Just Printing doesn’t cut it anymore

My how things have changed in printing.  It used to be that a customer took their job to the printer and the printer told them when they could come back and get it. The digital age has changed even the way that printers receive the jobs.  It is downloaded from an FTP site or uploaded to the printer’s FTP site.  Sometimes the file is emailed to the printer along with the mailing list.  The customer never has to leave their office.  A proof is sent to the customer and mailed at usually the date the customer has requested.  What you can’t mail it today?  What is so funny, is that sometimes we do print and mail it the same day, although that is not the norm.  It is good for the ink to dry before addressing. That sort of thing usually happens when we are in the middle of political season.  I just love political season, it is even better to me than deer hunting season is to the good ole boys who hunt in Tennessee.  Create the political mailer, print it and mail it..all at a very fast pace. Yee haw!  Several years we had a bumper sticker to print and the ink was not drying fast enough.  It was a sunny day so we laid the bumper stickers out in the vacant flat lot that we own next door and let them dry in the sun.  We were able to deliver the job, on time in a few hours later. I have a picture of that somewhere. I got carried away with that political thing didn’t I?

 The things that printers need besides a good printing department is graphic design, copywriter/editors, list acqusition, database management, and what I think is most important is mailing.  Mailing has certainly been good for my company and I think good for my customers.  Having all those services is like running three businesses in one.  The nice thing is that they all are integrated nicely with each other and the work flow is much easier when they are all under one roof.

We could ask my husband, Ken, what it was like to be in printing when he started out 46 years ago but unless you are close to his age, you probably wouldn’t believe it. We are both glad that things have changed, for the better, in printing.  These changes have allowed us to have a unique business.

I Love NonProfit Fundraisers

Being in the mailing/printing business I have a lot of interaction with nonprofit folks .  I have also been a member of the Smoky Mountain Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) in Knoxville, TN since 2000.  I am convinced that people who work at nonprofit organizations have a heart of gold.  They are educated, dedicated and obviously their motives are not for money.

Recently, I have been in their shoes trying to raise money for Lost Sheep Ministry, where I serve on the board.  Lost Sheep Ministry only has two paid employees and everything else is done with volunteers.  Usually a nonprofit has a development director to raise money but we cannot afford a development director, so yours truly is trying to head up additional fund-raising.  Maxine Raines, our founder, with the help of many volunteers has been raising money for 18 years by speaking passionately about the ministry and by applying for grants and the suppport of local churches. Being in AFP has been beneficial for me because I have learned a lot in the monthly meetings and from my friends in AFP.  However, I am learning just how hard fund-raising really is and I am convinced that running a mailing/printing company is much easier.  They have my utmost respect.  I know that newsletters, mailing appeals, website and donor database is essential but most importantly doing them right is a must.

The list is probably the most important thing.  Making sure that the list does not have bad addresses is now a requirement at the United States Postal Service.  I recommend cleaning up the list by NCOA link move update.  In fact ,we offer this service free to our nonprofit customers who are printing and mailing with us. The person who already has an association with the nonprofit is the very best person to target.  Someone who already knows about the organization and if you are lucky has a passion for what is being done in the organization.  The next is the letter or appeal.  Make it personal, the recipient expects the organization to know their name.  Telling that person what their donation is doing to make a difference in a life or in their community makes an impact.  The appeal does not have to be fancy, in fact, if it is too fancy the recipient may wonder why so much is being spent on design, printing etc. Usually two colors of ink for the printing works very well.  Coding the mail is one way of measuring the success of the appeal and is easily done by adding a code to the return donation slip or envelope.  Measuring the success of the mailing is essential and coding allows you to determine that success and also to do a test market of more than one appeal. I am going to continue to to learn from AFP and my fund-raising friends but I doubt if I would have gotten very far without being around them for a number of years and my association with AFP.

I loved nonprofit fundraisers before I tried being one but now I really love them for what they do for all of us.  Everyone else should too, the world is a better place because of them.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed – it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead

Direct Mail And How I Got In The Business

I did not start out to be in the Direct Mail business.  I did not find the Direct Mail business, it found me.  Actually, I started out in life wanting to be a nurse and actually went to nursing school (that is what we called it in the 1960 era).  Oops, I am telling my age but I digress.  You may find this hard to believe but in the 60’s you could not be married and remain in nursing school.  I was in love (still am, working on 47 years of marriage this year) with my high school sweetheart, so we got married and kept it a secret.  We even went to a nearby county so that the announcement would not appear in the paper.  As you can imagine, my living in the dorm and Ken at home was not an ideal situation so I left nursing school and Ken and I moved to Florida where the space program was going strong and jobs were plentiful. I worked for Pan American Airlines for 5 years until our first child came along.  We eventually moved back to Knoxville, had our second child and when she was in school, I decided to go back to work.  My last job before joining Ken in the printing business was Vice President of a local Toyota dealership.  With two daughters in college, I took the plunge to join Ken full time in our own business.  I had a quotation from Fredrick Wilcox that I carried in my billfold (still do). “Progress always involves risk, you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first”. It took me several months to leave that safe job to go into the unknown.  I borrowed $20,000 and put it in the bank, just in case.  To pay for little things such as tuition, mortgage , food etc.,  if I did not make it full time with our business. I never used that money.

So here I am out selling printing, which at the time, I knew nothing about but that did not stop a seasoned salesperson.  I just had to become familar with the product.  An advertising executive,  that I am acquainted with,  told me that I had learned the printing business faster than anyone he had ever seen.  Well, he had never seen anyone with as much motivation as me.  Two kids in college, mortgage, business..you get the picture. 

