Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

Let’s Get Physical (Mail)

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 22, 2017 5:00:00 AM

This year on Washington’s Birthday, Monday, February 20, 2017, I had the opportunity to attend the John F. Kennedy Forever Stamp First-Day-Of-Issue Dedication. The stamp is being released to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Kennedy. The event was held at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

The ceremony included Postmaster General Megan Brennan, Senator Ed Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III – the great-nephew of the late president. They brought together President Kennedy’s call to public service with the role the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) plays in our society. It was a moving and uplifting event. (I also got to spend some time with PMG Brennan’s father, a retired letter carrier – and a great guy!)

In addition to the Kennedy family, Massachusetts politicians and JFK fans, the audience included USPS employees and industry professionals who serve on the Greater Boston Postal Customer Council. Most mailing events go unnoticed by the general public, but the room was packed, and an overflow room with closed-circuit television was required. The museum even broadcasted the event through Facebook Live.

The line for stamps and cachets was longer than what you see at Starbucks on a Monday morning. While watching so many people celebrate the release of the new stamp, a thought cross my mind. Most production mail operations use meters or permit imprint indicia on their mailings. However, postage stamps and personal letters play an important role in our industry. And as mailers, we should do more to promote them.

My father was an avid “First-Day-Of-Issue” stamp collector. When he was a postal clerk in the 1960s and 1970s, he loved bringing his collection to the local elementary schools to share with the students – and to get them to sign up as fellow collectors. After a supervisor said he could no longer make the visits during the workday, my father used his day off to continue recruiting new philatelists.

Several years ago, I related his story to a good friend, Tony Williams, the District Manager of the USPS Northland District. A few days later, my father received a Priority Mail package from Tony – with bundles of “First Day” covers and commemorative stamps. That Saturday, we spent several hours sorting the cachets by date. And then my father mailed a thank-you note to Mr. Williams.

He mailed a thank-you note to Mr. Williams.

At seminars, workshops and conferences, we hear a lot about the importance of print and mail. Articles and blog posts point out that the physical document is an important part of the communication channel with customers. So, why don’t we follow these same principles into our personal correspondence?

We don’t need to abandon email and social media as a way of staying in contact with our networks. It’s a smart way to do business. On the other hand, as print-mail professionals, we should find a way to include physical mail in our routines. We should follow the same advice that we give to customers – it’s not physical OR digital, it’s physical AND digital.

Just as the industry has adopted color and images to enhance messages, we can say more through the stamps we choose. I use different stamps depending upon the recipient of the card or letter. To answer the next question – yes, I have received feedback on the stamp selection. Then again, many of my friends also work in the mailing industry.

It’s time for all of us – postal employees, print providers and mail professionals – to pick up paper and pen, and start sending physical mail once again.

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United States Postal Service

Postal Reform Act of 2017: Return to Sender

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 7, 2017 5:00:00 AM

On Tuesday, February 7, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing to receive testimony on H.R. 756 – “To restore the financial solvency and improve the governance of the United States Postal Service to ensure the efficient and affordable nationwide delivery of mail, and for other purposes” – also known as the “Postal Reform Act of 2017.”

Scheduled to appear before the Committee are people who’ve expressed the need for postal reform in the past, including Postmaster General Megan Brennan and Robert Taub, Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission. Their testimony will probably be similar to past performances before this committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Reform is needed, and the unintended consequences of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) of 2006 must be remedied.

At first glance, it would appear that H.R. 756 would fill the bill. With just a few minor changes, it’s a refiling of the Postal Reform Act of 2016 (H.R.5714). And just like last summer, the bill has bipartisan support. The major provision include:

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United States Postal Service

A Culture of Service – Still Indispensable After All These Years

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 31, 2017 5:01:00 AM

This weekend, I had to search through some records from the 1990s. Among the papers was the first speech I ever gave for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The District Manager for Boston asked me to present to a gathering of his postmasters and station managers. In particular, he wanted to hear about how my company was impacted by the service we received from the USPS.

