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Posted by on Oct 31, 2018 in Blogs | 0 comments

What To Do With Print and Mail

IPMA and an astrophysicist take on the question of when to outsource auxiliary communication services and when to keep them in-house.

According to data from nearly 100 North American colleges, the average cost to recruit a student has now surpassed the $3,000 mark.  Roughly 15 percent of that money is devoted to print collateral and direct mail. The only higher data point in the recruiting budget is employee salaries and benefits.

Print collateral utilized for recruiting represents just a small portion of higher education’s overall printing and mailing budget. The top users of print and mail at many colleges are the departments of enrollment management, annual giving, marketing, event planning, and alumni services. Each one of these departments has a story to tell and often those stories are told through print.

Colleges and universities reply on printers to provide posters, marquees, brochures, schedules, programs, appeal letters, stationary, post cards and invitations. For students arriving to campus, there is a need for course materials such as exams, syllabi, journals, lab manuals and custom course packets. After students graduate, they receive newsletters, letter cards, invitations to college events and information on giving opportunities. Beyond all of this, there are millions of prints and copies made each year on local printers and multi-functional copiers. Although the business of higher education continues to be revolutionized by digital technology, print and mail are still very much a part of day-to-day operations.

The question as to who should be responsible for the production of all of this print collateral is one that was recently taken on by our association. Should colleges outsource their printing and mailing needs or are these services essential and thereby merit in-house capability and expertise? In order address this question objectively and scientifically, IPMA, working in conjunction with Canon, Inc., hired Angela Whiteside, President and co-founder of KickStage Consulting, Inc.

“Our research shows there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question,” reports Ms. Whiteside. “Outsourcing is neither a panacea nor an evil.”

What research did show, however, is that when senior administrators were asked “do you find the business model of insourcing your organization’s support services (ie Payroll, Safety, Dining, IT, Facilities, Grounds) preferable and more advantageous to your organization than outsourcing them?” 92% stated that yes, they find the insourcing model preferable. The surrounding discussion conveyed a strong support for in-house printing and mailing, primarily due to the control and closer strategic alignment that it offers the parent organization.

“Over the last 20 years,” reports Mike Loyd, executive director for IPMA, “we know that many universities have reconsidered their outsourcing decisions. Support and auxiliary services are all trending back towards being internally provided, especially critically important services like those of print and mail.”

What is the explanation for this trend? Have rising external costs and risks decreased the lure of outsourcing vs. internal integration, or are company decision makers becoming better informed?

The conclusions from Whiteside’s research suggest that the most profitable sourcing strategy is one that identifies and quantifiably compares all lifecycle costs and risks associated with alternative sourcing choices.

If you ask most leaders for their motivation on outsourcing print and mail, the majority, if not all, will indicate that cost reduction is their primary incentive. This is a valid and justifiable reason to pursue such opportunities, but jumping in while only focused on the cost dimension can be fatal to business and is often the reason for failed outsourcing initiatives. The most important lesson to learn in sourcing decisions is that the choice to outsource not only impacts costs and profit of the business, but also product/service, quality, risk, responsiveness and a myriad of other aspects. A full comparison matrix of supply options needs to be analyzed by a multi-functional decision making team to assess every facet of the decision at hand, and to weed out any unforeseen costs/risks, prior to a path being implemented. Unfortunately, this rarely happens.

Worse, rarely after an outsourcing decision has been made, does an organization follow up with its decision and document whether or not savings actually even occurred. This may be mostly because when printing is outsourced, the parent organization loses the one resource that was tracking all of the costs – the in-plant.

“It’s a shell game,” says Loyd. “The only way to have a complete and accurate accounting for an organization’s total print and mail expenditures is to entrust that responsibility to an in-house printer. He or she will have the expertise and the incentive to track things accurately so that informed decisions can be made.”

According to Whiteside, there are many dimensions to consider before an organization can accurately determine whether or not to outsource printing. This include things like:

  • Will a vendor or commercial printer demonstrate a total focus on the business needs of the parent organization?
  • How will the vendor or commercial printer prioritize your work?
  • Does a vendor or commercial printer possess an intimate knowledge of the needs and priorities of an organization’s work?
  • Does the outsourcing model impact an organizations environmental footprint?
  • Can a vendor or commercial printer guarantee an equal level of security and confidentiality that an in-house service could provide?
  • What is the priority of cost control for a vendor or commercial printer?
  • Who will be responsible for consistency of content and graphic identity?
  • Will the vendor or commercial printer impede an organization’s responsiveness and agility to changes in market behaviors or strategic changes?

Whiteside’s research includes a survey of college and university senior administrators. For a complete copy of the report, please contact IPMA at The report is free to IPMA members or can be purchased for $250 which includes a one-year association membership.


Currently serving as President of the In-plant Printing Association, Dwayne Magee, CGCM is in his 13th year as Director of College Press and Postal Services at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. His department was the recipient of the 2015 IPMA Innovation Award, the 2017 ACUP Green Service Award, and the 2015 ACUP Collaborative Service Award.

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