I'm sorry to report that the USPS has taken a potential benefit to business mailers and turned it into yet another bureaucratic blunder.
I'm not down on the USPS, really I'm not. In fact, as a bulk mail professional I've got a vested interest in the success of the USPS, but the new Picture Permit Imprint Indicia program is a failure.
On the surface, this looks like a neat benefit to business mailers. In a nutshell, the program allows you to add graphics to the area where your bulk mail permit gets printed on your mail piece.
To participate, you need to have a bulk mail permit and you need to register on the USPS website. From my point-of-view these are reasonable requirements.
What are the Problems?
Essentially, you've got to complete a postal decathlon before you can get approved to use a Picture Permit Imprint Indicia. As described by the USPS, there is a 4-step process before you can get approved.
Step #1: You must complete an online registration process.
Step #2: After you register, you have to complete the online Picture Permit application, (PS Form 3615A). Apparently registration is not sufficient, so for good measure, the USPS makes you fill out an additional form.
Step #3: Assuming your application gets approved by the USPS Program Management Office (PMO), you'll then have to submit a PDF copy of your proposed indicia design online.
Step #4: If/when your proposed design passes USPS review, you must then submit 500 hard copy mailpieces with the approved design. From the USPS website: "These mailpieces must be the exact mailpieces you intend to send. USPS Engineering, Operations and Acceptance will then test the designed mailpieces."
This "test" takes approximately 30–45 days for the USPS to complete-wow, hope it's not any sort of time-sensitive mail.
By the way, if you think I'm exaggerating any of this, here's a link to the official USPS Picture Permit Imprint Indicia website.
Although, it's not considered its own step, there's actually a Step #5 because you have to preschedule the date for your mailing and let the USPS know exactly how many pieces you will be mailing on the scheduled day.
I'm actually recommending a Step #6 because I think the first five steps are just too easy. For the final step, approval should be contingent on travelling to New York City, visiting the top of the Empire State building and getting your picture taken with and signed by one of the Empire State building staff members.
Please if you're reading this and you know anyone who's gotten approval to send bulk mail using a Picture Permit Imprint Indicia, please have them contact me so I can issue them a medal for their heroic efforts.
But wait, if you actually navigate through the daunting, time-consuming, inconvenient process, you could still be denied because each bulk mail piece must contain an intelligent mail barcode. This is no sweat for me as a bulk mail professional, but it essentially excludes all smaller businesses and nonprofits, and almost certainly some smaller bulk mail professionals.
What, postage is actually higher when you mail with the Picture Permit Imprint Indicia?
Yes, it gets even better though because there's a fee to use the service. That's right, if you elect to use the Picture Permit Imprint Indicia, you've got to pay an extra 2 cents apiece in postage for presort standard mail and extra 1 cent apiece for first-class pieces.
Why would anyone pay extra postage for this?
The area where the permit gets added on a mailing is one of the smallest areas on a mailpiece. While it may look cool to theme the graphics for the permit with the rest of your mail piece, are you really going to see a return-on-investment from changing the way your bulk mail permit looks? I doubt it. Never mind the complexity and delays associated with getting approved in the first place.
A free alternative
If your goal is to make your bulk mail look more like first-class mail, then instead you should consider using precancelled stamps for free. That's right, here's an example of a USPS product available to bulk mailers that does not increase the cost of postage and has been proven to increase open rates over envelopes that contain a bulk mail permit or postal meter imprint.
I don't understand: if there's not extra postage cost to use precancelled stamps, why should bulk mailers pay a premium to use a Picture Permit Imprint Indicia?
Delays, complexity and extra fees. What could have been done correctly?
Without a doubt, the USPS is under a tremendous amount of pressure and not in a very enviable position. They have made some good decisions, like last year's roll out of Every Door Direct Mail, but they've also made some other product blunders like this Summer's 2D barcode discount.
I still believe in the viability of direct mail marketing, and I firmly believe that business mailers need to be part of the USPS recovery plan. Programs like Picture Permit Imprint Indicia fall short of benefitting business mailers, the direct mail industry, and the USPS.
For the USPS to survive, the key is NOT to skim more money off the top of existing bulk mail customers. The key to generate additional USPS revenue is to broaden the base of business mailers. Success with this is contingent on offering business mail solutions that are cost-effective and easy to use. These types of products will not only generate more business from existing bulk mailers, but they will also encourage new businesses to start mailing.