While I wrote this speech over 2 decades ago, the message holds true today. The industry and the USPS must work together to provide the best possible service to our mutual customers.

Note: In September, 1994, I was a manager at a property and casualty insurance company located in Boston. Marvin Runyon was the Postmaster General.

I would like to thank you for allowing me the unique opportunity to share my views on service in this forum.

Webster defines service as “to furnish or supply with something needed or desired”. I think we need to take that a step further, and for today, I would like to define successful service as “providing customers with what they need or desire for a reasonable price and in a timely manner”.

The U.S. Postal Service and the property and casualty insurance industries are both very similar service organizations. The Postal Service provides a basic service to the entire population, has its rates set by a government entity, and – unfairly – has an image in the media as a bureaucratic, regulatory infested, inept, necessary evil. Similarly, the property and casualty insurance industry provides a basic service to the entire population, has its rates set by a government entity, and I think our image in the media is as a greedy, bureaucratic, regulatory infested, inept, necessary evil.

While I think that both of us must struggle independently with rate-setting commissions and an unforgiving media, the insurance industry needs the assistance of the Postal Service to be successful in servicing our customers. One of the most important aspects affecting our business is the efficient flow of business mail through the postal system. The policies, endorsements, bills, and claim information that we send to our insureds are vital links tying us to our customer base. If an insured waits too long for that information to arrive at their home, you can be sure that their comments about both our industries are anything but complimentary. Also, the return of information back to us, especially their premium payments, is critical to our success in an ever-competitive environment.

While at the National Postal Forum this week, I had the opportunity to hear the address given by Postmaster General Runyon. In his speech, Mr. Runyon emphasized the power of mail and the many benefits from the reinvention of the Postal Service over the past two years. He stressed that to continue to succeed, he would need the partnership of employees, unions and management associations and the support of business mailers and their trade associations.

I can tell you that when talking with other mailers at the forum, it is evident that most mailers do support the changes taking place, and do want to be a part of that partnership. Through interaction with our account representatives, through involvement through PCCs and our trade associations, and by keeping an open line of communication with our local postal stations, we are trying to be a part of the solution.

Furthermore, I have proof personally that this partnership works. Recently, my company hired a new supervisor for the mail center. In her first week at work, she was told that most our mail was arriving too late in the day. This prevented our accounts receivable unit from processing the incoming checks, and delaying deposits for up to a day. She was told that this was unacceptable, and of course to fix it immediately.

As we use a private courier to pick up our mail at the Essex street station, she phoned them first. The courier said that the mail wasn't ready at the 8:30am pick-up, and there wasn't anything they could do about that. As she was new to our company, and the mailing industry, she phoned me next, and asked what to do. I said that this was not usual, gave her the telephone number for the station, and told her to ask if there was a problem with our mail. I also gave her our account representative's phone number, and suggested that she make him aware of the problem.

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United States Postal Service / Industry Vendors / Operations Management

New Congress, New President – Same Results? The Gloomy Outlook for Postal Reform

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 17, 2017 5:01:00 AM

The 114th Congress failed to pass any postal reform legislation. Since 2010, President Obama was unable to get any of his nominees to the US Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors approved by the Senate. That means the USPS is hampered by outdated ratemaking rules, product innovation restrictions and a lack of oversight.

The 115th Congress is now in session, with Republicans in control of both houses. On January 20, 2017, the 45th President of the United States, a Republican, will take the oath of office. Perhaps these changes represent an opportunity to break the logjam on postal issues and Board of Governor appointments. But perhaps not.

The USPS is a target for political hacks and a treasure for local districts. With every rate change, calls are renewed to privatize the post. Usually the “successes” of the European models of private posts are touted as examples to follow. These comparisons ignore that even with the new price of $0.49 for a First-Class stamp, mail in the United States is less expensive than our European counterparts, including the United Kingdom ($0.63), Germany ($0.74) and Switzerland ($0.98).

