Include Local Post Office in Your Full-Service Implementation Plan

As mailers feverishly work on implementation of Intelligent Mail® Full-Service before the January 26, 2014 deadline to retain automation discounts, there are a lot of tasks on your “to-do” list.  One task that may get overlooked is the ongoing communication with the local postal acceptance staff to review the changes in mail acceptance and verification.

The United States Postal Service® (USPS®) is also working hard to get prepared for the January 2014 deadline, and that includes training and documentation for postal acceptance units.  That is a daunting task given the sheer size of the USPS, so there are definitely offices where this training has not yet taken place.

The issue this creates for mailers is that your local postal resources may not be able to provide much guidance for you during your Intelligent Mail implementation process.  In some cases, the local postal acceptance staff may even be providing incorrect or misleading information due to this lag in training.  Some examples that our clients have experienced include requests for hard copy documentation when electronic documentation is being used, conflicting information regarding when palletization is required for Full-Service mail, requests for qualification reports representing partial mailings rather than the full mailings, and others.   In some cases, mailers are even being told that their post office does not (and will not, even in January 2014) support Intelligent Mail Full Service!

This situation can make an already challenging process even more frustrating.  However, mailers do have resources you can use in cases such as these.   The best advice is to work with the USPS Business Mail Entry (BME) office that services your local post office, along with the Business Service Network (BSN).   These resources can not only provide the up-to-date information you need to complete your implementation project, but they can help to get training and other resources for your local postal acceptance unit.

We strongly encourage mailers to get Full-Service implemented in advance of the January 2014 deadline so that you don’t risk loss of lucrative automation discounts.   Keep in mind that the Full-Service deadline occurs at the same time that the USPS postage rate changes for 2014 go into effect, which also includes new versions of Mail.Dat® and Mail.XML™.   Add to the mix the busy mailing and holiday season, and you have even more reason not to procrastinate.   As part of your implementation project, make sure you include your local postal acceptance unit early on, and reach out to the BME and BSN as needed to make sure you will have a smooth transition to Full-Service.

USPS Grants Small Extension for Postage Statements

Along with the announced price changes for the USPS competitive products (e.g. Express Mail, Priority Mail, Parcel Select, etc.), the USPS is also offering several pricing initiatives (Reply Rides Free and Saturation and High Density Standard Mail), all of which result in format changes to many postage statements. These postage statement changes are effective with the implementation of the new rates on January 2, 2011. However, since the information regarding the format of the revised postage statements was not published until just recently, the USPS has communicated plans to provide extensions until January 28, 2011 for mailers not able to produce the new format postage statements by January 2. This information was communicated in a notice published to members of the Major Mailers Association, the text of which is shown below:

The headquarters Business Mail Acceptance has developed the following plan for customers who will not be able to present the new postage statement on January 2, 2011:

– The field BMEUs will be notified to continue accepting the old postage statement from customers that cannot make the change by Jan 2nd, and continue to do so until Jan 28, 2011 if necessary. No exception request will be needed for customers who expect to be capable of producing the new postage statements by Jan 28th.

– The old postage statement covers existing products only and does not include new package products such as Critical Mail and Regional Rate Boxes. Any customer using products that are not included on the old postage statement must complete a hardcopy postage statement for those products until they are capable of producing the new mailing statement.

– The BMEU staff will maintain a questionnaire for each of the customers that continue to use the old statement with the primary purpose of ascertaining when the customer will be able to comply and produce the new postage statements.

– Customers that do not anticipate meeting the Jan 28th cutoff date for accepting the old postage statements will need to request an exception through the normal exception process and the local BMEU will assist with that process.

– No postage statement is created for eVS manifest mailers consequently no process change will be required unless an existing eVS customer is using a new product. Any eVS customer mailing one of the new products available after Jan 2 that cannot complete the new postage statement should work one on one with their Strategic Account Manager or Business Alliance Manager to ensure a seamless acceptance process.

Due to the short time frame, it is not expected that the USPS will publish this as an “official notice” so mailers should work with their local Business Mail Acceptance offices if they need to take advantage of the extension.

Mailers are strongly encouraged to implement the new postage statements as soon as possible as it is very costly for the USPS to support both old and new postage statements.

New FAST User Group Kicks Off

This group was formed by the Mailers Technical Advisory Group (MTAC) to discuss and work through any FAST-related issues that were tabled and passed to it by MTAC 122 – as well as new issues that have come up since the announcement of this group forming.  The first meeting was held this past week on Wednesday afternoon.  If you are interested in joing this User Group, please contact the Industry Co-Chair Michelle Billman of ALG Worldwide Logistics at mbillman@algworldwide.com

Here are a few highlights from that initial meeting:

There is a “patch release” (14.3.0) coming out on August 15 (FAST is trying to follow the overall PostalOne! release schedule.)  Here is some helpful info from the latest DMM Advisory:

*** FAST Release 14.3.0 and Scheduled Outages (August 15-16, 2010): FAST® Release 14.3.0 will deploy to the production environment on Sunday, August 15, 2010. Updated release notes for FAST 14.3.0 are available on RIBBS>Site Index A-Z>FAST/Surface Visibility>Important Links>FAST Release Notes. The FAST production system will not be available from 4 a.m. through 8 a.m. (CDT) on Sunday, August 15, 2010.

