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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

Printers Going Green – Exactly where are we going?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Apr 23, 2012 1:58:00 PM

As we were reminded incessantly, April 22nd was Earth Day. Wikipedia defines it as “an annual day on which events are held worldwide to increase awareness and appreciation of the earth's natural environment.”

Earth day photo resized 600

The official recognition of Earth Day started in 1970 which coincided with the beginning of concern for the environment as a political force in the United States.  The 70’s saw the publication of books like The Population Bomb by Paul Erlich and scholarly reports like The Limits to Growth by The Club of Rome. The main argument was that overpopulation coupled with pollution and depletion of natural resources were putting us on a disastrous path which was supposed to play out in the later years of the 20th century. The EPA was formed later in the decade during the Nixon administration. The Clean Water Act, The Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and other pieces of legislation that comprise the foundation for current policy were also passed in the 1970’s.

Well, we’re still here in 2012 and doing pretty well environmentally speaking. By just about every measure, the air and water in general are cleaner than 40 years ago and there are plenty of natural spaces in which to stretch out. We haven’t yet “Paved paradise and put up a parking lot” as the great Joni Mitchell song goes.  Some of this has come about due to increased public concern about environmental matters resulting in legislation. Two marked achievements in that regard are the dramatic reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants and the switch to unleaded gas through mandating the catalytic converter in all new vehicles.

There is a dark side, however, to environmental activism. This manifests itself in a lack of concern or even hostility to economic growth and widespread material progress in general.  With regard to printing and envelopes, there’s a reflexive opposition to cutting down trees in order to produce paper.  The idea is that by not printing something on paper, you’re “saving a tree.” The fact that the more paper is consumed, the more trees are required doesn’t seem to factor into the equation.

Businesspeople are generally risk-averse. We’re always looking for more customers so taking a potentially controversial stand which might alienate a segment of our market is seen as a negative. The environmental movement’s success in presenting its objectives in mother and apple-pie terms has led many companies to start “green” initiatives in an effort to sell themselves to those who are sympathetic to these concerns.

Government agencies have also sought to accelerate this trend. The US Commerce Department in its Earth Day 2012 blog bragged about how they’ve “saved 3,489 trees” (I assume they had someone go to a forest and count) as well as money by eliminating the numbers of pages they print by 27%. Now we can all waste less in our daily lives and this is certainly a good thing. But it’s an ominous sign for any industry’s future prospects to have its normal activities portrayed as a necessary evil at best or a vice at worst. Financial service companies trumpet the fact that they are “going green” by eliminating printed statements. We have included this message on the envelopes they still use. Talk about printing your own obituary!

Printers and envelope companies have been promoting their green credentials for some time now. Recycling paper makes sense both from the standpoint of economics and ethics.  And of course we should dispose of our chemicals in an environmentally-friendly way. We all drink the same water.  Programs like FSC and SFI promote “sustainable forestry”.  Elite Envelope is FSC certified and I’ve found the people involved to be committed and the program well-run. However, the underlying message is that without environmentalist oversight, the forests that produce pulp for paper are going to be managed in a less than responsible manner. Seems to me the incentives are all in the other direction. If you’re a paper company looking for the greatest return on your investment, aren’t you going to manage the forest to produce as much as possible?  Things don’t grow unless they’re well cared-for. Anyone with a backyard garden can vouch for that!

Are we better off trying to appease those who do not have our best interests in mind? I say no. By taking that approach, we are to some extent agreeing with them by accepting their premises. Envelope printers and printers in general should speak about the value of what we do and not indirectly apologize for it. There’s nothing wrong with producing printed materials on paper. It’s an honest business with a venerable tradition and completely consistent with a reasonable and common-sense concern for the environment.  Say it loud: “We print and we’re proud”! 

Topics: printing and envelopes, envelope company, going green, envelopes companies going green

Does my envelope need to be converted?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Feb 6, 2012 10:23:00 AM

Ok, so your customer or in-house client wants to do a mailing with a custom envelope: Good for them!

Studies show direct mail advertising to be a very effective way to get your message across. And a colorful and well-designed envelope can help the effectiveness of the message and create interest to open it and find out more.

Your client presents you with an envelope design and now it’s your job to decide how best to get it done.  One of the first decisions is how to print and make the envelope. Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to make the right call.

The three most important factors are the size of the envelope, the size and placement of the window and the amount of print coverage required.

If the envelope is not a standard size, it will most likely have to be custom-made.  If it has a window that is not standard (1-1/8” x 4 ½ ”, 7/8” from the left and ½” from the bottom), the same thing applies. Regardless of whether the envelope even has printing on it, these two factors will have to be taken into account. Obviously an off-the-shelf item in a standard size that can be jet-printed (typically the way envelope companies print envelopes – see other blog posts for more information) is going to be the least expensive way to go.  

