MailCenter managers know a lot of stuff. You are your company's expert on the best way to create, produce, and distribute all sorts of valuable information.


    Unfortunately in a lot of organizations the MailCenter is viewed as some kind of dumb terminal - no intelligence, just a way to get things to and from the Post Office. It's time to change your image!


    Those of us that have worked in the mailing industry understand how it works - addressing standards, mail piece design, presort discounts, etc. But to the average corporate office worker it's all very mysterious and intimidating. As a result of this lack of knowledge, there is outgoing mail in your company that is never touched by your address-cleansing software or your efficient (and possibly underutilized) printers and automated inserting equipment. Some of it never even gets to your mailroom where you can at least meter it and send it to your presort vendor. It goes right from an admin's desk to the blue box on the corner with full-rate postage stamps attached. It sounds incredible, but I have witnessed this very thing!


    In every moderate to large size company I've worked with, there have been rogue, mostly manual, mailing operations that nobody knew about. Some of these are outsourced to local lettershops. I suspect there are some in your company too.


    When you add up the resources these operations consume including labor, wasted time, extra postage, equipment, consumable supplies, and undeliverable mail, the cost can be significant. As a mailing professional, you can save your company lots of money by finding those printing and mailing jobs and bringing them under your control.


    Not only will you decrease the cost and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of these mailings, you will also be able to fill in some of those slow times when your operators are standing around without much to do and half your equipment is sitting idle. Being fully productive and saving the company money is a pretty good defense against having your operation outsourced.


    Be a Mail Detective!

    So how do you find the jobs that are being done elsewhere in the corporation or at quick-print places like Kinkos or Office Depot? Actually there are lots of ways. It just takes a little outside-the-box thinking and some simple detective work. Many clues are right there in your own mail center!


    1. Look at the office campus mail that shows up to be metered and mailed by your operation over the period of a month or a quarter. Even mailings that seem to be only a couple hundred pieces can be likely candidates for automation when combined with a dozen other small jobs. Most of these will have computer-printed labels on closed-face envelopes. Try to determine who sent the mail to your mail center and start asking questions. You may find that the whole job is really thousands of pieces, but just broken up across several days because it takes so long to print on slow, desktop printers.

    2. Analyze returned mail. If the pieces were not printed by your corporate print center, or has a meter mark that is not one of yours, it is unlikely that the address list was standardized or passed against the National Change of Address file (NOCA), resulting in "Undeliverable As Addressed" mail that is returned to the sender. Instead of just routing the returned pieces back to the sending department, take them there yourself and learn about how the outbound pieces were produced.

    3. Question any print job that contains letters or documents with mailing addresses on them that is printed by your corporate copy/print center and doesn't subsequently come to you for inserting and mailing.


    Dig Deeper - Think Like CSI!

    By going outside your mail center, you can find out lots of other valuable information, but you may have to put the pieces together to get the whole picture.


    1. Walk around the offices. See all those printers sitting on desks and in centralized department locations? Someone probably manages that fleet of devices. It might be done internally or it could be an outsourced function. Your goal is to find out which devices are generating the highest volumes of pages. A printer that is regularly creating thousands of pages a month isn't just printing spreadsheets and PowerPoint handouts. There is probably some mail in there, or other documents that would benefit from the lower cost production and bindery services in the corporate print center.

    2. If you can't get printer usage figures, go through purchasing and find out who buys the most toner cartridges. This will give you an idea about volumes.

    3. Accounting can probably tell you about expenditures for outside print shops or postage. Some companies have even uncovered departmental postage meters that someone bought through an office supply store and are sitting out of view in back rooms. The cost to refill the meters shows up on an expense report or a departmental budget somewhere.

    4. Check with the warehouse. Any departments that requisition large volumes of letterhead or envelopes would warrant a visit to find out what they use them for.


    Be a Consultant Instead of an Operations Manager

    So what should you do once you've identified some likely prospects within the company? Well, you go talk to them of course! But you need to be prepared.


    People do what they do because it works for them and they fear change and loss of control. MailCenter managers need to be able to assure these folks that your operation has the capacity and the controls in place to do the jobs accurately and within a reasonable timeframe. Invite them for a guided tour (people just love to watch printers and inserting machines run). You should also prepare some materials in advance that help the office staff create documents that won't be a headache for you to work with.


    The majority of the office mail you will uncover are letters. You will probably prefer to insert those letters into window envelopes. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to create a template that shows the area where the address must go and lets the document creators know they can't put extraneous text or graphics there that will interfere with address scanning at the presort house or the Post Office. Show them where the preprinted material on the letterhead is located, and what fonts are allowable.


    Using a template eliminates the effort in your shop to reformat documents by changing margins, squeezing together paragraphs, and generally moving things around to accommodate the window envelope. Plus, the end result has the same look and feel that the author of the document intended, so proof approvals are quick.


    Since you'd like to make sure that the addresses meet USPS requirements and qualify for presort discounts, you would prefer that the name and address data come to you in a file - not already merged into the documents. This is a difficult concept for some people to understand, so you might have to explain gently that providing the data in a file allows your department to ensure that the mail gets delivered without delay and at the lowest postage rates.


    You can even provide a preferred data file layout. In most offices, an Excel spreadsheet is the most widely used tool. Give users a file layout with sample data so they can see how it should look. You should be prepared to accept data in other layouts, but stress that formatted lists or tables in Word, including address label files, should be avoided in favor of a columnar orientation that will allow you to process the records through your postal processing software.


    Keep Educating

    Once you've located and captured those previously-unknown jobs, ask for time on the agendas of departmental meetings at least twice a year to bring people up to speed on new developments with the Post Office or your operation. This will also give you a chance to get your message out to new people who have joined the company and may not be aware of what you can do for them.


    By making the effort and reaching out to departments within your company, MailCenter managers can have a big impact on the bottom line and get the most out of the corporate investment in their own operations.



    Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more information, visit or email Mike directly at