The Cost of Addressing Data

In a recent article in Database Marketing, James Lawson discussed the ongoing debate of whether address data should be free. Back in November 2012, The Open Data User Group (ODUG) presented a paper that suggested an Open National Address Dataset (ONAD), built from three sources: Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File (PAF), Geoplace’s National Address Gazetteer (NAG) and OS’s AddressBase Plus. All three files would be made available under the Open Government Licence as free data, just like OS Code-Point Open.

As we all know, the Royal Mail’s PAF database is the most widely adopted reference file for UK addresses. It has been since its inception and I believe will remain so for many years to come, free or not.  In the more recent years we’ve had various rumours and promises of alternative and complimentary solutions from the LLPG & NLPG, Address  Layer 2 to the more recent NAG and subsequent AddressBase offerings but they’ve all had their challenges.  As with any accurate or usable database it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to compile and somebody needs to take this burden on.  I agree with the current concept that any small to low volume usage (as delivered by the Royal Mail’s postcode finder solution) should be free but the argument of savings and the implied benefits for public bodies is currently being debated for the recently released AddressBase solution.  The questions of industry benefit really comes from the high volume corporate users and wider DM industry.  The impact to pre-sortation requirements, which the Royal Mail enforce on their direct business clients as well as the rules they impose on the wholesale Down Stream Access partners, would no doubt be part of any discussion.  Whilst it would be Holy Grail to ensure all addresses entering the Royal Mail’s network were perfectly addressed, I think any serious conversation on the topic will always be deferred while a potential sale of the Royal Mail is in the wings.



When Charitable Donations Fall – Who’s to Blame?

I was listening to a program on BBC Radio 4 yesterday morning (You and Yours) about the difficulties that charities are facing in these straitened times:

“Christmas is the season for giving and is often the big year-end push for many charities. But according to a report compiled by the Charities Aid Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations charitable donations have fallen by 20% in real terms in the past year, with £1.7bn less being given.”

There was a lot of interesting feedback from the expert contributors:

  • Sarah Miller head of public affairs at the Charities Commission commented that “The top complaint made to the FRSB (the Fundraising Standards Board) … is to do with the use of data, where people are perhaps being sent mailings that they don’t wish to receive or perhaps incorrect information is being used on mailings or they want to know where the data has come from or perhaps a mailing is going to a deceased family member and they’ve asked for it to stop and perhaps the charity still hasn’t made that change – so that’s the top complaint by far”.
  • John Low, Chief Executive of the Charities Aid Foundation stressed that “You must be as efficient in the way you run a charity as any business, and maybe more efficient, because it’s precious public money that you have and you have very serious responsibilities to your beneficiaries.

It is certainly true that as a charity or any form of non-profit organization, you have far less margin for error when mailing your donors than a commercial organization. If I get duplicate mail from a retailer that I shop at, or incorrectly addressed mail that obviously hasn’t been able to obtain postal discounts even if it was actually delivered, it might make me wonder whether their prices have to be inflated to allow for such inefficiencies – but I’ll still do the price comparison when next shopping. When I get duplicate or incorrectly addressed mail from a charity that I give to, I get upset that they’re wasting my donation. Even more so given that I know there are money-saving solutions (ranging from desktop software, to services and hybrid solutions) for ensuring that mail is not duplicated and correctly addressed. Moreover, many mailers upset next of kin by mailing to the deceased or simply waste large amounts of money by mailing to people who have moved.

Based on the feedback received by the FRSB, some charities have a pressing need to implement effective solutions for eliminating wastage in their direct mail:

  • Gone Away suppression will more than pay for itself by reducing print and post costs.
  • NCOA (National Change of Address) and other services will allow charities to mail donors at their new address.
  • Deceased and duplicate suppression will avoid the damage to the donor relationship that otherwise will inevitably occur.

Sarah Miller also told listeners:

“If there are ways that charities are interacting with you that you don’t like, do tell them. Tell them how you want to interact with them.”

