Creating mass mailing postcards with 2.0

My wife's organization wanted to send out a bunch of postcards to a list of addresses they had. This can be done quite easily using I'm using version 2.0 running on Fedora Core 4. There are two parts to this, one for each side of the postcard.

Part One: Addressing the postcards

Conceptually, there are just three steps to the process:
  1. Get the list of names & addresses into OOo as a Data Source.
  2. Create the postcard template.
  3. Use the Mail Merge function to, well, merge the Data Source and the template.

Step 1: Point OOo to the list so it can use is as a Data Source

The list of names & addresses was a plain-text file of comma-delimited values, aka a Comma Separated Values or CSV file. The first thing you should do is read this message from the OOo forums, on importing a CSV text file as a Data Source. Stop when you get to the 'Create a mail merge document' part. Go do that now, and then come back here. I'll wait.

All done? Good. So, now you should have the list of names & addresses imported into OOo. You could go through all sorts of gyrations creating an actual OOo Base and importing the data, but that was overkill for my purposes (although it would have been a good way to explore Base more thoroughly). Make a note of what OOo labels the fields, as they tend to be cryptic--C1 for column 1, C2 for column 2, and so on--and you'll need to know which cryptic field name is which when you create the postcard template. On to step 2.

Step 2: Create the postcard template

This took me about a dozen tries to get it right, but that probably just says more about me than about OOo. The point is, if you don't get it right the first time, just start over and try again, because you'll get it eventually, and it's really not that hard.

  1. To create the template, go to File/New/Labels. We wanted to print actual postcards, not just labels to stick on postcards, but the steps are similar. Part of what made it confusing for me is that when you select Labels from the menu, OOo shows you the last label you created. with the same database fields, which is probably not what you want--otherwise you'd just use that old label. So, start by highlighting and deleting any existing database fields in the Label Text box (unless you want to use the same fields again). If this is the first time you've done this, the Label Test box should be empty.
  2. From the Database dropdown menu, pick the database you setup in step 1, and likewise pick the appropriate table. Then, from the Database Field menu, pick the fields that you want to use for addressing the postcard, e.g., name, address, city, state, & ZIP, and add them to the Label Text box. Unless you renamed the fieldnames when you imported your text file (can you do that?) you'll have to know which date is contained in field C1, C2 and so on. You may have to go back and look at your imported database. Arrange them as you want them to appear on the postcard; that is, put the name on the first line, the address on the second line, and the city, followed by a comma, and then the state followed by a space, and then the zip code all on the same last line.
  3. Next, pick the format of the postcard stock you'll be using. We were using postcard stock that came in 8.5x11 sheets which were divided into four quadrants, with each quadrant being a roughly 4x5.5" postcard (printed in landscape mode). For this format I chose the Avery 8387 'Ink Jet Postcard - 4 up'. If everything is all set, click on the New Document button, and a new OOo window will open with the new template in it.
  4. The first thing you'll notice about the template is that the data fields are all the way at the top of each postcard, which probably isn't what you want. In the top left postcard, put the cursor at the beginning of the first field and hit Enter to move them down, and then use the tab key to center the fields. Once the first postcard is layed out the way you want, click on the Synchronize Labels button in the floating window, and all the other postcards will be made the same way. If everything looks good, go on to step 3.

Step 3: Use the Mail Merge Wizard to populate the postcards with data

  1. Go to Tools/Mail Merge Wizard. Use the default 'Use the current document' setting since the current document is your template which you presumably want to use; click on Next.
  2. For 'Select document type', choose Letter and click on Next.
  3. For 'Insert address block', click on 'Select Different Address List' just to make sure you're using the list you want. If it is, click OK to return to the 'Insert Address Block' window. Ignore Step #2 in this window, about inserting an address block in the document, and leave 'This document shall contain an address block' unchecked. Click on Next.
  4. Under 'Create a salutation', leave 'This document should contain a salutation' unchecked. Click on Next.
  5. Now it gets interesting: As the 'Preview and edit the document' window says, the top left postcard will have data from the first record in the database, so you can see if you've got the correct fields and if they fit on the postcard the way you want. You can even scroll forward & back through a few more records by clicking on the > button. If something doesn't look right, smarter people might be able to backup and fix the problem, but I found it easier to just click Cancel and start over. Otherwise, if everything looks good, click on Next.
  6. Now OOo will do the merge. When it's done, you're given the option to customize any of the postcards, which we did not do. Click on Next.
  7. Finally, you can either print or save the result of the merge. If you choose 'Save merged document', you can save each postcard as a separate document--which probably makes more sense if you're doing a merge with, say, a letter, than with postcards--or save the whole thing in one document, which is what I did, so we could easily print it at a later time.

Part Two: Putting the message on the other side of the postcards

Putting the message on the other side of the postcard sheet involves using a business card template, creating or pasting the text into it, and then synchronizing all the postcards so that they all get the same text.
  1. Choose File/New/Business Cards.
  2. In the dialog box under the Medium tab, choose Sheet. For the Brand, I used Avery Letter Size, since I'm in the US; and for the Type, choose '8387 Ink Jet Postcard - 4 up', the same as in Part One with the mailing labels.
  3. Under the Business Card tab, in the AutoText Section near the bottom, choose Standard; then in the Content window above that, choose Attention. Why they don't have a blank card, since most people probably end up putting in their own text in place of what's in the template, is beyond me. I chose the Attention template because it had the least amound of text and formatting that I had to delete in order to put in my own text.
  4. Click on the New Document button.
  5. Paste or write your text in the same area as the word 'Attention' in the top lefthand postcard. You can delete the word 'Attention' if you wish (I did).
  6. Once you get your message layed out the way you want it, click on the floating 'Synchronize Labels' button, and whatever you've got on the first postcard will be copied to the other three.
  7. Figure out which side and which way your printer prints on the paper, and then print a test page of the postcards. Once you get that figured out, you can feed in the sheets from Part One and print the message on the backside of each postcard. Then just cut them apart and mail them.