Finally, a Direct Mail Feelgood Story

In the aftermath of this year’s historic 6% increase in postal rates, mailers have been advised by postal consultants and agency wags to enter into a kind of direct mail rehab. The rate is the rate, it’s not going to change—the abiding wisdom goes—so clean your lists, right-time your mailings, integrate them with other channels, co-mail and commingle, and wring the most out of your increasingly dear postal dollars.

The gospel of the postal paragons may be good news, indeed. In a time when many direct mailers and catalogers are talking about bringing down their volumes, North American Communications, a mail house that practices most of the things the experts preach, is ramping up for growth. The company announced this week that it plans to add 100 jobs at its Duncansville, PA, headquarters by year’s end—that on top of 58 jobs added since September.

“Each of our customers has a relatively fixed budget. When a rate increase like this takes effect, they often look to other methods to make up the shortfall,” says North American Communications CEO Nick Robinson. “But what we’re seeing more of is a focus on extracting as much as they can out of their mail budgets through postal optimization. It’s how and what they’re mailing, the weight of the piece, the list selection, and data modeling to improve response rates.”

President Rob Herman, who grew up in the family business alongside Robinson, maintains that—to paraphrase another renowned printer—reports of the death of direct mail are greatly exaggerated. “You hear direct mail is a dying form of marketing, but what we’re seeing is that the more customers can integrate the different types of marketing they’re doing, the more those can be coordinated and the better the program is going to be,” he says. “We’ve seen customers take direct mail out of their mixes, and they have a lack of success and return to mail. It’s the most predictable form of marketing.” Herman recommends that marketers put postal and digital methods together to get the best value from their marketing spend.

Robinson and Herman say they’ve striven to keep North American up to date by vertically integrating processes that range from data analytics and envelope-making  to commingling and web tracking. Direct mailers dread the institution of the U.S. Postal Service’s load leveling plan—delayed by an advisory from the Postal Regulatory Commission—because  it means that presorted mail arriving at postal facilities on Fridays may no longer hit Monday drop dates. But North American’s leaders believe that proper preparation and processes could make that a non-issue; for example, by using commingling.

Robinson notes that some mailers may find that they don’t want a wholesale Monday delivery as they integrate digital methods and rely on analytics to inform mail dates. In some cases forecasting inbound call volumes resulting from specific campaigns may prompt marketers to “feather out the mailings so that call centers won’t get overwhelmed,” Robinson notes.

While Robinson and Herman are both motivated to get mailers the most bang for their buck, they are equally dedicated to the preservation of American manufacturing and providing jobs for people in the Central Pennsylvania community where they grew up. North American recently launched a “Supplier Diversity Program” with the goal of establishing a network of small, local businesses owned by minorities, women, and disabled veterans.

Like the Post Office, North American’s is a singularly American story—except that North American’s business is growing. “We’re third-generation paper folders,” Herman says. “We’re privately owned, we work in the business, and we’re not for sale. We’re excited to create more jobs in a place where they’re not being created. Printing on paper is not dead; it’s realigning itself.”

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