I remember about 15 years ago, one of our customers working for Botton Village (a centre for adults with learning disabilities and other special needs in North Yorkshire in the UK) won a direct marketing award simply because they asked their donors how often and when they would like to be contacted and at what time(s) of year. This led to a significant increase in donations. These days of course, it is far less expensive to contact people by email, but some donors may prefer at least some communication by mail, or not want email contact. Consolidating and matching donor information when they may donate via the web or by post is obviously important – for example, so you can make sure that you claim Gift Aid for relevant donors, or avoid sending a scheduled communication if they’ve just donated.

Chris Mould, Executive Chairman of the Trussell Trust, the charity behind the UK Foodbank Network talked about how a front line food bank in the Network can get a web site at minimal cost with online data collection: “It doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel”. This chimed with John Low’s recommendation that charities can become more efficient by cooperating on their resource requirements.

One last and very important point: all the experts on the program agreed that fundraising campaigns really work  – regular communication with your donors is important to show where the money is going, but efficiency is even more important.


If you are a charity, struggling to get hold of your data quality challenges OR if you’ve noticed a major drop in donations and want to know if data quality is the cause, email us for a Free Data Quality Audit and we’ll highlight the issues that could be putting your initiatives at risk.

Royal Mail Mailsort Changes April 2012

As anybody who uses Mailsort will no doubt be aware, a number of major changes have recently been introduced by Royal Mail, which will take effect on 2nd April.

So, what’s different from the usual selection code and price changes?

Well, for the first time in many years, there’s been a complete overhaul of the services, replacing all the old services with new ones – there are no direct replacements of old services with new ones, but some new services bear a close resemblance to certain old services e.g. the Low Sort services are similar to the 120 services in that they only require 3 digit (town level) selection codes, and there’s no minimum selection size when presenting the items in bags. Similarly, the High Sort services cater for Direct and Residue selections, like 1400 or Presstream services used to. None of the new services bear any similarity to Walksort, although Royal Mail do suggest appropriate services for Walksort mailers. You can read Royal Mail’s “Product Comparison” document, which contains suggestions as to which of the services should be used for different types of jobs, here.

We first learned of Royal Mail’s intention to make radical changes to Mailsort on 4th Nov at a Mailsort Software Suppliers Forum. At the time, we weren’t convinced that these changes would really be introduced that quickly, given past experience of delays with less pervasive changes. But we started to plan for the work anyway, which promised to be substantial. Although we appreciated the advance warning, we weren’t actually able to get on with most of the development until detailed information about the new services was released on 31st Jan. The new price tariffs were made available on 20th Feb although these were not finalised (confirmed by Postcomm) until 15th March.

As mailers often prepare jobs well in advance of the mailing date, our customers have been calling us all this month asking for information about the availability of the new version of the sortIT module of the matchIT suite, to support the Mailsort changes. We were able to tell them that we’ve worked hard to get it ready in time, and would release as soon as the price changes were confirmed, or soon after if there were any changes to the proposed prices. In fact, there were no changes so we did release on 15th March. However, it must have been difficult for some software suppliers and some mailers to be ready in time, let alone in advance for those jobs prepared before 2nd April but mailing on or after 2nd April. Fortunately, Royal Mail did decide, after some discussion, to allow a six week grace period, so mailings can be sent using the old selection tables and old services, but with new prices, until 12th May. Unfortunately, accreditation for the new services won’t be available from Royal Mail until the beginning of June, so there is no way of independently verifying the accuracy of any software updates until then.

Below are some FAQ’s relating to these changes, which will hopefully help clarify things that might not be immediately obvious…

To sum up, we love a challenge! We would love to hear comments and experiences from any other Mailsort software suppliers or mailers out there. Let us know how you have managed.


1. What are the key changes to Mailsort?

A. The Mailsort Database (the database is used to generate selection codes within records, based on the records postcode or town) has been replaced with a new database called “Selection Files 2012”.  The old database was “Mailsort Database 2012 R1”.