However, the most important factor in determining whether an envelope must be converted or not is the amount of printing coverage. The term “converting” is really just another way to say “manufacturing”. However, they are generally not used interchangeably. “Converting” most commonly describes the process by which sheets are printed and then cut and folded to make envelopes.  It can also describe the cutting and folding of flat sheets of paper with no printing but for our purposes, we will stick with the most common use of the term.

Envelope Converting machine

Jet presses have their limitations and that mostly has to do with the amount of print coverage. If your design has either of the following printing characteristics, the envelope will most likely have to be printed on flat sheets and converted into envelopes after the fact:

  • Full coverage front and back

  • Heavy coverage and solids on either side of the envelopes including the flap that bleed to the edge

Anything less than that and it will be a judgment call. Some jet presses (like those at Elite Envelope) can print solids and bleeds to the edge with good results. Some of it has to do with the skill of the pressman (ours are the best!). If you’re unsure, the best way to proceed is to send a pdf of the copy to your envelope company and a trained eye will be able to give you the printing options.  It’s always best to deal directly with an actual envelope converter when you are trying to determine the best way to go. They would have the most expertise on both the printing and converting side.

Good luck and may you be happy and enthusiastic like all recent converts! Feel free to comment or pose a question and I'll be sure to get back to you.

Topics: direct mail, elite envelope, envelopes and printing, envelope manufacturing, jet printing, envelope manufacturer, envelope converting, envelope converting tips, envelope company

The Direct Mail Answer: Privatize the Post Office

Posted by Jerry Velona on Dec 19, 2011 1:01:00 PM

When the federal government first established the postal service in the late 18th century, the United States was a relatively small parcel of land on the east coast of the continent.  At a time before telephones or even telegraphs, letters were the only long-distance method of communication. It made sense to facilitate such an important function in a nascent and growing society.  

Of course, we now live in an age where telephones are ubiquitous and cheap. Sending someone a written text on a cell phone is commonplace and costs nothing.  The internet and similarly cheap personal computers have made e mail the preferred method of written communication. Why spend the time and money typing a letter and sending it to a relative overseas when you can send them an e mail for free and have them receive it within seconds?  Additionally, fax machines are either on your desk at home or easily available at a local copy or print center.  Lastly, you can scan a document on your computer and send it as an e mail attachment for someone to print out upon receipt.

All these developments have reduced the amount of regular mail delivered by the Postal Service dramatically in the past decade.  That trend is going to continue. The reduction in demand would seem to require a commensurate reduction in costs and overhead.  However, there are no incentives to economize or streamline operations at a government-run agency. The incentives are exactly the opposite; spend all the money in the budget so that more can be allocated for the future. "Don't kill the job", has been the public sector motto for as long as there has been a public sector.

Ultimately, the huge fiscal problems facing the Post Office are not solvable through the political process. A government which spends taxpayer money at a rate that is slowly but surely leading to the bankruptcy of the nation cannot be expected to muster the fortitude and common sense required to put the Postal Service on a fiscally sustainable course.  It seems to me the only viable course of action is to break up the postal monopoly and allow private companies to compete for the letter business.

The Post Office used to have a monopoly on parcel deliveries but, as everyone alive knows, UPS and Fedex and many other excellent companies have gobbled up a huge portion of that market by providing great service at very competitive prices.  In the process they have forced the Post Office to implement service upgrades like online mail tracking.  Does anyone believe that would have happened without the healthy competition provided by those private companies?   

Are there any good reasons why the same thing could not happen for the delivery of first class mail? Aside from the huge political uproar which would certainly accompany such a move, I think not.  Would the increased competition for the first class and bulk mail business be a boon to direct marketers and the printing and envelope companies which supply them?  I’ll get into that in my next post along with some of the reasons generally offered in opposition to Post Office privatization.

In the meantime, your comments are most appreciated.

Topics: direct mail, elite envelope, e mail and direct mail, post office, printing and envelopes, postal monopoly, post office problems, envelope company

The Post Office and the Direct Mail Industry

Posted by Jerry Velona on Dec 12, 2011 11:47:00 AM

The classic blues song Born Under a Bad Sign has a line that says, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  That pretty much sums up the state of the US Postal Service these days.  Except, as Ernest Hemingway famously said, “you make your own luck.”

