It really is in the mail

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

A bad thing happened with our summer issue, and it had nothing to do with the content.

The first clue came soon after the issue was mailed from Willard, Ohio, where it is printed. One morning we got four, large, brown envelopes full of back covers. That’s how we learn a magazine won’t make it to its destination. A postal worker rips off and returns the back cover (it holds the mailing label) and discards the rest of the issue. And we had four, big, thick envelopes full of “returns.”

Getting “returns” is not unusual. We get about 2,000 per issue. It helps us update our mailing list, though it’s an expensive method. Each “return” costs us 70 cents. But the alarming thing on this morning was that all four envelopes were full of “returns” from South Bend. That’s way too many and made me wonder what the “returns” from Cleveland or Chicago might be.

The second clue came that evening. In my home mailbox were two issues, one for me and one for my wife, also a Domer. We should have gotten only one because we, like many of you, had responded to the magazine’s effort to clean up its mailing list in October 2003, when the magazine spent $35,000 to get the right number of magazines to the right people at the right place.

Now, clearly, there was a problem. Somehow our printer’s mailing operation had used a 15-month-old mailing list. That meant that any change of address since March 2003, anyone who had died since then, anyone who had graduated in 2003 or 2004, and anyone who had responded to that October 2003 mailing list update was affected. We figured as many as 35,000 of our 155,000 readers were.

You can imagine what an embarrassing mess we had on our hands. Our printer, R.R. Donnelley, Inc., was contrite and quick to respond. They would order more paper, go back on press, reprint and remail. They would cover these costs as well as the cost of all those “returns,” and they would apologize to the recipients of that second wave of magazines. We, too, are sorry this happened.

But the whole episode points to some considerations that often go unnoticed. This publication is a complicated, multifaceted business. Six of us serve the University and 155,000 readers. And while the creative and editorial decisions get most of our attention, these other aspects require due diligence, too. We’re fortunate to have in Julie Ettl a business manager who is smart, resolute and uniquely experienced for the many and various demands here. But, except for the student who works during the afternoon, we have no secretarial or clerical staff. We do our work, answer our own phones and handle our own correspondence. We try hard to treat everyone as an individual, responding with care, person to person. We apologize for those times your call is answered only by a recorded message. And it may take another issue for the summer disruption to be fully remedied.

In many ways, this magazine—despite its reach—is still run like a family business. And we count all of you as members of the family.