"A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people." – Will Rogers
What was the last training course you completed? What was the last conference you attended? What professional organizations do you belong to?
These are just a few of the questions we ask managers and employees when conducting operational reviews. We want to understand how the organization is keeping up to date with the changes in our industry. And we want to learn if the company is investing in their employees.
Too often, the answers are disappointing. The company has cut the training and travel budgets. Management doesn’t see the value in conferences or associations. There’s too much work, and no time for education.
Occasionally, we meet individuals who’ve found a way around the obstacles and lack of support. They’ve taken responsibility for their own professional development. They pay for membership dues, course fees, and conference registrations with their own funds. They attend association events on their own time.
Successful people understand that education isn’t an expense, it’s an investment – in their job, in their career, and in themselves. They aren’t waiting for someone else to decide what they need to learn; they’re going after the information on their own. They know that knowledge is a fundamental building block for success.
One of the most important educational investments is in belonging to the right associations. The investment may not be money, but time. Most mailing associations have low or no membership fees. Many meetings and events are either hybrid or online, eliminating the need for travel. However, listening to a webinar while answering emails isn’t real participation. Active listening and actual engagement are a requirement.
In our industry, the largest group of associations is the Postal Customer Councils (PCCs). Composed of over 100 PCCs in all 50 states, this is the organization to which all mail managers should belong. Run in partnership with the US Postal Service (USPS), PCCs exist to share information with business mailers on postal products and service updates.
PCCs also hold meetings dedicated to professional development, including networking and education. Each month, PCCs across the country post their events on the USPS PostalPro website. Online events are generally free, and all events are open to members and non-members alike.
Another USPS sponsored association is the Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC). Similar to PCCs, MTAC is where the USPS shares technical information with mailers and receives their advice and recommendations. MTAC has quarterly meetings at the USPS headquarters in Washington DC, plus online meetings with workgroups and task forces.
What’s important to note is that companies and individuals aren’t MTAC members. Associations are the members, and they appoint people to represent them. For example, the In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) belongs to MTAC – representing their membership.
Speaking of IPMA, that’s another important association for internal operation managers. As the name suggests, IPMA focuses on both print and mail. In addition to their national conference, the association schedules “road shows” at various in-plants across the country. Also, IPMA offers the Certified Graphic Communications Manager (CGCM) and Certified Mail Manager (CMM) certifications.
For managers who work at college and universities, there is the National Association of College and University Mail Services (NACUMS). The NACUMS website hosts Cunimail – a bulletin board exchange for posing questions and sharing information. There is a national conference, plus regional affiliates:
- Association of College and University Mail Services (ACUMS)
- Association of Rocky Mountain College and University Mail Services (ARMCUMS)
- College and University Mail Services Association (CUMSA)
- Mid-Atlantic Region of College and University Mail Services (MARCUMS)
- Southwest Association of College and University Mail Services (SWACUMS)
Managers should also consider joining associations related to the core industry of their company. For example, when I was a mail operations supervisor at an insurance company, I attended events and classes at the Insurance Institute of America. The education I received increased my understanding of the needs of the underwriting and claims departments. That improved the service my department provided to our internal customers.
The following industry associations are also members of MTAC. As such, they may be looking for members who can provide mailing and postal insights:
- American Bankers Association (ABA)
- Association of Direct Response Fundraising Counsel (ADRFCO)
- Association of Priority Mail Users (APMU)
- City & Regional Magazine Association
- Classroom Publishers Association
- National Newspaper Association (NNA)
- National Retail Federation (NRF)
- Package Shippers Association (PSA)
Yet belonging to a group isn’t the real benefit. Participation as an active member is where the substantial rewards lie. Attendance at association functions is just the first step. Joining a committee or volunteering to assist with an event leads to more involvement — perhaps even to holding a position as a leader or board member.
Holding a leadership position in an association provides the opportunity to give back to the industry. The mailing industry is unique in the willingness of people to help others outside their own companies. Working together, we improve the conditions of everyone. Whether shaping postal policy, explaining new technologies, or teaching new techniques for processing mail, association leaders push our industry forward.
Holding board positions also expands the prospect of networking with fellow professionals on a higher level. Shared experiences strengthen bonds and grow relationships. In turn, this expands the sources of knowledge and opportunity. People are much more likely to support people they know.
Another aspect of being a leader is mentoring. The continued success of our industry relies on engaging the next group of leaders. Through associations, we can attract new people to the world of mailing.
Experience, not age, is the most important characteristic of a good mentor. My first mentors as a mail manager were people I met through the PCC. After my first meeting, they called me up to ask what I thought of the presentation. Then they invited me to help plan an event, then join the board. Pivotal moments in my career.
The power of associations extends beyond the next meeting or conference. By joining together, we improve the conditions of our industry and gain the knowledge to improve ourselves. And most importantly, we get the opportunity to help others.
Mark M. Fallon is President & CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the January/February, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.