Monday, October 15, 2012

Just when you thought you knew it all—there’s MORE!

Paul&Partners is proud to help with your printing, mailing and emailing campaigns, but  now we bring something more to the table.

partnerEffective immediately Paul&Partners has partnered with PMC—Print Mail Communications—in Lorton, VA to serve you even better.  

Yes, YOU are the big winner.   Here’s why:

check MORE data processing power
checkmark MORE personalization power (ask me—you’ll love what I have to say!)
checkmark MORE mailshop capabilities
checkmark MORE presses and printing options
checkmark MORE staff to serve your every need
check And MORE terrific customer service.

There are even some truly creative packages that PMC can do and no one else can.  (Curious?  Call me!)
It’s all about serving YOU better.  You’ll still have all the great services that you’ve always depended on.  You may even hear familiar voices on the phone.

Need a quote?  You have my number: 
Want to talk about our new capabilities? 
Call me!  703-996-0800.

Got the picture?  My phone remains 703-996-0800;  and our Paul&Partners emails will stay active for a while, but soon we’ll be all PMC all the time.

Looking forward to serving you MORE often and with MORE capabilities soon!

It’s everything you need from a great production team.  And more.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Come fly with us. The USPS reorganizes.

If you like the efficiency of the hub-and-spoke system that most US airlines use, you’ll love the new USPS organizational structure.  However, if you’ve ever missed your connection by 30 seconds, maybe you won’t.
In essence, the Post Office has proposed to reduce the number of major mail processing plants from 461 to fewer than 200 over the next two years.  Those closures mean fewer postal LaGuardias, Hartfields, LAXs and OHares, and more traffic coming through each remaining facility.

The question is, of course, can fewer—but larger—postal facilities handle the volume of mail?

recessionThe answer is:  they won’t have to do it all alone.  Each major postal facility would be supported by hundreds of smaller area ‘hub’ facilities.  However, exact details are still TBD, and even the assignment of zip codes is still up in the air. 

But wait a minute!  Three massive storms are approaching.  These storms may be enough to postpone reorganization liftoff. 

#1 is Unions, who have taken their complaints to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).  The proposed plan cuts 35,000 jobs—most of them union—from a total of 151,000 mail processing positions. Cutting 23% of the workforce will obviously affect the Union’s membership—and its pocketbook—in a big way.  The PRC says it will delay any decision until later this year. 

#2 is the political election cycle.  The USPS has already agreed to forego closures during the peak election cycle—September to early November—so that election mail is not jeopardized. 

#3 is the coming holiday season.  Not wishing to repeat its abysmal 2011 holiday delivery performance, the USPS has decided to suspend closures during the peak holiday season of November and December.

Those three factors pretty much preclude closures for 2012. 

2013 is another story.  USPS management hopes to move forward with the new network restructuring as early as possible, citing that it should save about $2.6B a year. 

The second question is, can 23% fewer employees process the same volume of mail?

The answer has to be some combination of more automation or less mail volume.  The Post Office has been ramping up automation for years (Merlin is a perpetual favorite!); reduced mail volume is taking care of itself. 

Postal Plan B is to cut Saturday delivery.  Despite evidence that 5-day-a-week delivery could save the USPS up to $3B a year, Congress is not ready to approve this step yet.

Print publishers especially are concerned that the shortened delivery week could impact their editorial relevance.  The USPS has agreed to continue overnight delivery for periodicals if the printers could deliver mail that has to be sorted to the Post Office by 11:00 a.m. and deliver carrier routed mail by 5 p.m.  Unfortunately, that schedule leaves the publications’ writers working on the red-eye express, writing until the wee hours.

Postal Plan C is to.....   Oops.  Sorry.  There doesn’t appear to be a Plan C.  

So to recap:  The Post Office, which has announced it will be insolvent by Labor Day, can’t take any cost cutting actions this year because of various external forces. 

Please fasten your seat belts.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Do you get it Now?

If you're like most Americans, you've seen the Post Office ads for EDDM--Every Door Direct Mail--advertised on TV but probably didn't "get it." It sounds so easy. Small businessman, do the mailing yourself and save money!

But you can't believe everything you see in a 30-second TV commercial. For mailers who can use EDDM effectively, it is great. For those who can't, it isn't. It all depends on your market and your message. For just about everybody, it has the potential to be confusing and frustrating.

So in the interests of alleviating stress and confusion, here are SIMPLIFIED rules to help you take advantage of EDDM.

1. Your mailing piece has to be a "flat." That's post office lingo for larger than 6-1/8" x 11-1/2" but no larger than 12" x 15".

