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18 ways to reduce your mailing expenses.

Postal delivery delays are usually derided, but associations--like mailers everywhere--are thankful the U.S. Postal Service's original plan to file for new rates in 1993 has been put off, at least temporarily, by the new, hard-charging postmaster general.

Despite the good news brought to us by Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer Marvin Runyon, all budget-minded association executives understand that as important as membership mailings are, they merit continual checking. Are they being handled cost effectively? Can money be saved without sacrificing service? This "postalologist" suggests 18 ways to curb costs.

1. Examine the worthiness of what's being mailed. Your biggest single savings can come from a hard examination of whether you need to issue the material in the first place. Just because you've "always done it that way" doesn't mean you should continue the practice.

Once that critical communication audit has been conducted, you can determine if the item necessarily must be sent the way it has always been sent. Can it be combined or issued in another form? And don't forget to conduct that audit with some regularity.

2. Discover the advantages of automation. In terms of cost savings, making your mail automation-compatible is second only to not mailing at all. Automation could be the salvation for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), so it's a permanent feature of postal life. You miss a huge opportunity for savings if you don't design your mailing programs so that they qualify for the various discount possibilities USPS offers. Yes, converting does cost, but you should be able to recoup the investment--in your own equipment or with vendors--relatively quickly.

3. Call automation information, (800) 238-3150. This toll-free telephone call connects you to one of the most efficient USPS operations: the National Customer Service Support Center. Open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Central Time, NCSSC is managed by Michael Murphy in Memphis, Tennessee. If you don't regularly receive the free monthly publication Memo to Mailers, ask for it. You can also write Murphy at 6060 Primacy Pkwy., Suite 101, Memphis, TN 38188-0001.

4. Investigate the benefits of bulk mail. Closely check your entire mailing schedule to see if at least some first-class mailings might better be sent bulk second- or third-class mail. Look into the requirements of special rate fourth class, bound printed matter, and other categories where you might save. Planning is the key here, because you do have to allow more time for delivery as well as comply with USPS's ever-changing and sometimes complex rules and regulations. Still, the savings can be substantial.

5. Peruse the postal primer. Seriously. You may not want to get the hefty "mailer's bible" published quarterly by USPS--the Domestic Mail Manual--but be sure to subscribe to Memo to Mailers (see number 3). You then can be aware, at least in general terms, of the four principal classes of mall, even if you don't keep up with all the complex subclasses. Each numbered mail category has been set up by Congress to fulfill specific needs, so knowing them can save some money.

6. Practice good address management. In all of my postal presentations I repeatedly preach that "it's obscene not to practice address hygiene." When you misdial the telephone and someone answers, you can correct the error immediately. This isn't true about mail, for it may take a few days, many weeks, or several months for the errant piece to come back. In fact, it may never be returned to its origin. Routinely and carefully ensure that your address list is the most current possible. Your lists should be squeaky clean. Garner substantial savings by using some of the postal service's many address management services, available by dialing (800) 238-3150.

7. Imprint on all envelopes special wording that requests address updates. For more than two decades I've imprinted to the left of the address block on my envelopes a message that encourages recipients to notify me quickly of address changes. Also, consider asking recipients to expedite the change by faxing you the new data.

Take every opportunity to remind members in various ways to provide you quickly with current addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and the like.

8. Check your postage scales. The accuracy and overall capabilities of postal processing machines have improved markedly in recent years, but it's still essential that they be treated with care. Check scales regularly to ensure that they remain accurate. Keep bronze test weights handy so that you can determine you're not paying too much, or too little, when you affix postage. (Until you get bronze weights, available at any major hardware store, remember that five quarters approximates an ounce.)

9. Watch mail pickup schedules. Don't let your mail pile up until the end of the day; dispatch all that you can several times a day. Simply entering mail into the mailstream a few hours earlier may save 24 or more hours in delivery. If you're in an office building where scheduled pickups aren't being made or, worse yet, are earlier than noted, a call or letter to your postmaster should solve the problem.

10. Know general postal delivery times. While fax machines and telephones provide instant communication, it's still useful to be conscious of average delivery times between particular city pairs. For instance, if it's not local, first-class mail sent on Thursday is unlikely to arrive the next day. And if the address is a business, getting there on Saturday usually doesn't do much good. Consider whether it makes sense to consolidate mailings and mail on Friday.

11. Set up a volunteer member mail-monitoring program. While commercial services do this job, associations can consider using a core of dedicated volunteers to monitor the delivery of mail. With good management you can enlist the help of strategically located members who will report to you real-world facts and figures about actual delivery times. Maintain their data so that you can detect where problems arise. Also use people locally--key staffers for instance--who not only can alert you that something hasn't arrived yet but also can report on its condition when it does get there. Sometimes an early alert enables you to seek help from USPS in tracking errant mailings.

