Posted: July 20, 2017
Categorised in: Direct Mail
What is a mailing house? How do I get the best from one?
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What is the definition of a Mailing House or Mailing Company in the UK?
(Also referred to as Mail House, Mailhouse, Mailing houses, Mail Company, Mailing service provider, Mailing solutions or mail solutions provider)
The English Oxford Living Dictionaries defines a ‘Mailing House’ as:
- A company which arranges the large-scale dispatch of mail on behalf of other organisations.
Broadly this is correct, but a modern Mailing House or Mailing Company does sor much more than simply dispatching mail for businesses, because, as with so many industries these days, today’s Mailing houses have blurred the edges, pulling in other industries to create a more rounded set of services. A more modern definition of a Mailing House or Mailing Company would be:
- A company that provides outsourced design services, personalised digital printing, litho printing, print finishing, and fulfilment of direct mail, then arranges the large-scale despatch and reporting of mail on behalf of organisations.
What Mailing House Services do UK Mailing Houses offer today?
Automated enclosing is the staple service of a mailing house. This is the automated filling and sealing of enveloped direct mail and usually caters for all the standard UK envelope sizes.
Two, Three and Four Way Enclosing
Two, Three and Four Way enclosing is an extended version of the above automated enclosing, where each envelope must include two, three or four pieces of personalised elements that need to be 100% aligned together, such as a set of personalised accounts, bills or legal paperwork. A Quality UK Mailing House will achieve this through 2d barcodes, optical character recognition (OCR) and weight reading technology.
Polywrapping is another version of automated enclosing except here the direct mail elements are ‘wrapped’ in either see-through or opaque polythene. This enables the client to differentiate their direct mail items from the normal envelope and provides more weatherproof protection during delivery.
Hand packing is exactly as it sounds… the manual packing of direct mail elements into envelopes or boxes in preparation for posting. Hand packed items are limited only by the client’s imagination and the physical capacity of the packaging.
The inkjetting process is usually combined with pre-printed litho direct mail items such as one-piece mailers, postcards or envelopes and sealed mailers. Address data is then inkjet printed onto the outer face rather than using address labels.
Personalised Digital Printing
If anything emphasises the evolution and rehabilitation of direct mail after the struggles of email marketing for ‘message cut-through’, it is personalised digital printing or variable direct mail. Personalised digital printing by a Mailing House can individualise each and every single colour printed direct mail piece, in whatever volume is necessary – whether that’s dozens or millions. When this service is combined and integrated with personalised digital advertising the result is especially powerful, creating a ‘halo’ effect where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Many Mailing Houses still recommend litho printing as a suitable method for some direct mail campaigns. Although it is impossible to personalise using the litho process, litho’s greatest USP is that, once the job is set-up, the longer the print run, the cheaper each printed item becomes, making it perfect for items such as blank forms.
Print Finishing is a catch-all phrase for a very wide variety of improvements to printed items. These improvements can include but are not limited to, folding, perforated lines, laminating, overprinting, gloss, matt and silk finishes, die-cutting, embossing, scoring, binding and gluing. A quality Mailing House will have many of these services in-house, but inevitably others are so specialist that partner-supplier arrangements are often made across the industry.
Check out our blog on which print techniques are available
Mailing Houses usually have several methods of despatch, and the choice of despatch can have a huge impact on project costs. For instance, clients need to be sending a minimum of 4,000 letters or 1,000 large letters to be eligible for a postage discount, and the amount of discount is variable dependent on volume.
A quality Mailing House will be registered as a Royal Mail ‘Mailmark’ partner. This allows them to register each posting of a mailing on Royal Mail’s systems, and reports can be generated showing when a particular job has been delivered.
Who uses Mailing Houses or Mailing Companies and why?
Mailing Houses are used by people, not organisations. This is an important distinction because it is directly relevant to why their mailing services are used.
Mailing Houses are usually approached when someone within an organisation recognises that they need additional capacity, external knowledge, specialist printing and fulfilment machinery, or access to external logistical processes, and when they recognise that they cannot provide these internally within their organisation due to budgets, structure, authorisation, capacity or timescales.
Marketing agencies are specialists within their own right. As such they often make a conscious choice to stay within their sphere of expertise, outsourcing delivery of direct mail services to a Mailing House both on a regular basis, as a partner, or irregularly as their own client’s needs require.
Heads of Marketing, CMO’s and Marketing Directors
Heads of Marketing CMO’s (Chief Marketing Officers) and Marketing Directors often outsource direct mail services and printing to a Mailing House because the relationship can be both easier to control and it circumvents getting authorisation for internal structural changes in terms of either technology installation or employment of new staff.
