidates,” Hoge said. “It's the people on the ground who are members of unions who will knock on doors and walk the streets.”

A union “bug” is a tiny icon that certifies a product was produced by union labor. Before 2019, local campaigns that wanted a union “bug” on their material would have to look elsewhere and ship them in, adding days of lag time to one the most time-sensitive types of printing. 

Hoge said the key to keeping up with the increased workload of election season is organization. He credits his production manager, David Worthen, with keeping everything running smoothly. 

Worthen has been with Reno Type for 26 years, starting as a delivery driver. When the print shop’s only industrial cutter broke down in the middle of a hectic election season, he was able to use the relationships he’d built over the years to keep paper flowing.

“It’s controlled chaos, but yes, I do like it,” said Worthen. “The friendships that come out of chaos, the people I work with … they’re my favorite part.”


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