On May 7, 2003, a U.S. Postal Service quality milestone was reached when a Harte-Hanks mailing facility in Grand Prairie, Texas, became the first lettershop to be Mail Preparation Total Quality Management (MPTQM) certified. The following week, on May 14, 2003, a second Harte-Hanks mailing facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, also was MPTQM certified. This is a big achievement and is no accident. Harte-Hanks has set a goal to have all seven of its direct mail facilities certified during 2003.


The MPTQM process is a systematic, prevention based, approach for managing the quality of the mail preparation process. Formulated by the Postal Service and an advisory group of mailers and mail service companies beginning in 1995, MPTQM certification is based loosely on criteria for performance related to the International Standards Organi-zation (ISO) 9000, Total Quality Management (TQM) and the Baldrige National Quality Program. From creative, to data centers, to pre-sort bureaus, to laser printing and mailing, the MPTQM process includes a checklist of more than 120 quality standards, backed by an auditing process of Postal Service quality professionals.


"Some people may say the price of quality is too expensive," says Charles Dall'Acqua, corporate officer and senior vice president, direct marketing, Harte-Hanks. "We say the price of not having quality is more expensive. During the past 13 months, since the lettershop portion of the checklist came to fruition, we have been conducting internal assessments to prepare our Grand Prairie and Cincinnati facilities for the Postal Service quality audit. With the other mailing facilities of Harte-Hanks in cue, we anticipate having implemented MPTQM quality standards and measurements in all our mail facilities by year's end."


More than three dozen presort bureaus and other business mailers have been verified by the Postal Service under MPTQM. Harte-Hanks is the first Standard Mail lettershop service provider to have this distinction.


This planned effort by Harte-Hanks complements the company's TQM philosophy and practices, according to Dall'Acqua. More importantly, this certification process brings a common measurement system for quality performance, helping to ensure better delivery of services to the company's many direct mail clients.


Harte-Hanks chose to approach this effort with a team chartered with the responsibility to create the necessary policies, documentation, use and follow through that would be "portable" among the company's four "targeted mail" facilities, with a similar effort being made with the company's more complex "personalized mail" facilities.


An additional impetus for certification is MERLIN, the company reports. Harte-Hanks believes MPTQM affords a higher level of formal operations, all of which would help the company preclude MERLIN issues, and help to ensure that requisite "feedback loops" are in place at all levels of contact to eliminate recurrences of any MERLIN violation were it to happen. The goal of the Postal Service is to assure quality mailings are entered into the Postal Service's processing and distribution system eliminating costs associated with errors and re-work. The goal of Harte-Hanks is to meet each client's needs. This not only means flawless, seamless services but a more reliable, predictable window of delivery from the Postal Service.


The Harte-Hanks team first met with Scott Hamel from the Postal Service and his MPTQM team in Cincinnati in May 2002 to initiate installation and to gain a complete understanding of the requirements and the process. The team then broke up the effort into specific assignments and segments. Team members all worked together with top management to develop, document, approve and implement all developments and standards. As each section of the MPTQM checklist was completed and approved, the section then was added to MPTQM compliance manuals for use by all other Harte-Hanks targeted mail units.


The company MPTQM team met monthly via teleconferencing to review status, Quality Assurance Review assessments and improvements. After the first internal assessment, the entire process manuals included were distributed to the other units for their review, input and initiation of implementation.


This particular approach reaped additional benefits internally, the company reports. It forced Harte-Hanks to take a close look at existing policies and procedures; update, replace and develop "best practices" among facilities; as well as implement needed new policies. This process serves as a solid foundation to support "ongoing" continuous quality improvement efforts across the corporation. It has formed a "corporate-wide" team in place to work together on all issues forming a bond across facilities.


"Because MPTQM applies to all aspects of the mail-preparation process, it forces the quality effort down to the lowest level of process and labor," notes Terry Ahrens, who is managing director of the Grand Prairie, Texas, facility.


"It literally brings all employees into the process with an understanding of their specific roles in producing a consistent quality product and service for our clients and for the Postal Service."


"MPTQM is an industry-specific Quality Program and will be a solid foundation for our continuous improvement efforts in future years," says Dan Reising, who is the managing director of the Cincinnati, facility. "It is an excellent path to follow on our quality journey."


Some of Harte-Hanks mailing facilities provide everything from creative design and agency work through printing all the way through database, mail prep to mailing. This makes MPTQM Certification all the more valuable to all participants.


Charles M. Howard is vice president, postal affairs and special projects, Harte-Hanks Direct Marketing. Charles develops the methodology behind Harte-Hanks integrated Mailstreaming, Drop Shipping, and Mail Tracking services and he secured the company's first National Change Of Address license in 1986. He is active with all levels of the U.S. Postal Service. Harte-Hanks, Inc. is a worldwide, direct and targeted marketing company that provides direct marketing services and shopper advertising opportunities to a wide range of local, regional, national and international consumer and business-to-business marketers. Charles can be reached at charley_howard@harte-hanks.com. Visit the Harte-Hanks Web site at www.harte-hanks.com or call 800-456-9748.