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Detailing the mailroom process: create quality assurance by utilizing a checks system.

Learning from our mistakes is a critical part of growth. Unfortunately in printing and publishing, this luxury isn't something that works well with customers and readers alike. In our industry, we are expected to be accurate and reliable 100 percent of the time. That's a pretty tall order, which we try to meet on a daily basis, often more successfully than others.

In order to ensure that we live up to the public's expectations, we need to have checks and balances in place. Efficient as many of our supervisors and managers are, and as dedicated and diligent as our staffs might be, there is no substitute for establishing written guidelines.

A Guide for the Ad Department

Let's get started on the front-end: advertising. Sure, this is a "production based" article, but don't think for a second that everything we do isn't tied to the front office. Without advertising, there wouldn't be a production department (or any other department for that matter). We need to help advertising communicate a clear message to our customers regarding preprints/ inserts.

Ad sales is about selling advertising into our newspapers, so the less time they have to spend trying to do our jobs, the better. Provide your advertising department with all possible information regarding preprints. It will make your job much easier when it moves through production and will go a long way to ensure a satisfied customer when we insert the right insert, on the right day, in the right product, in the right zone, flawlessly.

Here's a guide for your ad department to follow:

What is the maximum size insert you can accept without quarter folding? Provide as many information sheets as necessary; one for any Tabloid products, one for standard/broadsheets, booklets, etc. Detail specific heights and widths and provide any warnings for oversized inserts and how they may cause delays or non-delivery by the post office. If single sheets need to be folded to accommodate inserting into booklets, this is where it should be communicated to advertisers.

What is the smallest size insert you can accept? Make sure to check two things here: one, your insert manufacturer's specifications and two, perhaps most important, check with the individual who sets-up your inserter. They should know better than anyone what is possible on your equipment, what gives them trouble and what needs to be reconsidered, and of course, what works well. Regardless of manufacturers specifications don't underestimate the experience factor.

Any out of spec insert that requires special handling should be reviewed for possible up-charges.

What is the largest size insert you can accept? This falls right into the same category as above. Check things out with the same process and you'll find the necessary answers.

Another item that needs to be considered is the thickness of the preprint. Maximum thickness depends on the grade of paper and total pages. Again, experience is the best teacher and your mailroom should be able to provide this information.

How should incoming inserts be packaged? Preprints that are improperly packed can create a major challenge for your mailroom, leading to missed deadlines and additional expense. Bent edges, random "turns" in the bundles, the random backward insert without rhyme or reason (if you're in the mailroom, you're probably feeling the pain right about now), rejogging poorly packaged inserts and inconsistent bundle quality slows down the process, adds to the number of stops on the inserter and adds cost.

If inserts are boxed, they should fit the container (laid flat) firmly, without air space around the product that allows inserts to shift within the box.

If skidded (palletized) the product should be wrapped and banded in turns no smaller than 50 or 100 depending on thickness of the product.

Delivery address for newspaper inserts? While this might seem fairly obvious, it can be a very complex issue for production facilities that handle multiple intercompany and commercial printing inserts. Advertisers and/or outside printers providing preprints need to know exactly where to deliver.

Many newspapers today are being printed outside their own doors and need to be specific as to where preprints should be sent for final packaging. Simple as this may seem I've seen a lot of confusion here. I've seen inserts dropped that don't belong at a particular property sit for weeks until someone starts asking questions and the insert is redirected; usually right after it should have been inserted. Not exactly excellent customer service.

Once you've communicated the correct address, be sure to add any instructions on where to drop skids, if you have a dock, can or cannot unload with a forklift, and where the delivery door is located.

Deadlines/extended deadlines? Every property has its own specific timeframe for deliveries. Many newspapers request delivery seven to 10 days prior to the insertion date. Make sure you clearly state your requirements here. Our goal should be to extend as much time as possible to our advertisers, but when it starts to impact our production operation, costs us additional expense and effects how we service our other customers, it becomes a problem.

Many grocery advertisers make it a habit to push deadlines to the last minute to preserve their competitive edge. Trucking companies are often scheduling deliveries to meet their convenience rather than your deadline. I can almost guarantee that each of us have at some point in our career been waiting on an insert to put together a package and losing valuable time and money in the process.

If you can provide an extended (emergency) deadline, be clear that this is the exception and cannot become the rule. This can be a dangerous precedence to set, but in the name of maintaining revenue and providing the necessary customer service we need to do all we can to help advertisers.

Receiving dates and hours? This is pretty clear cut. Be specific, keeping in mind you'll probably have deliveries waiting at your door in the morning and trucks pulling in five minutes before closing with 10 skids. Do all you can to accommodate others, but be aware of adding additional expense as well.

Shipping contact and phone number, email, etc. Provide primary and secondary contacts to cover vacations or other time off. You don't want information being conveyed to the wrong person who might let things slip through the cracks.

Putting a Process in Place

Now that your advertising department, trucking companies and perhaps even advertisers understand what needs to be done to ensure on-time and accurate preprint delivery, let's take a look at what can be done inside your shop to further ensure accuracy.

One of the key areas of our production process is distribution/mailroom. Over time the importance of the mailroom in our operations has grown, along with the understanding of how essential this department is to our overall success.

