Royal Mail is playing a straight bat, but there's much to do

By Chris Combemale, Wednesday 08 August 2012

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The passion surrounding reversions is hardly surprising, given that there are millions of pounds in lost revenue at stake - a huge figure for mailing houses whose profits are built on slim margins.

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Chris Combemale, executive director, DMA

On the other side, it’s understandable why Royal Mail is pressing ahead with its programme of improving operational efficiency, which is why it is sharpening its focus on compliance with bulk mail processing specifications.

Securing the long-term success and prosperity of the direct mail marketing industry is the DMA’s responsibility and an objective shared by Royal Mail and other DMA members affected by the issue of reversion surcharges. The DMA convened the Post Haste summit to bring its members together to find a speedy, equitable solution that is satisfactory to all.

The summit was the first time that Royal Mail unveiled its proposed plans for tackling the issue of reversions. It was pleasing to see that Royal Mail has made strong progress in creating a framework for providing information and support to bulk mailers to prevent them from incurring reversion surcharges in the future. This includes commitments to publish a league table of the most common faults that lead to reversions and advice on how they can be avoided; regular reviews of their bulk mail processing specifications; and a more proportionate approach to surcharging mail that doesn’t meet specification. Taken overall, the proposed changes should provide a level of transparency, fairness and consistency in the application of reversions that many bulk mailers have perceived as lacking.

The framework is still a work-in-progress, though; its effectiveness will lie in the detail. Delegates responded to the proposals by raising a number of concerns about problems ranging from how envelopes should be sealed to flexibility in the guidelines for how letters must be addressed. Above all, there was agreement in the need to improve the lines of communications between Royal Mail and mailing houses. This was of particular concern, given that Royal Mail typically does not have contracts with mailing houses, yet, as the originator of the mail it’s the mailing house that foots the bill for the reversion.

While the problems cited by both sides require careful thought, they certainly aren’t intractable. An encouraging outcome of the summit was Royal Mail’s expression of genuine desire to work with its wholesale customers and suppliers along the chain to reach solutions. Equally pleasingly, many DMA members have already improved their envelope sealing processes in recent weeks, leading to improved quality control and adherence to specification.

In spite of the positive moves being made on both sides, there is still much work to do. All parties are intent on finding a solution but we need to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. As the only organisation that counts all parties as members, the DMA is in the perfect position to serve as the impartial host of a working party representing all of the main stakeholders. To that end, the DMA will continue to mediate.

Chris Combemale is executive director of the Direct Marketing Association

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