Make it through the mailroom

When you’re paying so much for catalog postage and production, nothing is more frustrating than knowing many of your best promotions may be getting stuck in the “last mile” of distribution: the corporate mailroom.

To understand how often you are being affected by your customers’ mailroom policies, it’s worth speaking to your key audience — the folks who work the mailroom.

Here are some ideas and insights drawn from conversations with mail supervisors in corporate and institutional sites.

Are your targets still there?

Eileen Lee, the longtime mailroom supervisor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, will tell you that 10% to 15% of the commercial mail she receives is for people who are “long gone or in the grave.” The problem isn’t address hygiene, but contact hygiene. If 30% to 40% of business-to-business contact names are changing each year, a third of your list is.

What is happening to these poorly directed catalogs? You might expect they are all being passed along to the new person in the job. But that’s not necessarily the case.

When faced with a piece of mail addressed to an expired contact name, Lee’s team makes a judgment call. If they see many catalogs or mailings of the same kind coming into the mailroom, your misnamed piece will hit the circular file.

Their assumption is that, with enough catalogs being passed on to accurate names, your piece will reach the people who need to see it.

If there is only one piece from you, they make a judgment as to whether it seems important enough to forward to the department listed in the address. One problem: If your piece seems to be an obvious advertisement, they will often consider it unimportant.

What about title slugs?

The choice to use title slugs can be difficult. Mailers have tried clever titles and generic title slugs with mixed results. Oftentimes they are the choice of last resort in trying to reach a contact for whom you no longer have good contact name information.

But when you use the wrong title, the mail may not be directed to anyone — let alone to the right contact.

Steve Turner runs the mailroom of teleservices firm Dial America. “When we get mail addressed to “office manager,” it doesn’t go anywhere because we have no one with a job or title like that.”

Other mailroom managers echoed this sentiment, which suggests the value of maintaining specific titles for your house file.

By keeping and using the title of the last known good contact at an address, you can still increase your chances of reaching the right contact when you suspect a person has left. Mailrooms are more likely to direct mail to the new person in the slot when you match their specific job title language.

Outer envelopes

Many b-to-b mailers have tried using an outer envelope vs. no outer envelope. How long has it been since you’ve tested the results of this technique specifically to high contact volume sites?

Across your entire file results may vary, but using an outer envelope does change the handling of your mail piece in larger mailrooms.

Mailroom employees will tend to make an extra effort to deliver “outer envelope” mail to an end recipient instead of simply redirecting some of your drop to recycling. They will also often treat catalogs in envelopes as part of their first delivery of the day, while grouping catalogs and other obviously promotional content into second-tier priority.

Bulking up the envelope

Mail managers admit that they’ll make more of an effort to deliver mail that clearly contains something of substance.

Promotional products mailers such as Myron, National Pen and Amsterdam Printing have known for years that the additional cost of postage and production in sample mailings more than outweighs the increased response and performance of those contacts.

Rick Sarcia, facilities manager at speech and imaging systems supplier Nuance Communications, says, “If it looks like the information is important or there is something of value in the package, we’ll make the effort to find the right person. If not, it probably will go into recycling.”

Some mailers are resorting to the creative use of pieces of bubble wrap or heavy paper stock to create a heightened sense of substance. Depending on your audience, this too may cause a different treatment for your mail. One technique that is less effective from the mailroom perspective — faux express mail graphics.

Ask for help

Look at mailrooms as a key partner in your communication chain. You may be surprised at how receptive they are to helping deliver good mail and eliminate wasted efforts.

For example, one mailroom supervisor talked about a simple mail piece from Crestline. The piece listed the names that the custom promotion products marketer was mailing at the company, and asked for corrections on a simple fax-back form.

When the supervisor returns the information, Crestline thanks them with a small gift such as a mug or pen. “We’ve been doing this for about four or five years, twice a year,” says Crestline general manager Judy Paradis. “Some things are simple to do, and it’s so expensive to mail to the wrong person. We’ve seen a response of over 25% on our efforts.”

Keep your data fresh

More often than not, mailers are missing an opportunity in their other customer touch points to maintain and correct contact data.

In your inbound call center, how often are you validating contact information beyond the requirements of the transaction? Particularly if your orders come via purchase order, conversations with the buying agent should include a validation of the purchase requester’s information.

Be careful that your process is not just an opt-out or record update process. Regardless of the source of the change, are you validating the change/removal and using this as an opportunity to add the correct contact to you file?

And don’t remove the known contact name from your file altogether — keep the old names in a separate file. Many mailers are using compiled databases to generate new names at existing sites.

You’ll want to suppress the known bad contact names from your list pulls. Other database participants may not be as up to date with their contact information as you, and you’ll run the risk of mailing known bad names as if they were new contact opportunities for you.

Keep your lists clean, use a few simple tactics, and ask for help from your mailroom audience. Follow these ideas and your mail will reach your intended audience. The rest of your mail’s success is up to you!

Terry Flynn ( is president of consultancy Market Chord Direct Group in Amherst, NH.

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