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March 28 2012 02:47 PM
I know a document operations professional who was responsible for making sure all the jobs at a large company got printed and mailed accurately and on time. He produced regulatory documents, important customer communications, marketing material, late notices, reports, transactional documents, and internal memos.

It wasn't a huge department considering the size of the company, and when he first arrived on the job he wondered why they weren't busier. The monochrome cut sheet printers were kept running fairly steadily over two shifts, but a lot of that volume was reprographics - it wasn't mailed. Of the two inserting machines in the shop, one was running an average of about 25 hours a week and the other ("old cranky") was permanently set up to run a single job, twice a month.

Considering the company had over a million customers, something didn't seem right.

The document center crew had fallen into a pattern of arriving for work each day to see what needed to be done, running the jobs, and then waiting for the next task. With their excess capacity they didn't have to plan very far ahead to be able to meet their deadlines. And they didn't go out looking for more work.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you have excess capacity in your shop? Does your staff have a passive attitude towards the work they do?

Investigative Research
The operations person went to the accounts payable department and asked for a report of payments made to the USPS. He found several entries that didn't match up with the centralized mail center operation. With a little more digging he discovered expenditures for stamps, various fees and permits, and rogue postage meters!

Some departments were spending money on mail-related activities in do-it-yourself operations that were uncontrolled and poorly managed. Several departments printed medium or high volumes of documents on their desktop printers, manually matched, folded and inserted them, affixed mailing labels, and paid single-piece First Class postage rates.

Operation Outreach
By visiting individual departments and making short presentations on the benefits and cost savings of using the corporate print and mail center the document professional was able to increase the number of jobs processed by the in-plant operation by a factor of three - with no increase in employee headcount or overtime. Throughout the organization departmental administrative assistants were relieved of mundane tasks like folding and inserting. The corporation stopped paying rent for underutilized postage meters, and they started taking full advantage of postal presort discounts.

This is a true story. It happened to me quite a while ago, before I started Print/Mail Consultants. But the lessons I learned then about education, promotion, and awareness, even within your own company, have stuck with me.

Today's document professionals need to be even more active than I was about taking the initiative and promoting their department's capabilities and the benefits of mail. Printed communications have fallen from favor in the minds of many corporate executives. They are looking at what it costs compared to web presentment, email, Facebook, and Twitter. They are wondering if it still makes sense to allocate space and budgets to a printing and mailing operation.

The reports of USPS difficulties in the popular press, along with service declines and postage rate increases are making it easier for corporate financial people to suggest winding down in-house document production and distribution centers. As most mail professionals know, some of those reports fail to tell the whole story. But perception matters. Especially if there's no one trying to set the record straight for the decision-makers.

You Can't Afford to be Passive
I've been writing about this for quite some time now. Document operations managers need to become more involved in customer communication strategy. They need to educate others in their organization about what is going on with the Postal Service, trends in the industry, and how those factors affect the company's own mailed communications. They must show others in the company that mail can be accurate, effective, and produced at low cost.

Start an internal newsletter, host some open houses or tours, take the show on the road (or at least out of the basement) and do presentations designed to show how mail can integrate with and enhance the effectiveness of digital messaging. Be creative. There are probably lots of things that will work for you. Get some help if you need ideas.

Sitting around watching volumes drop without taking some action to elevate the status of your in-house document operation will eventually result in downsizing or outsourcing. Not only will employee careers be affected, but a valuable communication channel can become almost obsolete.

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 ideas about how to keep mail relevant, efficient, and less expensive, connect with Mike directly at Or visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - the free newsletter for document operations.