Getting it there - when "there" is abroad.
As associations expand their membership rosters beyond the United States, what are the best ways to send magazines, meeting programs, and other materials to international members?
How you manage your overseas mail has a direct impact on your association's image and its bottom line. It also affects the degree of involvement of international members. Consider:
* The quicker members receive an invoice, the sooner it can be paid.
* If your association's periodical arrives three months after it's published, members assume you don't care about them.
* Late notices make it impossible for members to attend conventions.
* Delays in the receipt of surveys preclude international members' participation in critical industry research.
Setting delivery goals
Getting mail to your international members depends on several factors, all of which affect your costs:
* speed of delivery;
* average weight of the mail piece;
* frequency of mailings;
* geographic area to which you are mailing; and
* source from which your mailing originates (printer, your office, mail house, and so forth).
The single most important mail decision is: When does it need to get there? Within 3-7 days? 7-14 days? 30 days?
Once you decide how quickly you need international mail to reach its destination, you need to determine which type of service will work best.
Airmail is the quickest but most expensive way to send mail. Your material travels by air to the country of destination and (if practical) via air within the country.
Surface is the slowest but least expensive way to send mail to any country. Mail travels to the nearest port and awaits a boat going in the right direction.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) handles over-the-counter shipment of individual pieces of mail. This is probably how many associations send their overseas mail now even though it's probably not the most cost-effective method, especially for larger-volume mailings for the class of mail known as printed matter--direct mail, catalogs, journals, books, and magazines.
USPS, for example, offers a quantity discount known as "M Bag" mail for printed matter shipments of 15 pounds or more going to a single foreign address either by air or surface mail.
In response to the growing volume of international mailings, USPS has also created additional services to speed delivery and reduce costs. The newest is a bulk mailing service to Canada for printed matter and small packages with delivery in 7-14 days. ValuePost/Canada offers significant savings off single-piece rates.
Another service, International Surface Air Lift (ISAL), provides quicker delivery for bulk printed matter. For mass business mailings, International Priority Airmail (IPA) provides airmail service at lower cost.
ISAL and IPA are available to all countries except Canada. ISAL costs slightly more than surface mail and is less expensive than airmail. Each mailing serviced by ISAL must weight at least 50 pounds. Allow 7-14 days for delivery.
IPA is less expensive than airmail, has a 10-pound minimum, and takes four to seven days for delivery.
If a particular mailing does not meet either the IPA or ISAL weight requirements, you still might be able to reduce your costs by contracting with either a mail consolidator or a remailer--a private company that helps process your mail.
Consolidators combine international mail from numerous clients. They also pick up your mail; sort, stamp, and prepare the mail according to USPS guidelines; and deliver it to ISAL or IPA mail facilities, such as JFK Airport, Jamaica, New York.
Remailers pick up your mail and deliver it to a predetermined country, where it is mailed through the local postal system. In the nonprofit arena, remail is used most often by organizations soliciting donations that wish the mail to have the appearance of originating in the same country as the person addressed.
Remail also allows associations with a large volume of international mail to cut costs. For example, the American Chemical Society, Washington, D.C., recently had a massive catalog mailing to Canada. It contracted with a remail firm to truck the mail to Canada, coordinate customs clearance, and then mail the catalogs under a bulk rate permit. ACS realized substantial savings over what it would have cost to mail the catalogs from the United States (you cannot use bulk permit rates across a national border).
Allow 5-14 days for remail delivery in Europe and 12-30 days for remail delivery in the Far East. Delivery patterns vary widely by country for remail within South America and other parts of the world.
Looking for leads
Mail processing companies offer various services, but they don't all offer the same options. Some remailers are also consolidators; some consolidators serve as general mail houses--doing inserting, labeling, and printing. Make sure you know what each company offers before contracting for services. Your local USPS representative can give you the names of local mail processing companies.
Monitor initial mailings handled by any new firm. One easy way to do this is to send a postcard by regular airmail to select members in different geographic areas. Tell them to watch for a specific piece of mail. Ask them to indicate the date on which they received the mailing on a postcard and return it to you.
