What does a business call a service that lowers costs, increases efficiency and satisfies customers all at the same time? Some may call it the impossible dream, but one large organization recently found it was more like a dream come true, thanks to a close collaboration with the U.S. Postal Service.
Photo Marketing Association International (PMA) was founded over 77 years ago. The group�s purpose, then and today, is to promote the growth of the photo imaging industry through mutual cooperation and communication. The association is headquartered in Jackson, Michigan and serves 18,000 members worldwide. In addition to the United States, there are membership offices in the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Italy, France, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Encountering Problems
Keeping thousands of members current in over 100 countries poses a major challenge for PMA. One key communication tool is the association�s monthly magazine, which is shipped to each member. �Shipping the magazine internationally is significant for us,� explains PMA�s Associate Publisher Terri Cameron, �both in terms of cost and in terms of reaching our membership.� The publication keeps members informed on timely issues. One of the most important issues is PMA�s annual convention, which typically draws more than 800 exhibitors and approximately 30,000 attendees from all over the world.
More than half of the publication�s circulation is international, and it takes approximately two to three weeks to deliver the magazine to many different countries. �Members don�t care how it gets there, they just want it,� says Cameron. �In addition, we also want to satisfy the needs of our advertisers, especially for that key pre-convention issue.� This is a daunting assignment for any shipper.
Initially, PMA used a well-known carrier to deliver its magazine but soon received feedback from its international members saying the publication had not arrived in a timely way, or worse, not at all. The association then switched to another popular carrier, and while the complaints subsided somewhat and the organization was not dissatisfied, Cameron says they continued searching for a more efficient and cost-effective way to distribute their materials internationally.
Then, during a meeting set up by Bruce Stroede of PMA, Beatrice Hill-Pack and Sue Truss from the USPS addressed Cameron�s concerns with timing and cost issues connected to international shipments. At this point, Photo Marketing was introduced to International Surface Air Lift (ISAL), just one of many quality international shipping products offered by the U.S. Postal Service.
Overcoming the Challenge
ISAL is a bulk mailing system that provides fast, economical international delivery of shipments weighing 50 pounds or more. Shipments are handled by official postal administrations from pickup all the way to final delivery. The shipment is sent by air and then delivered as surface mail in the destination country, all while maintaining its United States identity using US return addresses and postal markings. Foreign return addresses and postmarks are never added. Undeliverable pieces are returned at no additional fee, which enables customers to update their foreign address lists. According to Hill-Pack, ISAL�s cost is lower than airmail and much faster than surface mail � all of which comes as a surprise to many customers including PMA.
�We (USPS) often face the customer�s perception of being an antiquated government bureaucracy that is not customer-focused,� admits Hill-Pack. �We wanted to create value for PMA and to bridge the processing gap.� After further discussions, PMA agreed to use ISAL for its international shipments.
Initial results were very encouraging. �ISAL appeared to be a better way because of the timing,� comments Cameron. �[Delivery time] dropped by five to seven days, and there were no complaints from members. In this case, no news really is good news!�
After a great start, there were still some obstacles to overcome. The printing house PMA was using to produce the magazine was primarily interested in printing the piece and not in preparing and distributing it. The additional preparation and distribution step was keeping costs high for PMA.
USPS remained customer-focused. �We listened to their concerns and came up with a good cost-efficient solution,� adds Hill-Pack. That solution was to use a pre-qualified postal wholesaler. The pre-qualified wholesaler program was implemented three years ago as part of USPS� Global Delivery Services (GDS) program. Wholesalers must pass a careful screening process, meet certain volume requirements and demonstrate specific distribution capabilities, all in order to provide value-added services to Postal Service customers. Specifically, pre-qualified wholesalers provide assistance by lending exper-tise in handling outbound documents, direct mail and catalogs.
International Mailing Service, Inc. (IMS) in Kalamazoo, Michigan was chosen to work with PMA. IMS now picks up the materials from the printer, then sacks, tags, labels and sorts PMA�s intercontinental magazines. The prepared shipment is trucked to an international service center in Chicago where it is then flown to its wide variety of destinations.
A Dream Come True
Meanwhile, back in the USA, there is a very satisfied customer. �We�ve been using ISAL since February and have seen a 16% reduction in cost,�  notes Cameron. �I also feel that for the first time � and I�ve been with the organization for 11 years �someone really cares that our international mailings actually get there.�
�Everyone wants to reduce costs, but a publisher�s hands are tied to some extent, � says Cameron. �It�s scary when you think how much you�ve spent on a publication and then have to count on others to take care of it � no one really likes to give up that control.� She continued, �ISAL is a welcome option to reducing mailing costs and increasing efficiency in the process � a publisher�s dream come true!�
Both USPS and PMA agree that it takes teamwork and good communication to make programs such as ISAL a success. �Always ask questions, and keep on asking questions,� says Cameron. �You have to understand a vendor�s business and it has to understand yours in order to be successful. They (USPS) certainly understand customer service. I would absolutely recommend the ISAL program.�
�Terri Cameron is real visionary,� says Hill-Pack. �She saw the benefit in using ISAL and her action-oriented thinking helped us all move forward.� It seems that PMA and USPS will continue to move forward together. Photo Marketing is now considering using other USPS products, including a new Direct Mail Service, which is scheduled to premiere online soon.
Contact your local postal representative for more information on the ISAL program including the variety of ways this service can save you money through volume discounts and three rate options. Payment is convenient as well as flexible, allowing customers to use meter postage, advance deposit accounts, pre-cancelled postage stamps or even a billing service. The service is currently welcome in 200 countries.
International Surface Air Lift is just one of the many customer-focused and value added services offered by the U.S. Postal Service. Consider ISAL when reaching out to global markets, and turn a potential international shipping nightmare into a vision of success.
For more information, please visit www.uspsglobal.com or www.pmai.org.