A single mistake in distribution can cost thousands of dollars and lose valuable customers and credibility for our publication. That's why it's so important to have processes in place that guarantee the accuracy of our preprint operations.

Checking inserts in. This should be a fairly organized process. Every insert delivery comes with a bill of lading/ receiver. While it might seem obvious, make sure the person unloading checks the amount of skids against the bill of lading and looks at each skid to make sure it's for you. If a trucker has multiple loads on their truck there's a good chance once in a while he'll mix one up and you'll end up with someone else's inserts as your real pallet drives away. Don't let your people get complacent or mistakes will happen.

The next step is logging pallets in. Have a log sheet hanging in the receiving area and record date received, name of advertiser, amount of skids, etc. Immediately walk a copy to your advertising/insert coordinator and have it matched up against the insertion order. If for some reason there is an issue, this is the time to address it, not a day before it is scheduled to insert.

Once pallets are unloaded, logged in and placed in an organized manner in your facility, cross check them against your insert schedule and stage them accordingly.

Checking for accuracy and preparing for the insert run. If you've followed the rules to this point, chances are you have the right insert set-up in each hopper and are ready to begin the process of inserting into your jacket/main/ cover. This is a critical point in the operation that can either guarantee success or if not followed lead to disaster.

The final "insert check list and sign off." Before the start of each insert run, an insert check list should be crosschecked. The sheet should be filled out and attached to the final insert package and archived for an acceptable period of time (a month is typical).

The list should include ...

Publication: Name of the publication/ jacket/wrap, etc.

Publication Date: Publication date/ insertion date

Catchline: This is a "headline/slug line" that identifies that particular insert; i.e.

Big Shoe Sale, One Day Only, Spring Sale, Memorial Day Extravaganza, etc.

Insert Code: Each insert has its own unique identifier, a code such as P43, DH781 (for example), supplied by the advertiser. These codes much match the code on the insertion order.

Folder Check: Each complete package should have its own physical "folder," where all inserts have been checked-in for the appropriate insertion order, code, catch line, etc. and are put together as a "sample" package. This is a representation of what the final package will be and needs to be checked against insertion orders. Once this is complete, the individual making the package should initial and crosscheck each insert set-up on the machine for accuracy.

Floor Check: This is the second cross check in a series of three. The floor check happens when the pallets are placed in their respective position on the floor in preparation for loading into the insert hoppers. Each pallet should be checked against the folder and signed off when complete.

Catcher Check: This final check is your last chance to catch errors. If everyone has done their job to this point chances are you're good to go, but do not take anything for granted. This could be the most valuable check of all.

As the inserter is being set-up and final completes are being produced, stop the machine for a moment and crosscheck against the folder/I.O.s one last time.

It doesn't take long and if you follow this program to the letter, the chance of an insert error in your mailroom is very slim. I'd go so far as to say an error cannot occur if you stick to this process in your mailroom.

A bit of additional "insurance" throughout the run that can also be helpful to the folks loading pockets on the inserter is to hang a string or wire above the inserter end to end (or on the wall; anywhere were the hopper loaders can't miss it) and hang up a copy of each insert. When each particular insert transcends into the next skid, the hopper loader can check to be certain that the insert is the same one they started with, and that it is still correct. It's simply one extra check to keep your operation running smooth and accurate.

In summary, there are several things that can go wrong in any area of production if processes aren't employed and checks and balances are not followed. The mailroom is a complex department and is a critical cog in the wheel of progress. Establishing procedures, following good work practices and checking your work thoroughly can prevent costly errors, eliminate credits and provide the level of customer service we all strive for on a regular basis.

Jerry Simpkins is the general manager at Hi-Desert Publishing in Yucca Valley, Calif. Contact him on or at

3 questions with ... Scott Gee, production manager, Tribune Chronicle

What has been your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Transitioning from mailroom manager to production manager has been a big challenge in my career. Here in Warren, we have a Goss Headliner press and my previous pressroom experience was on a single-wide press. I have spent long hours learning different technology and terminology associated with an entire printing process.

Where do you see the future of print production?

I believe in print. As I am part of a generation that relies more and more on technology, I still find myself reading more printed material as opposed to reading things electronically. I also believe we will see more consolidation of print facilities as existing presses become older, and smaller production sites seek outside printers as opposed to replacing equipment or performing costly repairs.

What printing technologies are you most excited about?

Recently, we switched from using thermal plates to using no-process plates, which eliminated two steps in the plate-making process. Not only will the switch improve production time, it will eliminate two high-maintenance pieces of equipment.

Scott Gee is currently the production manager for the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio, owned by Ogden Newspapers. He began his newspaper career as a carrier for a paper in Jamestown, N.Y. He has also served as a hand flyer, a pressman and mailroom assistant manager.

Caption: Preprints are loaded into hoppers on the inserter. They have been checked against insertion orders and followed through the mailroom check processes for accuracy.

Caption: A supervisor sets-up an inserting machine to prepare for an upcoming package run. It is critical that personnel follow check systems throughout the process to ensure accuracy of the final insertion.

Caption: An operator catches product off the conveyor after being checked and the package completed.


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Title Annotation:production
Comment:Detailing the mailroom process: create quality assurance by utilizing a checks system.(production)
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2016
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