Site Aims to Automate Direct Mail Production Process

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The Production Management Group Ltd. has introduced, a service that will automate the direct mail production process for buyers and sellers.

Direct mail buyers using the site at can request and evaluate competitive bids from around 60 suppliers, then place production orders online for printing, data processing, personalization, lettershop and postal entry.

"The problem we're trying to solve is the bid and procurement process in the direct mail process," said Rick Powell, president/CEO of the Production Management Group, Hanover, MD. "We're automating that process so that our clients can reduce the cycle from two weeks to two days."

Powell estimates that the dollar value of direct mail production last year was $42 billion, up from $30 billion in 1994. Although this market is growing, it remains deeply fragmented and mired in delays, he said.

Participation for direct mail buyers on is free. Once users register on the site, Production Management Group will give them a telephone call to qualify. After such clearance, consumers can walk through the specification process step by step.

Users can, in real time, design the package -- full package, poster, mailer -- and determine the carrier, be it a carrier envelope, return letter, reply form, lift note or brochure. The site's back end will create individual specifications based on that request.

Deciding the timing and price requirements is the next step in that process. Production checklists will aid buyers by weeding out mismatches in selections, with suggestions for alternatives., which launched earlier this month, gets a cut of the transaction fee from the supplier that successfully bids for that business.

Pre-qualified suppliers listed on include Direct Impressions, Richmond, VA; Sisk Mailing, Stevensville, MD; Saturn Corp., Cheverly, MD; and Tri-State Envelope, Ashland, PA.

Normally, the process depends heavily on manual back-and-forth that lengthens the whole process from conception of the direct mailer to mailing it to the consumer. After identifying their target audience, direct mail buyers typically create their design and copy, and write up specifications for production, printing and data processing.

The process gets lengthened after suppliers identified for each of these components go back and forth with questions, first renditions and changes. aims to streamline that process, Powell said, adding that the back end for the procurement and scheduling processes is still in beta testing.

"What we're working on is to turn that into an instant estimate once you walk through the specification process," Powell said.

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