June 30 2008 11:47 AM

A growing number of mail managers are turning to IPMA's Certified Mail Manager (CMM) program as a way to prove they have the knowledge and technical expertise needed to excel in today's rapidly changing mailing industry.


"The CMM credential, established by the International Publishing Management Association in 1992, is recognized throughout the industry as a true measure of excellence for mailing and distribution professionals and one avenue for gaining an inside edge," explains Domenic J. Vallone, CGCM, chairperson of IPMA's Certification Program. Mailing professionals can attain this mark of distinction by successfully completing a comprehensive examination and by demonstrating a recognizable level of competence and management experience.


"To be more relevant to the demands and expectations placed on today's mailing professionals, the testing tool was redesigned in 2001," Vallone notes. The exam, administered at IPMA's annual conference upon request, is not based on a structured curriculum of study. Instead, it is designed to evaluate a manager's overall experience and technical expertise by covering a broad range of information not limited to specific publications.


Retooling the exam was an enormous, year-long task. Some questions were revised and others were added to reflect constantly changing technologies; many were so out of date that they were simply dropped. In the past, the exam was given in seven parts to test computer skills, personnel, financial, general management, mail management, mail technical skills and an essay section on a mail-management problem. Today, the exam is broken into two basic sections the first dealing with general management skills common to any manager and the second section dealing with mail-specific skills. Essays are given in each section to examine communication skills as well as mail proficiency. The first section is common to both certifications (CMM and CGCM the program for printing and graphic arts professionals) so that those who are already accredited in one discipline may take only the second part to be accredited in the other.


The exam testing period is six hours including breaks. Exams are given at the IPMA annual conference and by reservation at IPMA's headquarters in Liberty, Missouri.


The new exam is a fair representation of the areas that mailers need to know, believes Scott Smas, CMM, the office supervisor at Arizona State Univer-sity in Tempe. "The process challenged me to achieve a goal that has boosted my confidence and has given me the new energy to take back to the workplace."


That preparation process alone gives mailers a fresh perspective. Having watched mail processing escalate during the past 22 years from a small daily process to a high-tech operation, Kay Houchins, supervisor of Mail Processing at the University of Missouri in Columbia, is among those who pursued and attained the credential. "Just from preparing to take the exam, I realized how much I didn't know and the new level of expertise needed to excel. Thanks to this program, I am using the knowledge gained to do a better job for my university!"


Cindy Larson, CGCM, CMM, is the director · of Printing and Mailing Services at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Minnesota, and shared similar thoughts. "Mail is a big budget item for most organizations, so it is critical to be knowledgeable in that area. Studying for the exam sharpened my knowledge and awareness. There's so much to know. I've certainly broadened my reference base and have many more resources to draw upon in the future."


It is that exposure to other mailing professionals and new ideas that may be the key to professional success, believes Martha "Penny" Guyer, CMM, CMDSM, manager of Mailing Operations at US Bancorp in St. Paul, Minnesota. "We need to see ourselves as professionals and market ourselves both within our corporate institutions and to the outside world, just as any other professional segment would." Achieving a mailing credential can provide a sense of pride, particularly within a corporate or educational setting where everyone in management holds a professional degree.


IPMA expects that, as technology continues to melt down traditional industry boundaries, there will be a great deal more double-certifications managers earning both the CMM and the CGCM credentials. Currently there are print managers who are certified in mail to better understand that end of the business, and they are creatively using their postal knowledge to strategize the design and production of "mail-friendly" pieces.


Over the last few years,many organizations have merged their print and mail operations. "We merged over 10 years ago at the Federation," says Vallone, "and I see a day coming soon when even IT will be included; we've already been working very closely with our computer department and now do some work that was traditionally considered a function of IT. For example, we're now imprinting the pledge cards with variable donor information at the same time we're presorting and addressing the piece. Now the entire project is handled seamlessly by one department.


"The job description for the mail center supervisor where I worked in 1971 required conversational English and alphabetical proficiency; a high school diploma was preferred, but not required," recalls Vallone. "If someone said back then, 'did you hear that the new VP for Operations worked her way up from the mail room!' the inference was she was hired with no skills and very little expectation, but, she sure surprised us!"


No one today would be surprised by a mail center professional being promoted into the mainstream of upper management. Organizations no longer underestimate the technical and administrative skills required to manage the complex operations of the modern mail center.


A 10-year veteran of the in-plant community, Jack Broach, CMM, at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, best summarized why the program is enjoying such popularity among mailers. "The entire mailing industry is undergoing constant change. The future is unpredictable, and we all need to be prepared professionally for the surprises that await us."


The CMM credential tells everyone that you can come into any project, any job, hitting the ground running. You have proven both management experience and mail expertise. And your credential displays that achievement to management and potential employers. Most importantly, you achieve the personal satisfaction of knowing that you have reached a new level in your career, a mark of distinction that says you're on top or your profession and intend to stay there.


Once certified, managers are required to recertify every five years, demonstrating professional activities that may include continuing education, membership in associations, professional presentations and instruction, etc. "This is not a one-time deal," says Vallone. "You may never need to take the exam again, but the 'CMM' after your name indicates that you are committed to maintaining a standard of excellence and professional development."


Vallone is calling on mail managers who have already attained the credential to help IPMA keep the exam relevant to today's issues. "I'm inviting interested CMMs to volunteer 10 to 20 hours over the next 12 months in reviewing and developing test materials credits for recertification will be awarded!"


If you are interested in learning more about the CMM program, contact the International Publishing Management Association at 816-781-1111 or by visiting www.ipma.org.