Creative Checklist: Direct Mail Resources From the USPS

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What are the new postal classifications? What is the right way to design Business Reply Mail? How do you qualify for automated postage rates?


If you have questions, the U.S. Postal Service offers plenty of resources, most of them free, to help you understand how direct mail works, produce more effective advertising and cut your costs.


* Domestic Mail Manual. This is the granddaddy of all references. If you're in the mail, you need it. It explains -- in excruciating detail -- official standards, mail classes, special services, rate eligibility, mail preparation and everything you need to know. Unlike most other resources, this one will cost you, currently $22. Call the Superintendent of Documents at 202/512-1800. If you mail outside the United States, you should also get the International Mail Manual.


* Quick Service Guides. The USPS realizes that the Domestic Mail Manual can be a little overwhelming, so it also publishes a series of simple two-page guides on special topics. Three you should consider asking for are Publication 25: Designing Letter Mail, Publication 63: Designing Flat Mail and Publication 353: Designing Reply Mail. Or simply ask for Publication 95: Quick Service Guides. It's 136 pages and includes 43 guides on virtually every topic. All are available free at your local post office or Postal Business Center.


* Postal Explorer. Undeniably the handiest and coolest resource of all, Postal Explorer gives you a comprehensive, searchable library of USPS publications. It is produced twice a year on CD-ROM and includes the Domestic Mail Manual, International Mail Manual, quick service guides, rate calculators, zone charts, Business Guide to Advertising with Direct Mail and a lot more. Unless you're perched in front of a computer all day, it's not as handy as the paper versions, but it's a bargain at $20. And the phone call to order it is free: 800/654-1905.


* Direct Mail Success for Small Business. This is just one of many resources online at www.usps.com. It's a step-by-step program on how direct mail can boost your bottom line and how to write and design simple mail that works. You also get tips on postal guidelines, fulfillment and measuring response.


* Templates. A must for designers, Notice 67 is a clear plastic overlay that shows address placement, barcode clear zone and positioning marks for FIM patterns. It also provides a barcode decoder, character height and spacing gauges and other handy stuff. Notice 3A shows the aspect ratio requirements for automated processing and proper dimensions for letter-size mail and has a slot to measure mailer thickness. This is available free at your post office or Postal Business Center.


* Electronic Templates. A designer's dream for creating Business Reply Mail and Courtesy Reply. These templates work with Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia Freehand. All you do is download the templates from the USPS Web site. Then add your permit number, barcode and delivery address to quickly create letter-size or card-size pieces that meet postal guidelines.


* Mailers Companion. This monthly newsletter provides up-to-date information on mail processing, address management, technology, standards and rulings. It also gives you revisions to the Domestic Mail Manual. It's not the sort of thing you take to the beach to relax with, but it's free. So, why not? You can subscribe by mail or fax by sending your name, title, company name, complete delivery address and daytime telephone number to Mailers Companion, Address Quality, U.S. Postal Service, 6060 Primacy Parkway, No. 201, Memphis, TN 38188-0001. The fax number is 901/681-4582.


* Business Mail 101. If you're new to direct mail or just want a refresher on the basics, this online course is the ticket, also available at the USPS Web site. Learn about rates, mail classes, addressing, permits, postage and other vital topics through short, simple lessons that won't make your brain hurt too much. There's even a checklist for mailers.


Finding particular items at the USPS Web site is a bit difficult, but if you sniff around, there's plenty there, including free online versions of everything above. However, I recommend you get a printed copy of the Domestic Mail Manual. It's the standard reference for anyone mailing anything.
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