Most members of Congress recognize the impact of the USPS on their states and districts. It’s not a “Red State” or “Blue State” issue, but a constituent issue with common concerns impacting rural areas and large cities alike. During the last Congress, there were 142 bills or resolutions filed that focused on the USPS. Naming post offices and postal facilities was very important, with 87 bills entered on that subject. Of the 24 filings relating to stamps, many were resolutions to “express the sense” of Congress that a commemorative stamp be issued honoring a person or subject of importance to their constituents. (Note: Congress doesn’t choose what goes on a stamp, that’s the responsibility of the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee.)

The other 31 bills and resolutions deal with everything from honoring postal workers to ensuring compliance with the American with Disabilities Act to ceasing the closure of post offices. Some even dealt with actual postal reform. In the summer, one bill – the Postal Reform Act of 2016 (H.R.5714) – was passed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with bipartisan support. It went nowhere from there.

With one party in control of both branches, one might assume it will be easier to get appointments approved and reform legislation passed. However, that’s not true. And on postal matters, also unlikely.

President Obama’s nominees to the Board of Governors were reported favorably out of committee. However, different senators at different times used a legislative tool known as a “hold” to block the nominations to come to the floor for a vote. The holds were filed in secret so it’s difficult to point fingers. However, sources have named Democrats, Republicans and an Independent senator as authors of the holds.

Given the current acrimony between the parties and the public opposition of some senators to the incoming President, the use of holds to block appointments will likely continue. The only difference may be senators deciding not to remain anonymous, but file the holds on the record.

Comprehensive postal reform faces a dimmer prospect of passing. A key component of H.R. 5714 was addressing the issue of retiree health benefits funding by automatic enrollment in Medicare Part A and B. This proposal is at odds with the public statements by the Speaker of the House to overhaul Medicare. Support for these changes don’t follow traditional party lines, creating more uncertainty. The Senate hasn’t had a committee vote on postal reform in years, with no foreseeable reason for that to change.

With no action by Congress, the USPS will continue to deliver the mail. The unions will renegotiate contracts. The Board of Governors will operate under the authority delegated to the Temporary Emergency Committee (TEC), which now includes only the Postmaster General and the Deputy Postmaster General.

And the $1 trillion print and mailing industry will continue to wait.

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United States Postal Service

Implementing the US Postal Service 2017 Rate Changes

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 10, 2017 5:01:00 AM

On Sunday, January 22, 2017, the new US Postal Service (USPS) postage rates and rules go into effect, so mailers need to take action now to be properly prepared. For most mailers, the first day of mailing under the new rates will be Monday, January 23, 2017.

Even with the increase, postage rates are a great deal. The USPS retail rates for letter mail remain lower than our trading partners – including the countries that have privatized their posts. Take a look at the price for one-ounce stamps:

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

Trends in Print and Mail - The Top 10 Posts from 2016

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 3, 2017 5:00:00 AM

Exigent postage rate increases were repealed. The upcoming rates changes will have some positive impact for First Class Mailers. Selecting vendor-partners, for technology or outsourcing services, remains a challenge. And legislative reform was seriously considered by Congress – before ultimately deciding to do nothing. These were just a few of the major stories impacting our industry over the last year.

We here at The Berkshire Company can't predict what changes 2017 will bring, but we do know more changes are on the horizon – from the implementation of “USPS Marketing Mail” to new technologies to reinforcing good management practices. We plan on covering those, and other issues, in the coming year. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to see covered, leave a note in the comments, or send me an email at

In case you missed them, here are the 10 most read posts from 2016:

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United States Postal Service / Industry Vendors / Operations Management / National Postal Forum / Technology

The Extra Ounce

Posted by Mark Fallon on Dec 20, 2016 5:01:00 AM

* Actually, it’s an extra 1.5 ounces!