The latest consequence of the continuing fiscal woes of the post office came last week when Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced plans to reduce costs $3 billion by slowing the delivery of first class mail and eliminating about half of the 461 mail processing centers spread throughout the US.  This is on top of the planned increase in the price of a first-class stamp next year.

 post office problem cartoon Elite Envelope

Unlike many heads of sclerotic government bureaucracies, Donahoe seems to know what needs to be done to restore the Postal Service to some sort of viability. He has commented on how the drop in first class mail volume requires cuts in staff and facilities. He has stated that the Service needs to run more like a business.  Good luck with that Mr. Postmaster.  According to a recent article in the NY Times, labor costs at the Post Office represent about 80% of the total budget compared with 53% at UPS and 32% at FedEx.  These costs are locked in by union contracts and any talk of give-backs or cuts is met with the type of apocalyptic, harsh rhetoric we’ve come to expect from entrenched unions fighting for their lives.

Aside from the unsustainable labor costs, the difficulty of closing a single post office due to politically driven opposition by members of Congress further illustrates the impossible task faced by Postmaster Donahoe to bring some semblance of budgetary sanity to the Postal Service.

It’s clear that electronic mail and the internet in general are having an effect on the amount of mail being delivered by the Post Office.  We read that the amount of first class mail has declined by 19% since 2001 and is expected to fall another 37% by 2020.  However, during the same period, direct mail volumes have stayed relatively stable mostly declining only during economic downturns but then rebounding as business in general improves. Advertising mail now accounts for 48% of total mail volume.

Postal Service woes are mostly discussed only in the context of how any changes will affect the average family waiting for a letter in their mailbox. What generally doesn’t get mentioned is the negative impact on the direct mail industry; all those printers, agencies, marketing firms, mail fulfillment companies, and, yes, envelope companies all of which depend on the Postal Service to provide good service at a competitive price.  Somehow, the recent announcement of slower service at a higher price doesn’t seem like a prescription for the health of the Post Office or the thousands of small businesses who depend on it.

In my next post, I’ll propose a solution.  I’ll give you a hint; it contains the "P word".

Topics: direct mail, elite envelope, e mail and direct mail, post office, post office problems, envelope company, declining mail volume

Pushing the Envelope in the Wrong Direction

Posted by Jerry Velona on Nov 1, 2011 11:42:00 AM

In my last post I mentioned a once proud, independent envelope company that declared bankruptcy a couple of years ago and is now owned and run by an equity company.  They have already closed numerous plants throughout the country and laid-off hundreds if not thousands.  As these things often go, the layoffs and consolidation continue for the purpose of restoring the financial health of the envelope firm thereby allowing the parent company to sell it for a handsome profit and move on to its next target.  So goes the creative destruction of the market system.

It’s easy to view this process with disdain. After all, many people’s lives are adversely affected while the cold calculus of business economics moves toward maximum efficiency.  I happen to think that it’s probably the best method for keeping a company going after poor management runs it into the ground.

What makes it worse though is the way that many companies will announce layoffs and plant closings and bad news in general.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with presenting yourself in the best possible light. We do it as individuals each day.  Sometimes it’s simple tact which causes us not to speak the whole truth to someone. There are ways of presenting facts where feelings are spared and reputations maintained while the point is made.  

However, it does a disservice to those involved both on the giving and the receiving end when corporations deliver news in the type of corporate-speak we saw in a recent announcement by the aforementioned equity company.  This is aside from the poor grammar, overuse of clichés and jargon and general lack of clarity.  I will quote a few lines and provide a reasonable translation: my comments in parentheses.

 carnival barker photo

“We are in the midst of transforming ourselves from a good company to positioning ourselves as a truly great company”.   (I guess being in the position of a truly great company is better than actually being a truly great company. This is the opening line; lots more good stuff to come. )

“A strong foundation has been created by you (who are they addressing here? The remaining employees, the public?)  that will allow us to bring innovation to our market, drive sustainable growth and create value for our customers”. (These days, no business can release a statement that doesn’t mention “sustainability” at least once.  How about this instead? “The recent layoffs and plant closings have restored the company to profitability.”)

“The foundation is our high performance culture, operating as our...team.  We must continue to build on this foundation by streamlining where it makes sense, (uh-oh),  sharing best practices ( because sharing is so nice), and driving consistency through-out (sic) the organization.”

To be continued folks. It gets worse/better depending on your point of view. As for me, I need to get back to taking care of our customers. Or should I say, “creating a sustainable growth and value proposition”?

 

 

Topics: envelope company, pushing the envelope, corporate-speak

Yet Another Blog Post

From Jerry Velona - co-owner,

Elite Envelope & Graphics, Inc.

Jerry offers pertinent, often useful information on envelope converting and printing, web printing, direct mail, the post office, songs that have to do with mail and letters, digital overload and much more!

(Non-spam) Comments always appreciated.  Spread it around!

 

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