Oops. Sorry. After the TV commercials were launched, the Post Office changed the specs. Seems the pizza restaurant lobby convinced the USPS to shift the minimum size to accommodate pizza carryout menus. Now the minimum size is 6-1/8" x 10-1/2", but the maximum 12" x 15" is still unchanged.

2. Your mail must have a mailing panel with an indicia. The panel has to be in the right spot, with the right info in the right place. If you need clarification on any of these points, stop right now. Get help! You will only hurt yourself if you continue without adult supervision.

If you don't want to pay for an indicia--and it isn't cheap--then use a professional mail house to help with your mailing. They will take care of all the details for you, and let you use their indicia.

3. You have to mail at CRRT Saturation. That's more post office jargon for mailing to everybody on a carrier's route. No prejudicial skipping addresses. Now this is where the effectiveness of EDDM depends on your market and your message.

If you are a restaurant/dry cleaner/coffee mail rainshop/dentist/church or lawn care serving everybody in the neighborhood indiscriminately, then EDDM might be right for you. It's a cost--effective way to get the word out to everybody, in a large format that will be visible in their mailboxes.

However, if you are a specialty business like daycare/dog walking/hearing aid repair/senior services or SAT exam prep, then EDDM is absolutely NOT for you. You need to target specific people who need your specific message. You will waste printing and postage with EDDM, and you will be unhappy with the results.

Need help figuring it all out? EDDM is not as easy as it sounds. Check with a professional mail house.

4. You don't have to show actual names and addresses, thus saving the cost of list rental and presorting. But each piece DOES have to have a generic address like "Postal Patron."

Before you leap for joy at the financial windfall, read item #6 below for a reality check.

5. You have to mail out of the DDU. That's even more post office speak for the destination delivery unit, aka the post office that serves the people you are mailing to.

If your mailing is going to two adjoining towns, then you have two DDU drops to make.

6. You have to present your mail in USPS--approved fashion, ie counted out, strapped, bagged, and tagged, with a covering sheet on each packet showing zip code, carrier route number, number of addresses on that route, etc. If this makes no sense to you, get help. It's a deal--killer if you show up at the DDU without proper paperwork.

Getting it right takes time, effort and yes, moola. If you're a small business and you need to focus on your business, this time and effort will definitely take you outside your area of strength. Use a mail house that understands EDDM, the post office, and can ensure that all your paperwork is in order.

7. You may mail only 5,000 pieces a day. If you intend to mail more than 5,000 pieces you'll need to budget for multi--day drops. Be prepared for more paperwork, more aggravation, and higher costs.
But back to point #5. If you're mailing to adjoining towns, then you can mail 5,000 a day to each DDU.
Finally, if you've been able to successfully navigate all of the above, then your reward comes:

8. Your postage rate will be 14.5 cents each.
Whew. Take a deep breath and relax. Now you can see that despite convincing commercials, EDDM is not a fit for everybody. Some mailers need to send more than 5,000 pieces or to multiple areas; some are too specialized in their messaging; some don't need or want all that acreage to tell their story; and most small businesses do not have the postal expertise needed to pull off their own EDDM mailing.

And that's EDDM in a nutshell. If you meet the restrictive criterion, it's useful. If you don't, it's not.

Now do you get it? You win some and you lose some.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When Good Names Go Bad

Direct marketers have known for years that even great lists can go “stale.”  People move away, become disinterested, or die.  Life happens; marketers adjust.

For years these marketers have cleaned their postal data regularly and eliminated bad or duplicate addresses through merge/purges, and running data through NCOA (National Change of Address).  Marketers who wanted to go the extra mile could run client data against lists of the deceased and (I’m not kidding!) prison inmates.

Well-maintained data meant lower printing costs, lower postage costs, and a higher rate of return.  It was a win/win for everyone—and ruthlessly reinforced by USPS penalties imposed on those who “forgot” to follow the rules.

Now email marketers are getting in the list clean-up
networkbusiness too.  But instead of the post office mandating clean-up action, emailers are finding their ISPs are behind the effort. 

Even though spam has declined (in large part to the dismantling of several nefarious organizations that spewed spam from Bulgaria, Romania, India and China), spam complaints are actually up. 

Why?  It seems that disgruntled consumers, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails they receive each day, are hitting the “spam” button with greater frequency and vehemence.

Since each “spam” hit besmirches the reputation of the sender, ISPs find it in their own best interests to police their user community.

When an emailer gets too many “spam” warnings, the ISP neighborhood watch committee gets alarmed.  It’s like having abandoned cars suddenly appear in a neighbor’s unkempt yard.  It’s ugly, the whole community suffers, property values fall, and soon no one wants to live there.

