August 1, 2014 Leave a comment
Many articles on this blog feature advice for creating Variable Data Printing (VDP), but this post will focus on preparing VDP letters using Australia Post’s Pre-Sort Mail service. While the advice may not apply to everybody, there may be some information within the article that could still be relevant. With that out of the way, it is important to discuss what the Pre-Sort Mail Service is.
What is Pre-Sort Mail?
Australia Post offers many mailing services such as Clean Mail, Print Post and Acquisition Mail, but Pre-Sort Mail specifically refers to the delivery of barcoded mail throughout Australia.
What is the significance of Pre-Sort Mail?
Ultimately it is price and speed. As of 1 August 2014, an individual posting an addressed DL sized envelope under 125g from one Australian destination to another will pay 70 cents to post that letter (full rates of mail can be found at http://auspost.com.au/parcels-mail/pricing-updates.html). Pre-Sort Mail offers businesses a discount on their postage, provided that:
- There are more than 300 items of addressed mail within Australia in one lodgement;
- That the mail has been barcoded and lodged according to Australia Post’s standards.
With many items of post being substituted for email, one would ask what the importance of printed mail:
- Conventional mail is tangible, something an individual can hold.
- It confirms the street address of the receiver (e.g. letters that are marked return to sender will indicate if the receiver has moved).
- It can’t be blocked with a spam-filter.
How does it work?
On the surface, “barcoded mail” would imply that the only process is to add a barcode to the mail… if only it were that simple. In fact the procedure is more complicated. The full procedure can be found here http://auspost.com.au/media/documents/presort-letters-service-guide-jun14.pdf but a summary of the process that mostly involves a prepress operator is as follows:
- The use of dedicated barcoding software to compare the client’s database to the Australia Post database. This applies a barcoded Delivery Point IDentifier (DPID – effectively an 8-digit number that represents a street address… think of it akin to a phone number, without using the actual phone number of that address) to clients’ addresses that match Australia Post’s addresses, and leaves the remainder unbarcoded. That should be the end of it, but sadly no… there is more.
- Using this same dedicated software, creating a manifest that lists what letters are to be sent to specific mailing locations (not postcodes – one of 54 specific locations that receive the mail and then distribute the mail to their postcodes). The software then creates mailing tags for the cardboard or plastic tubs that will hold the finished articles for mailing. This is to identify the tubs to Australia Post employees who then send the tubs to the appropriate mailing locations.
- Once the data is exported from the dedicated software, the data then has to be “mail merged” (or Data Merged via InDesign) but it must be in the same order as the manifest. This creates many production headaches such as how to split the merge for the appropriate destinations, dealing with “spoils” (letters that are damaged during their production) etc.
What are the pressure points?
- The dedicated barcoding software. It isn’t cheap, and this leads to many businesses reconsidering the idea of barcoding their own mail in-house, given the return on investment of mail savings is eaten by the subscription fee to the dedicated software. The software tends to be Windows Operating System specific and requires ongoing updates from Australia Post to maintain current address data.
- Quality of a customer’s database. Items such as soft returns, address fields where the suburb-state-postcode details are in one field instead of three separate fields can hamper not just the dedicated barcoding software, but its import into InDesign. Similarly, values that need to be presented in a set format (such as dollar values, or names needing to be title-cased rather than UPPER cased) need to be resolved before importing the data into InDesign. Another trap is the length of fields – for example, a design feature that allows for most full names that would be 15-25 letters long, but names in the database that can be 35-45 letters long may not fit the space required, unless the square peg round hole trick is used.
- The strict rules set down by Australia Post for lodgement, such as the height, width, clear zones and allowable skew of the barcode. These rules also apply to the appearance of the envelope, particularly if an address is being printed onto the envelope instead of using a window-faced envelope.
- The speed of the lodgement. This will determine what postage paid imprint is to be used on the items to be mailed.
The last pressure point is the one that will catch out many customers and sales representatives alike. Since its introduction on 2 June 2014, Australia Post has introduced two speeds to business mail: Priority and Regular. Apart from the lodgement, the other way that this is indicated to Australia Post staff is the imprint graphic on the top right hand corner of the envelope.
What this effectively means for customers is that instead of having one variety of business envelope stationery, they now need to have two varieties for the different delivery speeds, unless the customer wants to stick to one variety of stationery, and this will lock them into a set delivery speed. At the same time, printers and mailing houses have to be aware of this when asking clients for a delivery deadline, especially if envelopes supplied by the client are at a different delivery speed to the requested lodgement speed.
What do I need to remember?
It is possible to save money on your postage by using the Pre-Sort Mail program via a Printing company or Mailing House. My employer offers this service, but it is worth asking a few questions in advance:
- Can they barcode letters from the database I’m using, and what is the best way to supply the data?
- If I have a set date I would like the letters in the hands of customers, when should I have my data and letter ready to begin the campaign?
- What items can be variable on the letters that I send? Is it just type, or can I have graphs, barcodes such as QR codes, or images tailored to each letter?