Internal Marketing Teams
Members of Internal Marketing Teams are often running at capacity, and they can sometimes feel that they’re more managers of marketing, rather than creators of it. Employing a Mailing House that they trust and can be relied upon allows them to increase their workload without overloading their capacity. Quality Mailing Houses act more like an extended part of the marketing team, providing the heavy lifting for marketing staff, and enabling them to concentrate on driving towards their targets rather than filling envelopes or doing the design work themselves.
Business Owners / Managing Directors
Inevitably passion for the job and to make money drives business owners and managing directors to succeed. But the wisest amongst them know they cannot micro-manage everything. More to the point, they don’t want to. So like marketing agencies, they employ Mailing Houses as specialist consultants to provide that level of knowledge and expertise necessary to help them achieve their aims.
What are the Benefits of integrating a UK Mailing House into your Marketing?
Experience and Expertise
A quality Mailing House holds a huge amount of expertise gained through years of experience in working with clients. So those approaching a new partnership with a Mailing House have a huge opportunity to increase their pool of knowledge and insight into what works and what doesn’t almost overnight. Of course, sometimes clients simply want a pre-defined project completing on time, on budget and to a standard that they have already agreed… and that’s fine, any Mailing House worth their salt would do this. But if someone really wants to explore an open-ended idea, they could do worse than co-opt the Mailing House into their plans from the start, because their knowledge and experience might help improve success, avoid repetition or even side-step disaster.
Mailing Houses know the printing, fulfilment and mailing system like the back of their hand. Quite often they can reduce a client’s overheads simply by suggesting a revision in the direct mail design, composition or use of a different postal process.
One of the reasons clients use Mailing Houses is to save time. Mailing House processes and systems are often highly technological and complex. Realistically clients cannot hope to replicate them without introducing major structural changes to their organisations. It’s quicker and easier simply to outsource the projects to the experts.
Even if an organisation were to introduce print and mailing services into their organisation, the cost of maintaining and updating digital and litho presses, booklet makers, binders, folders, cutters, polywrappers and envelope enclosure machinery would be prohibitive. Clients realise that using a Mailing House allows them to adopt a hands-off approach which frees them from capital expenditure, leasing, insurance, and health and safety agreements, giving them the ability to flex production of campaigns up or down as need be.
Outsourced Members of your Team
As a regular partner, Mailing House employees quite often become unofficial members of a client’s team, taking part in brainstorming, offering creative advice and running and reporting on projects. In essence, outsourcing allows organisations to have many of the benefits of an employee, without the hassle of employment contracts.
Defined Service Level Agreement (SLA)
The best Mailing Houses will operate on an SLA basis for regular standards of work. This enables clients to drive the Mailing House to hit deadlines or suffer penalties, which in turn gives the client a measure of peace of mind that they can rely on the outsourced direct mail services.
What sort of Costs are involved in using a UK Mailing House?
Mailing House design costs are usually based on an hourly rate. The number of hours is dependent on how individual the client would like the design to be. Template designs tend to take less time but generally, have less impact. Clients should agree beforehand how much time should be allocated to a design and any agreement should include a number of alterations based on feedback.
Mailing House material costs are usually dependent on the paper grammage or card stock chosen, as well as any additional items such as glue dots, seals, and so on. A good Mailing House will help a client to understand how to design a direct mail piece, that will maximise the number of designs that can be printed on the chosen paper, thereby saving the client’s money.
Print and Finishing
Mailing House print costs are based on one of two processes:
Digital Print: costs are accrued for each printed piece and at the same rate for every piece, ie: if a client wanted 100 pieces at £1 per piece, the total cost would be £100. Crucially, this cost structure does not change even if every single one of those printed items were different.
Litho Print: costs are based on an initial set-up of the printing press, and then there is a sliding scale of costs for the printed items depending on how many the client requires, ie: if the set-up costs are £20, and the costs for printing 100 pieces is £80, then the total cost would be £100… but if 200 were printed instead, the print cost might fall to £150, and if 300 were printed it might be £175, and so on, reducing as the volume is increased.
In addition, a printed piece is usually ‘fisnished’. As has already been mentioned, the term Finishing covers a huge range of subjects… folding, scoring, perforating, laminating, enclosing, embossing, booklet making, binding… the list is almost endless. Clients should work with a Mailing House to understand the opportunities and limitations of each type of finish, brief them on their requirements and agree on a total cost for the materials, printing and finishing, to avoid any misunderstanding.
Mailing Houses usually have several methods of fulfilment. Clients should work with a Mailing House to understand the opportunities and limitations of each type and agree on a total fulfilment cost for each project.
