What do you think would happen if one of your coworkers presented upper management with an idea or concept that would reduce the company's income tax bill by 10%? Would your coworker receive a bonus, a raise, a promotion, a new office? Maybe all of the above? Regardless of the compensation or accolades, your coworker would undoubtedly have raised his or her stature in your workplace and would find him or herself on the fast track to career advancement.


Your opportunity to jump on that fast track is right here, right now all you have to do is step forward! Sounds great, doesn't it? Now, you might be thinking "If this so-called incredible opportunity is supposedly right in front of me, why can't I see it?" That's a very good question!


Your big chance is sitting smack in the middle of the U.S. Postal Service's postage rate increase of 2007. In addition to higher postage rates, there will be new requirements for mail preparation and new incentives to present the USPS with the most automation-compatible mail possible. Understandably, most people look at death, taxes and postage rates as some of life's inevitable events and expenses but remember your coworker and the income tax idea?


The USPS is proposing that we change the way we calculate the postage we pay on First-Class Mail. Currently, the postage rates are based on the weight of the piece one ounce, two ounces, etc. In 2007, the First-Class rates will be calculated using a combination of weight and shape.


Now, this is not a new concept coming from the USPS. In fact, weight/shape-based rate calculations have been in place for Standard mail since 1992. Essentially, the USPS and the mailing industry have categorized mailpieces into three shapes letters/flats/parcels. A full schedule of Standard Class rates exists for all three shapes. Typically, a barcoded letter will mail cheaper than a barcoded flat. The reason is relatively simple it costs the USPS far less to process letters than flats. Even though there are new flat sorters at most USPS facilities, letter-shaped mailpieces remain the champions of processing.


Shape Saves Money on First-Class Mail

The physical characteristics of a printed piece that is to be mailed must now be looked at with an eye for automation. All printed pieces should be reviewed at the design stage from a "postal point of view." Mailpieces that are designed to comply with USPS-automated requirements for a specific class of mail (First-Class, Standard, Periodicals, etc.) will result in significantly reduced postage costs and will improve the deliverability of your product.


Where do you start? The first step you should take if you want to put the greatest number of automation incentives within your reach and receive increased efficiencies in mail deliverability (get it there faster) is to make every effort to design your piece so it can be categorized as a letter. If, after all of your efforts, the design of your mailpiece results in your piece being categorized as a flat or a parcel, that's fine the USPS will still deliver it into your customer's mailbox. However, your postage costs will be higher and your delivery will be slower.


There are additional physical criteria that must be met (of course) for total USPS automation compatibility, but you should worry about the issues (and costs) of tabbing, folding, sealing, spot-gluing, etc. after you have paid attention to size and shape and identified the postage incentives for your mail class. Then you will be in a position to determine if meeting the additional criteria for total mailpiece automation compatibility is worth pursuing.


Anyone putting mail into the mailstream must change their thinking about the entire mailing process. In the good ol' days, the post office was the last stop for a mailing piece before it reached the customer. Advertising campaigns were planned, you explained the basic direction of the campaign to your ad agency, you ordered a mailing list, called the printer, called your lettershop for processing, the mailing went to the post office who delivered it to your customer. Today, postal issues must be considered at the very earliest stages of the evolution of a mailpiece whether you are mailing a single-piece or a large direct mail campaign.


Total Automation-Compatible Mail

Postal automation-compatible mail has some very specific physical characteristic requirements, so proper design is critical. Also, mailing addresses must be standardized and ZIP+4 encoded before you can take maximum advantage of automation discounts. Printing costs will be reduced if you first identify and eliminate your bad addresses with the ZIP+4 encoding process. Why print and process a piece that runs the risk of not being delivered because it is improperly addressed?


New thinking = new savings! But your new thinking must involve the entire process from beginning to end and now, must span all classes of mail. A properly designed piece will not be mailed at the lowest possible postage rate without ZIP+4. And a mailpiece with a proper address and ZIP+4 will not enjoy maximum savings if it is not designed to be automation-compatible.


In 2007, mailpiece design will become even more critical than it is today. Also, the quality of the address that you place on your mailpiece will have to meet even stricter standards in order to claim the biggest discounts. Of particular note is the requirement for you to identify through delivery point validation (DPV) whether or not the address on your mailpiece actually exists in the USPS database.


Today, you can claim automation discounts if your address is ZIP+4 encoded; you print a POSTNET barcode on your mailpiece, and your mail is sorted and presented following specific requirements. Beginning with the implementation of the new postage rates, you will only be able to claim those same automation (barcode) discounts if your addresses are DPV-encoded.


The U.S. Postal Service has established a national network of business support centers. Each of these business centers is staffed with one or more mailpiece design analysts (MDA). They can provide you with a number of additional tools that you will find very useful in the design of a totally automation-compatible mailpiece. Remember your postal point of view your local MDA should be the first contact you make once you have identified your direct mail concept.


USPS Business Center Don't know the number? Call our toll-free support number (877-743-3379) and we'll put you in touch with the USPS business center nearest to you.


Online Access Use this link for an MDA look-up by the first three digits of your ZIP Code or type this info into your browser: http://pe.usps.gov/mpdesign/mpdfr_mda_lookup.asp.


Your Opportunity Defined

Start today by looking at the design and shape of the pieces your company puts into the mailstream. The envelopes accounting uses for invoicing, the sales department's collateral materials, your company's corporate brochure, the company Christmas cards anything and everything that can or is being mailed. Look at the inventory of these printed pieces. Determine the mailing category for each piece and calculate the postage that is being paid now and the postage that will have to be paid under the new rates. Then work with your design department and your local USPS MDA to establish a plan for redesign.


Expand and Extend Your Opportunity

Start with the mailpieces of your own company, and then, share your newfound knowledge with your clients if you are in the business of providing mailing or print services to the marketplace. The USPS rate increase of 2007 holds your chance to make a difference for your company and your clients. This rate case does hold the most dramatic change to mail since Classification Reform in 1996, but it also holds your opportunity to decrease your internal operating costs and increase sales. Begin today to make this rate case work for your company, your clients and your career.


Mary Ann Bennett is President and CEO of The Bennett Group. Call 877-743-3379, email maryann@the-bennett-group.com or visit www.the-bennett-group.com.