12. Take advantage of incremental pricing. You'd think that since incremental pricing has been in effect since Dec. 13, 1975, most mailers would know that the second and each additional ounce of first-class mail costs much less than the first ounce. Currently, for instance, there's a 6-cent differential between the first ounce and each additional ounce; with a large mailing, the savings can add up quickly. At the same time, always think of ways to keep down the weight of your mailing. Print on both sides of sheets and watch the total number of enclosures, for sometimes a single sheet can toss you into the next weight unit.

13. Avoid sending oversized, nonconforming, lightweight pieces. To discourage their use and accommodate the handling, there's a dime surcharge for 9-inch by 12-inch pieces with just one or two lightweight sheets enclosed. If the piece has to be returned for collection of the surcharge, you're also incurring a delay of several days. Don't put lightweight pieces in a big envelope--fold them to fit a letter-size envelope.

14. Plan overseas mailings judiciously. All of us know this, of course, but we still should be particularly aware that most rates are computed in haft-ounce increments. Since substantial costs are involved, use the lightest-weight stock consistent with legibility requirements when the material is printed on both sides of each sheet. Avoid sending heavy enclosures and allow adequate time for deliveries. (USPS can give you average delivery times, depending on the service category chosen.)

For expert advice about ways USPS can help you with international mailing services, contact Barry Burns, an international products manager at USPS headquarters, (202) 268-2276; fax (202) 544-2581. You likely will be pleasantly surprised at the array of options you now have when marketing overseas.

15. Harness the power of postcards. Often, that's all you need to get an essential message across. Double postcards (two affixed with a perforated line) from USPS or your printer make it easy to get quick replies, and the postage savings can be considerable. For information about his patented unique single postcard that does the work of two cards, fax my inventor-friend John Tighe at (508) 349-7940 and mention this tip.

16. Use the new "flat rate" cardboard Priority Mail envelopes. Although the ability to use Priority Mail envelopes has been available since early 1991, I continue to be surprised how few know about what I dub "the secret bargain" available at any post office. Get a supply of free cardboard Priority Mail envelopes (not the paper kind) so that for only $2.90 you can ship all the material you can stuff into the 9 1/2-inch by 12 1/2-inch red, white, and blue envelope. At retail, an envelope of this quality would cost at least 50 cents, but it's free from any post office. You're likely to find many uses for it, including shipping material accumulated at conferences back to your office.

17. Ensure that a foolproof system controls access to postage. If you use a meter, remember--that baby prints money. Whether you use a postage meter or stamps, install proper security procedures, including regular unannounced checks. Lock the meter when your office is closed and maintain a usage log so that you can spot-check against tampering or improper use.

18. Add ZIP plus four to all addresses you display. This tip's position as the penultimate pointer doesn't lessen its importance, even though considerable confusion abounds about what was known as the nine-digit code when it was first introduced Sept. 13, 1978. Almost every delivery point can be "plus four'd" and should be, if only to enhance delivery accuracy. It may not speed up mail, but sophisticated mailers avoid sending to any address that can't be addressed with the nine-digit code, because there's a good likelihood something's deficient. When you print rosters and reprint stationery and business cards, display the four add-on digits. For more information about getting the add-on digits, check with any mailing vendor or your postmaster.

BONUS TIP: USPS is the largest civilian agency of the federal government, so it's useful to know the most direct route to customer service and satisfaction, especially if you find yourself in the situation of feeling you're not being treated fairly. Depending on the nature and urgency of your circumstance, here's a listing of levels at which you can address your concerns.

Normally, it's best to begin to seek satisfaction by contacting your local postmaster, but if you think the postmaster is the problem, then go directly to the customer service officer in any of USPS's 80-plus districts. The name and address of the customer service officer is available from your postmaster. Call or send a fax.

For reporting purposes, immediately above the postal districts are 10 area offices, each of which has a top-level official for customer service and another for processing and distribution. The pertinent information about them is also available from your local postmaster.

If you don't want to go this route, then approach Ann McK. Robinson, the vice president and consumer advocate at USPS headquarters, and one of only two dozen officers of the $50 billion agency. While you certainly can phone her office at (202) 268-2284, usually it's best to make an initial inquiry in writing. The address is USPS Headquarters, Room 5821, 475 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington, DC 20260-2200. If you prefer to send a fax, use (202) 268-2304.

You can always write the postmaster general himself. His name is Marvin T. Runyon, and his address is the same as Robinson's, but his specific plus-four ZIP is 20260-0100. Of the 13 postmasters general I've reported on across 30-plus years, he's the first to add "chief executive officer" to the postmaster general title and openly ask for improvement ideas from each of the two dozen groups I've heard him address so far.

John Jay Daly, president, Daly Associates, Inc., Chevy Chase, Maryland, is a creative communications consultant specializing in helping associations and other business mailers.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Daly, John Jay
Publication:Association Management
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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