FAST Release 14.3.0 will deploy to the Test Environment for Mailers (TEM) on Monday, August 16, 2010. The FAST TEM system will not be available from 8 a.m. through 12 Noon (CDT) on Monday, August 16, 2010. ***

The pre-release notes available on RIBBS were updated to include information about the new Help Desk set up for FAST.  The industry seems a bit hesitant (I’m being nice here) about how helpful this will be.  They are concerned that if they have a truck full of mail at the dock that is not being accepted, they will more than likely still have to go through their current escalation routine to get the mail accepted as opposed to just calling the Help Desk for resolution.  The USPS says those calls will route to a Manager on Duty at that facility.  The problem there is that the normal escalation process inside the facility already includes contacting that manager, so that Help Desk routing could end up with a mailer saying “Hello Manager John – I need to complain about Manager John I was just talking to.”  (Could be a touchy situation!)

Last discussion item was about the open issues handed off from MTAC 122 and how to open new issues moving forward.  It was decided to table that until next meeting when Ed Wanta (USPS) would be on the call.

Periodicals Mailers-Time to File Statement of Ownership!

 

Yes, it’s that time of year again, for Periodicals mailers to file their annual Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation with the United States Postal Service® (USPS). This document, Form 3526, is required to be filed annually by publishers for each authorized Periodical publication. The completed Statement of Ownership form is due by October 1 each year. The completed form must be filed at the post office serving the publishers offices.

 

This form is NOT required to be filed for publications that mail at other classes of mail, such as Standard, Package Services or First-Class, nor is it required to be filed for publications that are currently mailing as Periodicals Pending.

 

There are actually two versions of the form, Form 3526 for General (paid) and other publications and Form 3526-R for Requester publications. The forms require that publishers submit information regarding the ownership and management of the publication, as well as circulation information. Publishers must include circulation information for the issue of the publication closest to the filing date as well as an average for all the issues for the year.

 

Aside from confirming the ownership and management information, the USPS uses the circulation information as a basis to insure publishers are meeting the circulation requirements to qualify for Periodicals mail. These requirements specify that at least 50% of the total circulation of a publication be circulated to those who have paid for or requested the publication. If the paid/requested ratio on this annual form reflects a percentage of between 50% and 60%, this can trigger a more detailed postal audit.

 

The information needed to complete the form may be found on postage statements, print orders, print invoices, distribution instructions, etc. It is easier if publishers maintain this information on an issue-by-issue basis in a spreadsheet or something similar so that when it comes time to complete the annual form, all the necessary information is at hand. If this is not done, you should gather up all the pertinent documents for each issue of the year before attempting to complete the form.

 

A common problem that publishers run into is that the subscriber/nonsubscriber copies have not been reported correctly on the postage statements during the course of the year. If the paid/requester counts on the statement of ownership do not correspond with the subscriber/nonsubscriber counts on the postage statements, that discrepancy can also trigger an audit.

 

To prevent this problem, it is critical that detailed instructions be provided by the publisher to the mailing list processor so that they can correctly identify and report the subscriber and nonsubscriber copies in the mail.dat files and on the postage statements. Any changes to the way these address records are identified during the course of the year also needs to be communicated to the list processor.

 

It is also critical that publishers monitor postage statements during the course of the year to insure that these counts are reported accurately and to rectify any problems early on if they are not. It can be very problematic (not to mention expensive and time consuming) to try to correct a whole year of postage statements right before you are ready to file your statement of ownership, particularly if rate changes have occurred or if software updates have taken place in the interim.

 

In addition to filing the completed form, the information on the completed form must be published in the publication for titles authorized under the General or Requester categories. This information is required to be published in the first issue subsequent to filing the form. For example, if the publication has a monthly frequency, the information should be published in the first issue produced after the filing date of October 1. If the publication is weekly or less frequent, but more than monthly, the information should be published in an issue no later than October 31. For weeklies or more frequent, the information should be published in an issue by October 10.

 

There are no regulations regarding the size or format of this published information, as long as it is legible and complete. Some publishers replicate the actual form itself for publication, while others convert the information to text format.

 

If for some reason you do not meet the filing deadline of October 1, you should contact the post office serving your publishing offices and notify them of the reason for the delay and the date by which you estimate you will submit the completed form. Publication of the information is more strictly enforced. If you do not publish the statement of ownership information in the timeline described above, the USPS can hold the mailing of subsequent issues until this requirement is met. Again, if you fall behind in meeting this deadline, it is best to notify your post office up front in order to prevent mailing delays.

 

If you need assistance to complete or publish your forms, contact your local Business Mail Entry (BME) office and ask for the Periodicals mail expert. They can walk you through the form and provide information about filing and publication of the information.

 

Monica Lundquist, Postal Affairs Manager, Window Book, Inc.