At the 2016 National Postal Forum in Nashville, Postmaster General (PMG) Megan Brennan announced that the US Postal Service (USPS) would file to expand the weight allowances for commercial, presorted First-Class letter mail. For some time, mailers have been able to add a second ounce to this weight category at no additional charge. In Nashville, PMG Brennan stated that the USPS would increase the weight limit to 3 ounces. Well – she more than delivered – as the 2017 rates include letter-sized, automation mail up to 3.5 ounces.

This is a great opportunity for mailers. This weight increase means savings of between $0.25 and $0.37 per piece for many mailers. Additional pages, heavier stock, more inserts – the opportunities are substantial. What should mailers do?

To start – print and mail operations managers should schedule meetings with the marketing and sales departments of their companies to explain the new rate structure. Print/Mail service providers should be setting up similar briefings with their customers. For example, additional inserts in bills, notices and statements are an easy method of increasing the value of the mail.

But that’s just the beginning. Mailers should reconsider the design of every mailpiece and exploit the prospective ways to take advantage of this rule change. Are there flat pieces that can be redesigned as 6 x 9 letter mail? The savings would be substantial. As a reminder, commercial, automation letter mail must meet the physical standards set in the Domestic Mail Manual, specifically Section

Machinable letter-size mail is:

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management / Technology

Implementing Quality Control in Mail Operations

Posted by Mark Fallon on Dec 6, 2016 5:01:00 AM

In a competitive environment, “good enough” isn’t “good enough”. Customer expectations continue to rise. They want to receive their documents with the correct information, and expect a printing job to be error-free. They want the right statement, with the right address, in the right envelope to be delivered at the right time.

The first step of introducing quality control into an operation is to document the existing process, including process maps displaying the individual steps and the hand-offs between teams and operators. Even if written procedures exist, it’s important to validate the steps with the employees who do the actual work.

Using the process map, you need to identify key areas where errors can occur. Based on this information, you can formulate the objectives of your quality control program. Then, you must clearly state which errors will be reduced or eliminated through the implementation of quality control, and identify the factors required for success.

Reduce Opportunities for Error

The common errors that take place in mail operations include:

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Operations Management

Holiday Shipping – The Time is Nigh

Posted by Mark Fallon on Nov 22, 2016 5:02:00 AM

This week, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving – a time to pause and reflect on our good fortune and prosperity. And while decorations have been up in some stores for weeks, it also marks the “official” start to the holiday season. For individuals and businesses, it means it’s time to start finalizing plans for shipping packages that we want to arrive by December 24th.

Our country has service members stationed all over the world – South America, Europe. Africa, Asia – and of course, the Middle East. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the Military Post Office worked together to develop a schedule that takes into account the logistics and other conditions impacting delivery times. To ensure timely delivery to a service member, use the following dates.

While most of us will use First-Class Mail or Priority Mail, there are other options included in the chart.

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

Scorecard Assessments and Service Providers

Posted by Mark Fallon on Nov 15, 2016 5:01:00 AM

On Monday, November 14, 2016, the US Postal Service (USPS) sent out their first assessments of Full-Service Mail Quality Metrics over an established threshold (based on October 2016 data on the Mailer Scorecard). It may look similar to a bill for postage due, because no matter how the USPS spins it, that’s what the assessments are. If you “remove the Full-Service Discount” for a mailing that took place in the past, you’re asking for postage that wasn’t paid at the time of mailing.

Sounds like a bill. Looks like a bill. It’s a bill.

Semantics aside – did your mail service provide (MSP) or presort vendor receive an assessment? Did they receive an assessment on mail they processed for your company? Do they plan on passing the assessment on to your company?

The USPS sends the assessment to whoever submitted the e-documentation that accompanied the mailing. In most cases, this is the MSP or the presort vendor. The recipient has 10 business days to challenge the assessment. One option is to refer the USPS to the vendor’s client, as identified by the Customer Registration ID (CRID). Or the vendor could pay the assessment, and bill the client separately.

As a reminder, the assessments are calculated under 4 categories:

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United States Postal Service

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