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September 1, 2012

Dear Upset Customer

by fnbrinc

I know that this is your first time mailing, so I’m going to cut you a bit of slack.

Yes, I agree that the USPS rules and regulations are about as complicated as a schematic to build the space shuttle.

You’re right. There is no Do-It-Yourself Heath Kit solution for direct mail, despite what the overly optimistic USPS publications promise.

And yes, I appreciate that you hired us to help you work your way through those byzantine rules. So let me explain exactly why your mailing cost more than the quote we gave you.

For starters, your hair was on fire when your secretary contacted us. She explained you had to get your mail out fast! No problem. We can handle it. We do “fast” every day.

She said you wanted to mail 4.25×6” postcards. That’s OK by us.

She said you would print and provide the cards to us. And you wanted to mail at First Class (I talked her into First Class Presort, thus saving you about 7 cents each in postage, remember?)

She said your list was regional, and for us to please provide you with a quote based on those premises. “Then I’ll turn you over to my boss,” she concluded sweetly.

It looked like it was coming to together well. 4.25×6” is a perfect size to mail at First Class Presort. It’s a post office pricing sweet spot. Your job looked like a cream puff, a walk-in-the-park.

And then the wheels started to fall off your wagon.

You and I “met” by email, but never spoke. That’s a problem, but I won’t dwell on your invisible cloaking device here. Despite my inability to reach you by phone so we could clear everything up in 5 minutes, we exchanged emails for 2 days about indicias, wording, positioning, barcode clear zones and other postal related things. Eventually I thought we had everything squared away.

On Tuesday your cards arrived. They were nicely designed and beautifully printed. But they were 6×8″, not 4.25×6″.

“No big deal” you explained. “I decided we wanted to make a bigger impression on the receivers.”

Sorry. It was a big deal. While I agree 100% with your decision to upsize from a marketing perspective (and would urge any of my clients to do the same thing) changing the size changed the postal rates—and your quote—totally.

Instead of 20.9 cents postage per card, your rate was going to be 33.5 cents a card.

“That’s over my budget!” you yelped. (Now you could pick up the phone and call me!) “What can you do?”

“Mail at Standard rate,” I countered. “Your postage will be about 23.3 cents each. It will take longer to be delivered, but you’ll be back in the budget range. Of course we’ll need to X-out the wrong language on the indicia and overprint with the right language, but this is do-able.”

First crisis averted, but the second was approaching fast.

Your data arrived. As per our arrangement, we cleaned it, NCOA’d it, presorted it and were preparing to address your cards when you realized you had sent the wrong data. You sent the data three times before you got it right. And then you asked us to merge/purge the various files against each other to be sure you hadn’t sent any duplicates.

At the end of the day, your regional list was national. Surprise!

“Bad news,” we told you again. “Your data is national, not regional. As a result, your postage is nearly 28 cents each. You lost the address density that the USPS rewards with lower pricing.”

Oh, yes. Another itsy bitsy point: your data was 7,000 records; we had quoted on 5,000. And you question why you were over budget?

You were backed into a corner. Your hair was still on fire; the event you were promoting was now less than a week away. There were no options. You sucked it up; we mailed your job.

Now you’ve come to me (by email, naturally) to ask me how to do your job better next time.

Here are five suggestions I’d humbly proffer for your kind consideration:Direct Mail Solutions at FNBR

  1. Know your data. That’s the #1 thing that can make postage and production estimates go bad. Since you didn’t know if it was regional or national—and you didn’t even know the count—it led to several huge miscalculations.
  2. Realize that a postage estimate is an estimate. Until the data goes through data processing, we can only provide you with an estimate. Of course, if you tell us one thing and it proves to be another, then all bets are off. Oops!
  3. Assign one person to handle the job. In time, this person will become knowledgeable about USPS rules and regulations. Once he/she knows the rules, the budget-busting misunderstandings will decrease enormously.
  4. Don’t change your package without checking for unintended consequences. An innocent change can be costly. As you found out.
  5. Find a reliable direct mail provider partner to work with you. Then follow their instructions. Don’t go rogue. The USPS punishes rogues.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to educate you about the US Postal System. We’re sorry that your education was painful. But that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Or so they say.

FNBR Inc. can be reached at 1-888-988-8148 or by email at
Used with the permission of the author — Ellen Paul of Paul&Partners

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