How to Keep Your Client Happy by Reducing Mailing Costs

The main secret of strong direct-mail design is this: It is not about creativity and winning awards. It is about making sales … and making them as cost effectively as possible.

With our Graphic Design Success program, you're learning the specific secrets of designing for direct-mail success. But there'll be times when clients or copywriters decide they want to be a little “different,” and suggest designs that you know are going to be expensive to mail.

When you have a copywriter or client who leans in that direction, remind them of the increased costs of the type of mailing they're talking about. They'll probably have some sense of the cost of materials. But in all likelihood, they won't be aware of the hidden cost of increased mailing fees.

How Much Are We Talking About?

Bulk mailing costs increase any time the U.S. Postal Service's automated equipment cannot handle your mail. This happens for a variety of reasons – for example, when you use nonstandard-sized envelopes, print addresses in fonts that cannot be scanned easily, or use colored carriers that are difficult to read.

If the package you're designing (or that the client wants you to design) can't be handled by machine, the surcharge is an additional 13 cents per piece for first-class (.042 for non-profit mailings) and .058 cents per piece for presorted letters (.021 cents for non-profits). These charges could easily add up to thousands of dollars more than your client expected.

A Valuable Resource to Save You Time and Your Client Money

The USPS provides a valuable resource you can use to determine these hidden mailing costs in advance. Armed with this knowledge, you can help your client choose a cost-effective – rather than a cost-prohibitive – design.

The resource I'm talking about are MDAs (Mailpiece Design Analysts) – postal employees who are specially trained to answer questions about mailpiece design. There are 160 of them in the United States.

To contact an MDA – or to learn more about all the Postal Service resources available to you as a designer – go to the Postal Explorer website at Then click on the Mailpiece Design link on the left in the postal blue index section. The Mail Design Analyst link is near the bottom of the page that will open. Use this link to locate the MDA responsible for your ZIP code area.

MDAs are available for:

  • Testing paper and mailpiece samples for acceptable thickness, background color, flexibility, rigidity, and barcode print tolerances.
  • Assigning unique ZIP+4 codes for Business Reply Mail (BRM).
  • Providing camera-ready artwork for the proper Facing Identification Marks (FIM) and barcodes for Business Reply Mail (BRM) and Courtesy Reply Mail (CRM).
  • Reviewing artwork prior to printing.
  • Reviewing and approving vendor-prepared “privately printed” forms for USPS special services.
  • Analyzing Optical Character Reader (OCR) readability and the automation compatibility of prospective or actual mailpieces.

Staying Out of Trouble Before You Start

The USPS has a number of free publications to assist you in the design of DM packages on the Business Mail 101 section of its website ( Be sure to go to the Resources link in the postal blue index on the left. The publications on that page will be invaluable to you – especially Publication 25: Designing Letter and Reply Mail, which will tell you everything you need to know about how to get the best possible postage rates. And all the resources on this site are free.

Postage rates are almost certainly going to continue to climb. (In fact, in 2007, first-class postage will probably increase from 39 cents to 41 cents.) There's nothing your DM clients can do about that fact of life except figure those higher costs into their budgets. But they don't have to pay unnecessary additional postal charges – and that's where you can make yourself invaluable to them.

Take the time to understand and learn how to avoid those surcharges. You'll save money for your clients, and their mail will arrive at their destinations intact and without delay.

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: December 14, 2006

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