To give you an idea of how thorough you should be in evaluating mail processing firms, here are some questions to pose to a potential mail consolidator:
* How will I be charged? By the pound, ounce, or both? Is there a per-piece charge? By country?
* What services are included?
* Will you pick up from my printer or mail house? If yes, is there an additional freight charge?
* Will currency changes affect my price?
* Do you have minimum weight requirements for pickup?
* Can I have a written estimate of all costs? How long is the negotiated rate in effect?
* Will I be billed, or is postage required in advance?
* Will nondeliverable items be returned? How? Is there any additional charge?
* Do I need to fill out paperwork for each shipment?
* How often is mail dispatched for delivery overseas?
* Are there countries you don't serve?
* Will my mail go directly from here to the country of destination?
* Explain the route mail will travel from pickup to the time members receive it. How does this route vary by continent?
Warning: Some less experienced companies may ask you to pay before services are delivered--they'll process your mail but will not put it into the mail system until you pay them. Generally, it's best to treat mail contractors the same as any other contractor, which means you pay upon delivery.
The Screen Printing Association International (SPAI), Fairfax, Virginia, uses a variety of mail services to send its more than 40,000 pieces of international mail annually.
For personalized mail, SPAI uses first-class airmail; for regular member mailings, it prefers ISAL. For shipping new member kits (weighing about 20 pounds each), heavy publications, and so forth, it opts for surface parcel post delivery.
Associations are in the information business, yet they often forget about membership materials once they leave the office. Understanding distribution options for international mailings will allow you to better serve overseas members and make them partners.
John M. Crawford, CAE, is president of the Screen Printing Association International, Fairfax, Virginia.
Address It Correctly
The most important way to ensure delivery of members' mail is to provide accurate mail labels. International addresses often require more space than U.S. addresses. You may have to modify your software to accommodate this information on computer-generated labels that have limited space.
The proper addressing format is
* name of addressee--person, a company, or both;
* street address including suite, apartment, or building number if appropriate, or post office box number;
* city, state or province, postal or mail code; and
The biggest problem associated with processing mail originated by associations is the absence of the destination country on the address label, according to Joseph Haber, executive vice president, Distribution Postal Company, Inc., Baltimore. If your mail does not list destination countries but only goes to such major cities as London, Paris, Toronto, Sydney, or Tokyo, it'll probably arrive without any major delays. Generally, that is not the case for mail sent to less-well-known cities outside the United States. Check to make sure your association letterhead and envelopes indicate the USA.
To Learn More
The United States Postal Service (USPS) has published a guide that explains the international mail services it offers to the business community. WorldPost Services--the umbrella name for USPS international mail options--include transmittal of fax documents to post offices overseas (if you're sending to someone who doesn't have a fax machine), express mail service, discounts for volume mailings (International Surface Air Lift, International Priority Airmail, and Value Post/Canada), and business reply cards.
To order a copy of the WorldPost Services brochure, contact WorldPost Services, International Marketing Branch, U.S. Postal Service, Room 4400EB, 475 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington, DC 20260-6520; (202) 268-2276; fax (202) 268-5493.
Other helpful publications include:
* The International Mail Manual discusses rules, regulations, and rate information. Order from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 941 N. Capital St., N.E., Washington, DC 20402; $16 ($20 for copies sent to a foreign address).
* These publications should be available from your local post office: 1) International Postal Rates and Fees (Publication 51); 2) International Surface Airlift (Publication 31); and 3) International Priority Airmail (Publication 507).
Those Urgent Messages
If you have an especially urgent international message, consider using a broadcast fax.
A broadcast fax is an identical message sent to numerous recipients. The service company gets the fax number from you--often on a computer disk--and then transmits your message by computer.
Include country and city code numbers in your list of fax numbers. If your message does not go through, your broadcast fax service company will continue to try to transmit your message based upon your instructions. You may tell the company to try only once, try three times, try until received, and so forth. The broadcast fax service company should also advise you which fax messages did not go through.
Within the United States, a single-sheet broadcast fax generally costs less than a first-class letter. International costs vary by country, however, so consult a service provider for cost estimates for faxing to specific areas.