At bottom, it’s a financial decision.  If an ISP gets a reputation as being easy on spammers, legitimate emailers will take their business elsewhere.  So the ISP enforcers have stepped in, encouraging email marketers to clean up their acts...long before weeds take over the user community and the abandoned cars arrive.

Like keeping a lawn trimmed and tidy, ISPs are asking emailers to remove recipients who have not opened emails in six months, transfer those records to an “inactive” file and treat them as prospects. 

Grass that is cut too short and too often dies; so can a lead that gets too much unwanted attention.  Hence ISPs recommend marketing less frequently to avoid the dreaded overload factor.

Re-engage the lead by sending content based on the last meaningful interaction.  This judicious fertilization, applied sparingly, can revive flagging interest, ISPs reason.

But just because a name is on an email list, it doesn’t mean it belongs there, the ISP enforcers insist.  If the individual initially signed up for a whitepaper or to enter a contest, it is likely he got what he wanted and he is gone.  Pfffft.   Hit him with Roundup.  He is a weed growing in your driveway.

Sadly, lists, like neighborhoods, can gradually decay.  Even committed customers/subscribers/donors/friends drift away.  Emarketers not keeping an eye on their data may miss the early warning signs that their lists’ “shelf life” have expired.  They are letting the untended grass and shrubs grow helter skelter.  Soon, the ISP police will come knocking at the door with a warning:  “Clean up or Move out.”

Like mailing to an outdated list, the potential downside of marketing to a stale email list is higher cost, reduced response rate and missed opportunities.

But unlike direct mail which can inconspicuously but expensively end up in a dead letter office, unwanted “spam” damages the reputation of the entire email community including the sender and his ISP.

So now ISPs are putting the word out:  Play by the rules. Or else.
Enforcement will follow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What’s the Big Idea this time?

You’ve got to hand it to those folks at the Post Office.  They keep coming up with new and inventive ideas.  Some of the ideas are great (intelligent mail tracking comes immediately to mind), some fail (remember banks, drug stores, toy trucks and stuff animals?) and some simply drive us nuts.

Their latest idea falls into the third category.   But let’s back up a bit. A couple of years ago the Post Office allowed people and organizations to create their own customized stamps.  They anticipated (with an excess of exuberance, apparently) that people would pay extra moola to personalize their First Class stamps.
stampThe idea was to have the happy couple’s wedding portrait on stamps they used to mail their wedding invitations.  Or a grieving pet parent could memorialize Fido and Fluffy forever.  Or a school could have its mascot on the appeal letter sent to doting grandparents.  Or whatever. 

Despite all the hype, I saw one stamp in actual usage.  That’s it.  One.

So if the idea fell flat the first time around, the Post Office reasoned, let’s give it a new spin and try it again.  OK, I’m into leftovers and recycling, maybe the idea could work this time. 

The “spin” this time is that a business mailer can create a Picture Permit Imprint Indicia.  It’s not even a stamp.  It’s a fancy schmancy indicia.
Indicias:  those preprinted thingies that replace stamps, scream “Junk Mail” and for legitimate reasons get opened less frequently than postage meters or the aforementioned stamp. 

Anyway, should this idea appeal to someone who wants to invest a lot of time and energy in the effort to have his mail labeled “Junk Mail,” here is what it takes:

Step 1.  Complete the online registration process.  You’ve got to get the ball rolling somehow.

Step 2.  Complete a second online registration form.  This one for the Picture Permit Application. The USPS is, after all, a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies like things in duplicate.

Step 3.  Assuming your application is approved by the USPS Program Management Office, you then need to submit a PDF copy of your proposed indicia design online.

Step 4.  If/when your proposed design passes the postal censors’ scrutiny, you must then submit 500 live (aka “real”) mail pieces with the approved design.  Give yourself some leeway.  The test on these live samples takes the USPS 30 to 45 days to render their approval.  If you’re on a tight production deadline, this couldn’t be good.

Step 5.  Schedule the mailing date with your friends at the Post Office.  Oh yes, you must also tell them exactly how many pieces you will be mailing on that specific day.

But wait!  There’s more.

The mail has to have an intelligent mail barcode or IMB, effectively eliminating any do-it-yourselfer, small business or nonprofit from taking advantage of the idea.  Guess I should have mentioned that little fact earlier.  Oops.

And the surprises keep coming.

So not only did your mailing get hung up for 2 months in the postal bureaucracy, but you get to pay extra for the privilege!   You get to pay an extra 2 cents per piece if you’re mailing at Standard rate and an extra 1 cent per piece if you’re mailing at First Class.  

Is this a deal or what!

At the end of the day you’ve still got an indicia on your mailing.  An indicia that says this piece you fought so hard to get into the mail is part of a large, impersonal mailing. 