Mailing Houses have access to a wide range of postal services and, dependent mainly on the speed of despatch, this choice can have a large impact on overall costs. Clients should work with a Mailing House to understand the opportunities and limitations of each postal service and recognise how this might impact overheads before agreeing on a choice.
Finally, usually, but not always, a Mailing House will charge a management fee. This will be based on an estimate of hours needed to manage the whole project, or in the case of a regular project, a number of allocated hours per month. Clients should work with a Mailing House to understand how long this will take and agree on a figure prior to commencement of the job because there might be ramifications that result from runaway management overheads.
How can you assess the quality of a UK Mailing House?
A quality UK Mailing House of Mailing Company will be both ISO certified and industry accredited. In addition, they should be able to supply previous customer testimonials, show a Trustpilot score, and provide customer reference sites upon the signing of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) on demand.
Below is a list of the main certifications and accreditations clients should look out for:
- Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Member
- Royal Mail, MailMark Partner
- British Print Industry Federation (BPIF) Member
- ISO9001 Certification
- ISO14001 Certification
- OHSAS18001 Certification
- ISO27001 Certification
- Client References
How do you get the Best from a Mailing House?
Prepare a Brief
The first and most effective method for getting the best from a Mailing House is to prepare a good design brief. Clients should ensure they know exactly what they want to get out of the job, setting project objectives in terms of timescales, milestones and deadlines, defining who their target audience is, agreeing what messages are required, what mandatory items need to be included, and so on. The more information that has been pinned down and agreed prior to the start of the project, the better.
Defining Direct Mail Campaign success is not necessarily the same as knowing what the project objectives are. Defining success is about literally deciding what qualifies as a successful Direct Mail campaign. A Direct Mail Campaign might achieve all its project objectives, but not produce tangible sales that can be traced back to the activity. On the other hand, another Direct Mail Campaign might produce sales but not enough to warrant the expectations of the organisation’s Board. By defining what a successful outcome looks like early on in the process of working with a Mailing House, clients can then make factual decisions on what to spend their budget on. For example, if a major expression of success is a lowering of the cost per lead, then it might actually – paradoxically – be worth increasing the cost per Direct Mail piece to try to improve the response rate per volume. Equally, if the measure of success is defined as the level of engagement then it might be more suitable to create a baseline survey prior to the campaign and build in a post-campaign survey to measure the variation.
Hopefully, clients will already recognise the value in using a Mailing House’ knowledge and experience. This article unashamedly promotes this, and makes no apology for doing so. Clients should take absolute advantage of the years of experience and industry knowledge that Mailing House employees have. No questions are stupid… all questions are welcome. The best Mailing Houses will give clients invaluable short-cuts along the road to successful projects and direct mail marketing campaigns.
Clients should always confirm the stability of a Mailing House before putting projects their way or setting up a regular partnership. A salutary warning should be taken from recent experience when a Mailing House went into liquidation without warning, leaving several clients completely at a loss for an alternative and having to request advice from Royal Mail at very short notice to enable the fulfilment of their deadlines to customers. Many smaller Mailing Houses win business simply by barely making a profit. Initially, this is great for the client, but over the long term, it leads to financial unprofitability and unsustainability. Often a sure sign of this instability is reflected in the frequent name changes of a company as it exhausts its lines of credit.
Clients should always confirm the technical ability of a Mailing House. They can do this in a number of ways, a) on-site visits, b) sample packs, c) test pieces, d) employee CV’s, e) testimonials, f) Trustpilot reviews, and g) existing customer references.
Identify Key Contacts
Clients should always have a clear line of communication with the Mailing House. It’s common sense again. People take holidays, are ill, move on, etc., and contacts and alternatives should be agreed prior to the commencement of any project.
Have a Service Level Agreement (SLA)
Before we go any further, an SLA need not be an official document, and they are not strictly necessary… clients can make any sort of agreement they want with a Mailing House after all… but they can often protect both the client and their Mailing Company supplier, shielding them from miscommunications and preventing disagreements within a relationship. Whatever format that SLA takes… be it an email, a letter, the pdf of notes from a meeting… as long as both sides have confirmed their agreement, there will be less conflict likely to arise within the project as it moves forward.
So there you have it. Hopefully, this guide to what Mailing House or Mailing Company is has given you a better idea of the pros and cons of outsourcing to them. If you’d like to speak to one of our Mailing House pro’s, or if you would like a quote on our Direct Mail or printing services, feel free to get in touch using the quick enquiry form to the right.
If you’d like to talk about a potential direct mail or direct marketing idea you have, get in touch with us or call us on 0191 487 5148. We’d be more than happy to share our insight and help you out.