B. The list of old Mailsort services has been completely replaced by a list new services. The basic list of new services that are available is as follows:

  • Advertising Mail – High Sort
  • Advertising Mail – Low Sort
  • Business Mail – High Sort
  • Business Mail – Low Sort
  • Publishing Mail – High Sort
  • Publishing Mail – Low Sort

C. The old tariff (the base prices and discount percentages, last updated 18th April 2011) has been updated.


2. What are the features of each new service?

The following document outlines the key properties of each service:


3. Which new services replace which old services?

As discussed above, there are no direct replacements of old services with new ones, however, some new services bear a close resemblance to certain old services. Check out the Royal Mail’s “Product Comparison” document for more information.


4. When should I update the software I use for sorting data?

Selection Files: All mailings that are to be posted on or after April 2nd  must be sorted using software that contains the 2012 selection files. Therefore, the very latest that the new selection files can be applied is April 2nd.

Services: The old Mailsort services can be used from until May 12th, just as long as they are used in conjunction with the 2012 Selection Files during the period between April 2nd and May 12th. Therefore, the very latest that the new services can be applied is May 12th.

Tariff: The new tariff applies to any mailings that are to be posted on or after April 2nd.  Any costs and discounts that may be displayed on a summary or computer planning report will not affect the validity of the sortation, so it is not a requirement to update the tariff in your software, in order to sort data.  However, if you wish to ensure accurate costs are calculated, the very latest that the new tariff should be applied is April 2nd.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sorting data for mailings before and  after April 2nd: This means that your software will need to use the old selection files (Mailsort Database 2010 R1) to sort the mailings that are being posted between now and April 1st, and the new selection files (Selection Files 2012) to sort data that is being posted on or after April 2nd.

If your Mailsort software has an option to choose which selection files to use for each sortation, then you will need to choose the appropriate option before sorting each data file. Otherwise, you will need two separate installations of the software – one containing the old selection files and one containing the new selection files.

Royal Mail to Charge VAT on Bulk Mail

Some important recent news from the Royal Mail indicates that because of recent changes in VAT law, from 2 April 2012, all bulk mail services will be subject to VAT. You can read more about this on the DMA website or at Royal Mail but unfortunately, this is just another in a long line of trends that are driving up the cost of mailing. While most mailers will be able to reclaim the VAT from their customers, this is going to worsen cash flow for the mailing sponsor and the bottom line is that companies need to be even more shrewd with their marketing and mailing strategy to keep costs under control.

So what can you do?

Know who you’re mailing. Make sure that the postage you spend for each mail piece is well-spent by ensuring it’s not a duplicate  and that it is a prospect or customer that is likely to be worth the investment. Whether you are a mail house or a marketer, here are some quick tips to make sure you are not paying for mailings that are not likely to generate ROI:

For Marketers:

  • First, always remember to request your mailer to perform deduplication and suppression on your lists. This may  not be standard and while you will spend a little bit extra to run these processes, the cost savings usually far outweighs the spend. You can ask for a cost estimate for these processes first if you prefer.
  • Always remember to send suppression files with your mailing list to remove customers who have opted out or to remove customers who are not likely to be a good investment for this mailing. Remember that your ideal target audience will change from campaign to campaign and to send the appropriate suppression list to get your ideal target list.
  • Consider using NCOA and Deceased/Gone Away suppression to reduce your list size even further – removing people who have died or moved and updating any addresses that may have changed – and of course MPS suppression not only saves money on unresponsive customers but is also a requirement for DMA members.

For Mailers:

  • Remember to remind your customers about the various types of suppression. Although it does take an extra step and it reduces the total number of mail pieces, your reputation and retention of business in the long run will be bolstered when customers know you are looking out for their bottom line.
  • Create a check list for customers to prompt them for certain types of target market suppression – Have you suppressed customers who have recently purchased this product or service? Have you targeted your list to the price range of this particular product or service?
  • Promote NCOA and other new address services where possible to help your customers target the right address

For more information on Address Validation and Suppression services that can help you reduce mailing waste, visit or contact our sales team at