Some traditional print shops and other businesses currently outsourcing their mail processing are interested in bringing the mail function in-house.

"Really?" you might think. "Don't the printers know what's going on in the mailing industry? Aren't they aware that mail volume is down, postage rates are unpredictable, and the future state of the US Postal Service is uncertain?"

Those who have been supporting mail operations for a long time may find it hard to believe that someone would want to get into the mailing business. The stress of the last few years may have had them wondering if it was time to get out!

But perhaps adding a brand-new mailing service to an existing print operation is a better opportunity than it seems. One could set up the mailing operation to take advantage of all the current tools and techniques, without any legacy baggage. Someone starting in mail will just accept the USPS distribution network and delivery standards as they are today. The shifts in lead times and closing of facilities that have occurred over the last few years wouldn't be much of a factor for them.

Multi-Channel from the Ground Up

A print shop adding mailing services could embrace the concept of channel integration from the very beginning, as part of a total customer communications service offering. It might be easier to start from scratch with the freedom to choose the best software, hardware, and techniques to exploit multi-channel communications, intelligent mail, move update compliance, tracking, and electronic documentation. Choosing software solutions that integrate all aspects of outbound communication right out of the box sounds simpler than the onerous integration efforts endured by companies invested in legacy solutions.

A new mailer definitely faces challenges. The pieces a shop prints and mails are likely to be variable and highly personalized. It's not the spray and pray business anymore. Producing mail today means considering each document as valuable and unique. That's a change for a printing company used to thinking about their work as large batches of identical shells or postcards. It may mean adding processes for matching up personalized material, dealing with more data, or handling variable page counts. Creating highly personalized communications will require the introduction of concepts new to the print shop including document control barcodes, tracking cameras, intelligent inserters, or reprints.

New Skills and Approaches

The biggest challenge for printers getting into the mailing business may be changing the mindset of the individuals who work for the organization. Successfully selling personalized print and mail to their customers takes a skill set that goes beyond referencing a rate card and competing on price. Selling multi-channel integrated campaigns is a lot more consultative. Each job is different. Operationally there are more stringent quality control measures the mailer must implement along with new services to learn about such as PURLS, QR codes, and coordinated postal/email campaigns.

Postal preparation software is easier than ever for inexperienced users to get up to speed. But everything about commercial mailing will be new for them. Address hygiene, qualification levels, move update compliance, permits, intelligent mail barcodes, and more are details a new mailer must learn. Keeping up on USPS changes requires access to sources of news and information a traditional printer may not have used in the past. I would definitely point new mailers towards their local Postal Customer's Council as a valuable resource.

Mail Is Work, but Worth the Effort

Today, success in mail requires strategic planning and more work than a decade ago. But with a plan and an interest in getting the most out of the mailing operation, new mailers can create whole new streams of revenue for their businesses. Approaching mail as a strategic component to a communications plan gives printers creative freedom. They can help their customers take advantage of the strengths of mail, leveraging other channels simultaneously.

On the surface, getting into mail today might seem foolish. Though still healthy, it's probably not considered a growth industry. Combined with other aspects of outbound and inbound communication however, a modern integrated mail function provides opportunities beyond those available to organizations currently providing a commodity service.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, a firm that helps companies lower costs, develop future strategies, and improve quality in their document operations. You can read more at Mike's blog. Or visit and sign up for Practical Stuff, a free newsletter for document print and mail professionals.