How much do you really know about "mail?" What is it? How does it get into your mailbox at your office, at your home? How did your letter carrier get the mail with your name on it? Why is there a 37. stamp on the envelope that holds your birthday card and no stamp at all on your VISA bill? Take a few moments and think about what you actually know to be true, documented facts about your mail. For most of us, the "reality" of what we "know" about mail is made of myth, legend and assumption. And, even though we are told that "resources are everywhere," we are clueless to even know where to begin our search for documented facts. Yet, the mailing industry has seen a large number of new entrants in the past 24 months, and for now, the numbers continue to grow. The coming months will bring a plateau to this growth trend, and 2006 and 2007 will show a decline. That statement can be safely made simple because your assumptions and your mailing myths can come with exorbitantly high price tags.
Proactive vs. Reactive
Mailers seldom, if ever, have the luxury of approaching a situation proactively because they are too busy reacting to what has just landed on their docks typically from the printer up the street. Remember, if you are the printer and are now the mailer, you are also the bottom of the totem pole, the last rung on the ladder, the end of the line. All of those design and production problems and delays documented on the job jacket are not being boxed up and trucked up the street. You are now the proud owner because that job jacket (along with "The Buck Stops Here" sign) has simply moved to another department inside your facility. Operating in crisis mode quickly becomes standard operating procedure, and you are in for a rude awakening if you don't think crisis mode doesn't come with a high price tag.
According to the USPS, "the first step in the classification of any mailpiece is determining whether the piece is even mailable in the first place."
The key items to glean from these statements are:
1. Ignorance is no excuse you need to know the rules, and you cannot depend on the USPS to always identify when you are not in compliance.
2. No amount of money can make an unmailable piece become mailable.·
3. The USPS offers payment plans if postage, civil or criminal penalties are assessed.
Mail-Related Production Floor Pitfalls
The size of a mailpiece is one of the first indicators of mailability. The minimum dimensions of a mailpiece are three-and-a-half inches-high by five-inches-long. In many instances, printers will produce stacks of printed sheets with multiple images on a single sheet that are moved to a cutter for finishing. Your cutter operator can render a mailable piece unmailable by allowing excessive "draw" on the cutter. The pieces on top of the stack are cut at three-and-a-half inches, but the pieces on the bottom slide and end up with a final cut size of three-and-seven-sixteenths inches. If you fail to identify this error and include these pieces in a mailing, the entire mailing can be denied once it is presented to the post office. Don't run this risk. Design the piece with appropriate tolerances to accommodate the USPS size requirements. Now, if you were not mailing this piece, excessive draw on the cutter would not be an issue.
Folder setup is another common cause of processing errors that can result in paying higher postage rates. The location of the fold is critical in the production of a personalized letter with the address designed to show through a window envelope. Elements of the address and any postal markings, including the POSTNET barcode, must be positioned so they remain within certain distances from the edges of the window opening. Positioning of the insert must be maintained when the envelope is tapped on three sides (left, right and bottom). If the fold is not properly placed, the addressing area may not be readable by postal equipment and postage discounts claimed may be disallowed. Again, setup and placement of the fold becomes an expensive issue because the folded piece is entering the USPS mailstream.
WHAT You Know Not WHO You Know
Most companies hold a series of business planning meetings to discuss future expansion, allocation of resources, ROIs, etc. If you are discussing entry into the mailing industry and a member of your team says, "my brother-in-law works for the Postal Service," the first words that come into your head better be, "so what." The same goes for the budget allocation to take your local postmaster to lunch. It may give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it won't do anything to enhance the acceptance, movement or deliverability of your mail. Yes, developing a good relationship with your local post office is an important issue; however, a better starting point is the personnel in your postal business center and on the acceptance dock. No matter where you choose to start, your first priority should be to bury any ego or arrogance. You are the "newbie," and the USPS is the only game in town their playing field and their ball.
If You Don't Know, Find Out
Most businesses become members of groups or organizations that serve their specific industries. For example, many printers are members of PIA, NAPL, GATF, etc. These are all very good organizations; however, you should not look to them to provide you the guidance you need for mail. A very good first step to take if you are thinking about expanding or entering into the mailing industry is to join an organization like the Mailing Fulfillment Service Association (MFSA), Alliance For Non-Profit Mailers or PostCom. Spend the money to join and then participate; ask questions, listen to feedback, visit their Web sites, read their publications and review their online forums. These groups can be invaluable if you use them before purchasing any goods (hardware/software) and services related to mail.
Subscribe to Mailing-Related Publications
There are very good publications that are available from the Postal Service; however, you will find your best information coming from the industry itself. Postal World, Business Mailers Review, PostCom Bulletin and Mailing Systems Technology are a few of the "must reads" of the industry. These publications, along with the publications or newsletters for the groups and associations, will give you the information you need to succeed. Read them regularly and distribute them throughout your company.
Invest in Business Errors and Omissions Insurance Policies
Printers can correct errors in print jobs by a simple reprint. In the case of a mailing error, it is not an uncommon occurrence for the client to demand a mailer pay for the reprinting, the mail processing and the postage. There are huge financial responsibilities and liabilities that accompany you as you move your company into the world of mail. Seek advice from your mailing organizations and dedicate significant time to research the pros and cons of EO insurance. You may have looked into this issue for your print company in the past; however, this may be a very wise investment of your time and money for your mailing company.
Print Sales and Support and Mail Sales and Support Are Not the Same
Many new entrants to the mailing industry who have come from print have learned the hard way that their print salespeople cannot sell mail. It was a logical assumption but did not prove out. The same holds true for their CSRs. Both the sale and support of printed pieces that now will move into mail require your employees to possess a very different set of skills. Training within the mailing industry is a good investment and one that you may not have thought you would need to make. Acquire the training early on, and it is a safe bet that the cost of the training will be far less than the cost of a mailing mistake.
The mailing industry holds a certain fascination for many of its participants. No two days are alike. For the most part, profit margins are low, but the stakes are excitingly high. The technology is continually evolving as rules and regulations are ever-changing. Entry into this industry can bring financial rewards and failures in short order. New entrants should come with your eyes wide open for one simple reason; it will be too expensive to enter any other way.
Mary Ann Bennett is President and CEO of The Bennett Group, Inc. and has 28 years of experience in the mailing and print industries. Contact her by phone 585-820-5457 or by fax 585-533-9024 or e-mail Maryann@the-bennett-group.com.