The Splurge/Save Strategy

Creative Formats in Mail-Friendly Proportions

by Trish Witkowski,
The classic Iron Cross fold, at left, can be translated easily to a rectangle, shown at right.

I’m coming up on my second decade of intensive folding research. That doesn’t seem possible to me when I think about it, but then I look at the collection I’ve amassed and think, “Yeah, I guess that’s about 20 years worth of stuff.”

When you study something for a long period of time, once in a while all of the random thoughts and facts and observations align, providing an “A-ha!” moment. I had one fairly recently, and I call it “The Splurge/Save Strategy.”

Something I’ve noticed in analyzing thousands of pieces of mail and marketing material is that marketers tend to wait for special occasions to choose specialty formats. There’s a reason for this – usually special projects have extra special budgets. And, the designers and marketers get more interested and excited about the subject matter of their special projects, so there’s a different level of enthusiasm for “special”. This can translate into a higher level of engagement or creativity in the process.

Often, with “special projects” comes “special permission” to blow a lot of money on extra postage for hand sorting – primarily in the form of square, USPS letter-sized mail – to the tune of an extra $0.21 per piece. “Special” is characteristically short-run, too, reserved for special events and high-budget, highly-targeted mailings. In most cases, the perception is that “special” is inevitably expensive and out of reach.

The Splurge/Splurge strategy

The square Corner Folder format, at left, can be made into a rectangle.

A specialty format (plus super-high non-machinable postal rates) is what I call a Splurge/Splurge strategy. This combination puts “special” out of reach for most marketers on a day-to-day basis. As someone who has shared really amazing and fun printed formats on video and in presentations for years, I can tell you that a majority of marketers look at specialty formats like window-shoppers, gazing longingly at something they can’t have. The financial implications of “special” get into their heads and prevent them from even thinking about the possibility of doing something interesting at any time that is not classified as “special.”

Now, I know I’ve been saying “special” a lot up to this point, but there’s a reason for it. I’m about to make a profound observation.

Splurge/Splurge is great – if you’ve got the money and the occasion. However, I believe that any project can become more special and engaging. I don’t believe in saving specialty formats solely for special occasions.

So, what if we could change the game? What if we flipped the Splurge/Splurge strategy on its head and took sky-high postage out of the equation? When you do this, in my opinion, magic happens. I call it my Splurge/Save strategy.

The Splurge/Save strategy

While the most common format for a Snake Fold is a square, shown at left, it can be converted to a rectangle.

A Splurge/Save strategy involves converting a specialty format into a mail-friendly (i.e. machinable) size and shape. As a result, you get to have your specialty format, but you can mail it at normal, machinable or even bulk rates. Depending upon the format, you can even self-mail! In my opinion, it changes everything.

Here’s a great example. The Iron Cross fold, shown in the first illustration, is a format everybody loves, and everybody designs these in a square format. I think it’s the only proportion most people have seen it in, so by force of habit (or the chance to produce something square), they make it square. However, the classic Iron Cross easily translates into a machinable, self-mailing rectangular format. These are hand-folded at lower quantities, but can be machine-folded offline or inline when the quantity goes up.

Next up: The Corner Folder. We’ve all seen these – the square sheet with all four corners folding in to meet at the middle. It’s a cool format that seems impossible to modify, but it’s not. If you’re looking to avoid square, add an additional fold on the horizontal… and a rectangle results (see the second illustration). The accuracy is critical, but it can be done.

I have a sample in my collection that Rickard Bindery, Chicago, IL, machine-folded for The Home Depot. This should be hand-folded in smaller quantities, of course.

Even a format that is as complex as a Snake Fold can become mail-friendly. The most common format for a Snake Fold is a square (if you ever get to see one… they’re very rare). In the third illustration, you’ll see the conversion to a rectangular format. Just an FYI: Snake Folds generally cannot be folded by machine, no matter how high the quantity.

Another specialty format that is great for direct marketing is the Swinger Fold. There are many variations of this format, but this is a great one from my friends at Specialty Print Communications (SPC) in Niles, IL. The format uses die cuts and scores to create a swinging effect.

In the sample (fourth photo), perfed coupons swing out and invite the recipient to remove them.

This brings me to my next point: “special” often can be manufactured by machine. Quantity, of course, has everything to do with whether or not it’s worth the effort and makeready. It’s truly amazing what can be done – inline iron crosses, pop-ups, swingers and more. SPC, and other companies like it, is making “special” efficient and attainable at quantities from the hundreds of thousands into the millions of pieces.

On the flip side of the coin, hand finishing isn’t such a big deal if the postage is cheap. The postage savings helps to balance the cost of any hand bindery work that may be needed on smaller runs. You can get the big impact of a creative format with small postage. Splurge/Save. See what I mean?

Now for the pep talk

Swinger Fold. Print production and inline automated finishing provided by Specialty Print Communications, Niles, IL.

Rather than getting overwhelmed by all of the specialty configurations that could be thrown at you by your customers if you plant this seed, my suggestion is to start small.

Pick three to five specialty formats and create samples of them in a self-mailing letter size; then, offer them to your customers.

Even better, give your customers an idea of ballpark pricing at different quantities and document the postage savings (conversion from hand-sort to machinable). Let those customers know you have the digital dieline and the metal dies for their use. Watch and wait… I have a strong suspicion they’ll be calling you in no time!

Trish Witkowski is chief folding fanatic at An educator, author, speaker and award-winning designer, Witkowski specializes in creative solutions for mail and marketing. She hosts the online video series “60-Second Super-Cool Fold of the Week.” Witkowski has an MS in Printing and a BFA in Graphic Design from RIT. If you’re looking for a place to start with Splurge/Save strategies, Witkowski offers several specialty dielines in mail-friendly proportions in the online store at