You’ve expended extra time…extra effort…extra cost…and the result is what?  A lower response rate?

The geniuses at the Post Office need to take this one back to the drawing board. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Adios, Postnet. There’s a new guy in town.

The days of the Postnet barcode—familiar to anyone who has ever received a direct mail letter, postcard, newsletter, flyer, or magazine in the last 20 years—are numbered.

Faithful old Postnet is riding off into the sunset.  He has served us well, but like Sheriff  Will Kane in High Noon, Postnet knows when it is time to move on.

Looking a bit like the USPS in Trouble!white picket fence around the retirement cottage that Sheriff Kane and his good wife Amy built far outside of town, Postnet has vertical bars of uneven heights aligned along a flat bottom line. 
In its time, Postnet directed billions of pieces of mail to its intended destination.  But Postnet is being retired by the USPS.  In its place comes IMB—Intelligent Mail Barcode—the new gun in town.  

IMB looks a bit jittery—maybe having overdosed on some of that strong coffee Sheriff Kane left behind.  IMB has vertical bars of uneven lengths extending both above and below an imaginary midpoint.  But he’s more robust than Postnet could ever be.

Officially taking over on January 28, 2013, IMB promises services that Postnet could only dream of.  IMB, for instance, will allow mailers to track progress of their mail through the US Postal System, like shippers can track packages through FedEx or UPS.
IMB also promises that if you use him, you can qualify for Full-Service mail.  (That’s the lowest appropriate automation rate for letters, flats and postcards.)  And as a final sweetener, if you quality for Full-Service, he will provide you with address tracking services.   For FREE!

But there is never a Free Lunch.  Like any new guy in town, IMB has to make and enforce rules.  His rules.  And if you don’t comply, he’s taking names.

Rule #1.  IMB doesn’t want to ride alone.  He demands that his IMB posse show up on your Permit Reply Mail and Business Reply Mail, too.  Be sure to deep six old artwork, too, so that going forward you’ll be printing only the right stuff.

This is use it or lose it time.  Use up your old stock with Postnet barcodes now or recycle it in January. It won’t be worth a plug nickel after that.

Rule #2.  Your mailshop will take care of this for you.  If you want to see just how much work is required, go to httpp://  Click on “Intelligent Mail Barcode” in the upper left corner.  Then click on “Latest News.”  You’ll get an in-depth explanation and a 10-step verification process that IMB requires.

Rule #3:  If you want tracking services (aka “Tracking”), you must step up and register to get a unique mailer ID.  Apply through the Business Customer Gateway you’ll find at

Bad news for end-users:  this one is on you.  You’ve got to sign up.  And there may be a cost involved.

Rule #4.  IMB wants his brand to be noticeable, so he’s requiring a barcode clear zone in the lower right corner of every envelope/postcard/self-mailer.  That means he is mandating a block free of all copy or graphics (from the lowest right corner) 4” to the left and 5/8” tall.

Even if your IMB goes above the recipient’s name, IMB wants a barcode clear zone. 

After all, a man’s got to have his space. Be sure your graphic artist knows the rules.

Rule #5.  What he says goes.  Period.

Once IMB is in charge, there’s no looking back.  You’re with him or you’re agin him.  And IMB will take no prisoners, so you’ve got to get with the program.

Git along, Little Doggie.  Be sure your house is in order. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

R U QRious?

Last summer the USPS encouraged mailers to use QR (Quick Response) codes. Someone must have been listening. The use of QR codes increased by an incredible 4500% in 2011, and is expected to continue to rise.

QR codes-those checkerboard-on-a-bad-acid-trip thingies-are popping up everywhere. In ads for Macy's and Target, on real estate signs, on hats and tee shirts, on maps, emails, business cards, TV spots, YouTube videos, social media, and on the side of a truck I saw last week.

What does it all mean?

  1. Build your social media "likeability." Simply by scanning your QR code, many people will follow your social media lead and "like" your page.

  2. Promise happy scanners that they will get value for their efforts. "Like our Facebook page for latest news alerts and exclusive coupons."

  3. Encourage purchases. Drive people to a special landing page where they can download coupons, make purchases, or conduct other financial transactions.

  4. Become a product authority. Educate by offering access to product information, reviews and comparisons. Spice it up with a video or a mobile buy now option.

  5. Get people to your website where they can sign up for a blog, request a quote, or just check you out to see if you are serious.
And while it may not mean dollars in your wallet, using a QR code will make you the hippest guy in town. At least for a couple of days-until the newest next-best-thing-comes along.

QRious about your very own personal QR code?
Contact me! The first 25 readers who request their own personal QR code linking to their website will get it absolutely free. Send your request to