Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

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 That means the USPS is hampered by outdated ratemaking rules, product innovation restrictions and a lack of oversight.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

Reorgs, Rates and Reform: Musings from MTAC

Posted by Mark Fallon on Nov 8, 2016 5:01:00 AM

On Tuesday, November 1, 2016, the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) held their open session at the US Postal Service (USPS) Headquarters in Washington, DC. This session is a great opportunity to hear from USPS senior officials on upcoming priorities and programs. Just as important, mailers can ask direct questions – and usually receive direct answers – from those same officials.

Leading off was Postmaster General (PMG) Megan Brennan. PMG Brennan’s tenure in office has been marked by a renewed focus on the business customer. In her remarks, Brennan reinforced this message and explained that as “structure follows strategy”, the USPS has implemented changes at the executive level.

Deputy PMG Ron Stroman will continue to oversee Government Relations, Sustainability and Office of the Judicial Officer. Stroman also will lead international efforts that involve public policy and oversee International Postal Affairs. Jim Cochrane, who has been the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, will now become the Chief Customer and Marketing Officer.

Mr. Cochrane has implemented several changes in his organization. Most notably, Cliff Rucker, formerly the Sales Vice President, has become the Sales and Customer Relations Senior Vice President. He will continue to oversee Sales, and also now be responsible for the Business Service Network and Customer Care Centers. Steve Monteith, the Executive Director of Product Management for mailing products and shipping services, is now the Marketing Vice President.

This isn’t rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic or change for the sake of change. This is aligning responsibility for the customer within one organization, with a consistent, direct line to Mr. Cochrane, and from there to PMG Brennan. This is good for business mailers, and good for USPS employees. Because, in his words, Cochrane understands that the mission hasn’t changed – grow the business.

In his briefing, Cliff Rucker went over the issues with customer service and the USPS call centers. He didn’t shy from sharing that the current organization is broken. Customers aren’t sure who to contact, USPS representatives are wasting too much time on issues like tracking shipments and equipment, and the wait time is too long for people who call. Rucker explained his plan for proactive outreach, dedicated account management and improved inbound communication.

Sharon Owens, Vice President, Pricing and Costing, reviewed the highlights of the proposed 2017 postal rate changes. While most of the changes are either minor or positive for mailers, there are some significant adjustments in Standard Flats pricing. There was a concern raised about the branding transformation of “Standard Mail” to “Marketing Mail”. Specifically, many pieces mailed at the Standard rate aren’t marketing pieces, and a new indicia could create confusion for the recipients.

Mr. Cochrane stepped back into the conversation to handle this question. He made it clear that mailers will not be required to use the word “Marketing” in their permit imprints. The USPS understands that any changes must add value - not detract value - from the mailpiece. Going further, he stated that as the service type is in the Intelligent Mail Barcode, it isn't as important to have the class of mail appear in the permit. This represents an opportunity to review what information should be required in the permit imprint. Expect more soon.

This display of leadership should encourage business mailers. First, Cochrane took responsibility for the question and didn’t deflect or dodge the problem. Second, the answer shows that USPS leadership are listening. I’m sure that this wasn’t the first time the issue with using the word “Marketing” on business mail was raised. While continuing to move forward with branding changes, the USPS is recognizing the valid concerns of their customers. And developing answers that may improve service for all mailers.

On December 8, 2016, the term of the one remaining appointed member of the Board of Governors, James Bilbray, expires. When asked about this, PMG Brennan said that she was confident that the Senate would confirm President Obama’s nominees when they return after the elections. She also expressed optimism around the legislative reform bill currently in the House of Representatives.

An important job of a leader is to encourage positivity – especially in the face of challenges.

The full presentations from these speakers, as well as the rest of the afternoon, will be posted on the RIBBS Industry Outreach page in the coming weeks. The next MTAC meeting is scheduled for February 28 - March 2, 2017. If you can make it to Washington, DC, it’s worth the trip.

PS – The meeting ended with a special presentation by the National Association of College and University Mail Services (NACUMS). The past president of NACUMS, Richard Boudrero of Utah State University, presented the John P. Wargo Industry Partnership Award to Ernie Harris of the USPS. Any mailing industry veteran will agree that this is a well-deserved recognition. Mr. Harris has been a tireless supporter not just of higher education, but of all business mailers. Congratulations Ernie!

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United States Postal Service

2017 Postage Rate Increase: Good News for Commercial First-Class Mailers

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 26, 2016 5:01:00 AM

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has filed the rate case for Market Dominant products with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). Set to go into effect on January 22, 2017, the new rates represent about an overall 0.87% increase over the current prices. For Commercial First-Class Mail, the prices actually drop in some categories. And that’s just the start of the good news.

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United States Postal Service

Different Approaches to Similar Solutions

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 19, 2016 5:02:00 AM

Recently, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop at the Operational Excellence in Insurance Summit in Hartford, CT. The summit brought together executives, directors and managers from across the insurance industry to discuss different ways of meeting challenges in a disruptive business climate.

I was joined by Jeff Heigert of Lexmark to moderate a session entitled "Managing Customer Communications: Outside and Inside the Mailbox". Our attendees included a Chief Information Officer, Operations Managers, and Directors of Continuous Improvement. In addition to varied responsibilities, the class included people from the United States, Canada, Bermuda and South Africa.

We began by talking about the traditional paper workflow for communicating with customers and the many changes that have been introduced over the last several decades – scanning, OCR, email, customer portals and mobile devices. Customers expect more choices for receiving and sending information, and companies can improve efficiencies with the right applications.

But new technologies aren’t enough. Organizations need to redesign their communications and processing workflows to maximize the benefits. With that in mind, we broke the class up into 3 teams and addressed the following case study:

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Operations Management

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The Berkshire Company improves business processes in your print & mail operations, helping you solve real problems.

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