I am getting to the mailing business part now.  A large aluminum company had moved their marketing and communication business from Pittsburg to Knoxville and I was lucky enough to start doing printing for them.  They knew that I am  from this area (Knoxville, TN) so when they wanted to know where they could purchase a product or service, they would ask me.  One day,  they ask who stores things and mails them out.  That one I did not know.  I would later find out that the terminology is fulfillment, but hey, I wasn’t in the that business so I did not know.  The next thing that they said was what got me in the mailing business. “We have money to spend and no one in town is willing to do it”.  O.K. remember that I am new in the business, two kids in college and hungry.  I almost felt like shouting, I will, I will but I wanted to go to Pittsburg and see what the company who has been doing fulfillment was all about.  I visited  the company in Pittsburg, with their blessings, and found  that they were doing what we do now, which is graphic design, printing, mailing and fulfillment at one location.  I came home, rented a warehouse and moved their literature fulfillment into the warehouse.  After seeing the Pittsburg company, I told Ken we need to be in the mailing business and start a graphic design department.  I thought it would create a niche that would  set us apart from other printers. That was in 1991 and we have been in the mailing business ever since.  We no longer warehouse literature but we continue to handle fulfillment projects. 

Mailing and printing have been a good fit for us as they compliment each other.  Throw in  graphic design and it is a turn key solution for direct mail.  You know, in looking back, had I known how much there is to learn about mailing I probably would have been scared to death but they say that fools rush in where angels dare to tread.  Have you ever taken a look at the United States Postal Service Domestic Mail Manual?  It is about 4 inches thick and lawyers have nothing on them when it comes to writing things that are hard to understand.  Speaking of lawyers, that is what my daughters became.  I think they got tired of the printing business when they were in high school and college. When they learned how to drive, they became the delivery person and other very uninteresting things such as collating booklets etc.

With really good staff, it has been a lot of fun and we have gone from knowing nothing about mailing 18 years ago, to giving seminars about how to do direct mail correctly.  Doing it correctly is what it is all about. Would I go into the mailing business again?  Absolutely, but sooner.

New Address Standards for Flat Size Mail

We have yet another change in mailing specifications coming March 29, 2009 and it is an important one. In our seminars we have instructed our attendees that this was coming but for those of you who did not attend,  this is the pertinent information. It requires that all mailers place delivery addresses in the top half of all Standard Mail, Package Services and Periodical flats mailed at automation, presorted, or carrier route prices.  Additional standards relate to address characteristics and apply to all commercial flat-size pieces, including First-Class Mail.

This means if your mail piece  is a flat, an example would be an 8.5×11 newsletter or a 9×12 envelope. The area where you place the address must be at the top of the page or in the first 5.5 inches of the right hand side if positioned as a landscape . 

If not addressed in the correct area, it will slow your delivery because it will not be machinable at the USPS and you will not receive bar-coded automation rates.  Below are the postal rates if done correctly and incorrectly;

Automation: Postage – .496                       Non Automation: Postage .558

Non Profit Automation: Postage .362    Non Automation: Postage .424

On a mailing of 10,000 the difference between placing the address in the correct position vs the incorrect position is $620.00 in postage.

Direct Mailing Companies And The Creative Team

Mailing experts and creative teams such as advertising agencies, graphic designers and public relations firms need to sit down at the same table to consult.  And the sooner the better.  With a mailer at the table, the design team would have the benefit of the mailers expertise.  They would know if the paper was the correct weight to meet USPS specifications, they would know if the size meets the aspect ratios, and if the addressing area is large enough for the mailer to apply barcodes for the lowest postage possible.

One of the most common  problems with post cards that have  already been printed that come into our shop to be mailed is the vertical line that designers like to have to separate the copy from the addressing area.  That might have been good in 1970 when you were sending a card from Florida, saying “I wish you were here”, but not in today’s postal world.  The line confuses the OCR scanners at the USPS because it looks like a line in the bar-code, so it may prevent the customer from getting the lowest postage because of the line. Just leave that vertical line off.

At Burns Mailing & Printing, Inc., we have free digital templates to show our creative teams how much area that they can use for copy on the addressing side of the post card or mailer and the space that they must leave for the addressing area.  We will check the file for postal specifications before it is printed to avoid costly mistakes.  Of course, if we are designing the mailer, our graphic designers are well versed in USPS postal regulations and our customers don’t have to worry about postal regulations.  They can just leave the driving to us!

New Postal Rates

This is a new experience for me, this blogging thing. I am excited about having a blog on my website so that I can keep my customers current on what is happening in the mailing world. My news for the day is that yesterday we received the rate increases in postage that will go into effect on May 11, 2009. I think you already know that the first class postage will be .44 each, but other classes of mail will be going up as well. First Class post card is currently .27 each and will go up to .28. The automated letter rate is currently .257 and will go up to .27. The automated flat rate is currently .489 and will go up to .496. The nonprofit automated letter rate is currently .159 and will go up to .169. The nonprofit flat rate is currently .356 and will go up to .362.

So if you have a direct mail project in the works you will probably want to complete the mailing before the May 11, 2009 increase. I got an email from a customer today, after I had sent the new rates to him, he expressed his disgust with the new rates and I emailed him back with the explanation that it is the U.S. government and they can do what they want. Don’t they always?