I got a card from [insert company name]!

I sat down to write this post with the intent of commenting on what I consider the absurdity of businesses sending out generic, unpersonalized Christmas– oops, holiday cards. But as I got to thinking about it, I found myself considering the vast number of steps and processes that go into these cards. So, instead, I would like to take this opportunity to comment on the the extraordinary and ludicrous number of steps that go into businesses sending out generic, unpersonalized holiday cards.
In case you don’t know, the cards I’m referring to are the ones that are ordered by businesses with their names printed on the envelopes and on the inside, thus eliminating the need to sign them. This is the type of card that the Acme Anvil Company would send to the Wile E. Coyote Road Runner Extermination Corporation each year to thank them for their business.
At my place of employment, we don’t send out such cards. (Huzzah!) But this year I did receive a card from another entity that does the exact same work that we do in the exact same setting, although a different state. Thus, my type of business does sometimes send out these cards. In fact, if we chose to send them out, I am the very person that would be given this task. So for argument’s sake, the following list of steps will be those taken by me and my employer / department if I were charged to send out cards. Let us begin!
#1 The decision is made to send out cards. This is not done by me, of course, as I don’t like these cards. It’s done by my boss, likely. Now, what’s interesting in this step is when he would need to decide this. That would be – at the latest – the November prior to the Christmas. That is, if we want to send out cards for Chri– HOLIDAYS 2010 he needs to decide in November 2009. This is done in order to accomplish the next step…
#2 Add the line item to our budget. Yes, we have to have our budget set seven months prior to the start of our new fiscal year. For simplicity’s sake, I won’t go through the process necessary to have the budget approved, which requires nine approvals by seven layers of authority.  Honestly.  So while we allow six months for this process to occur, we’ll just skip to step…
#11 Decide whom to send the cards to. This probably happens around August. I originally thought that next we would order the cards, but no, you need to know how many to order, right? I don’t know how we’d make the determination of who gets a folded piece of cardstock, but I’m almost certain it would require inquiries from numerous department managers, and then perhaps need to be narrowed down by my boss to eliminate spending excess dollars.
#12 Select a card. Follow the CakeWrecks gangster guide to PC-ism to make sure that the artwork and inscription could not be construed as offensive. And, because this is Boulder, I probably need to make sure to get something that is recyclable / biodegradable / compostable. (Many of the cards I receive from [insert company name] forgo this latter step, sending unrecycleable envelopes with metallic lining or cards printed on vividly colored paper.)
#13 Decide on an inscription and have it approved. Cross my fingers that this is something that could be done by just my boss and won’t require the approval of a committee.
#14 Submit a purchase request to our purchasing department to place the order. Cross my fingers that this order won’t that require competitive bidding. By the way, in case you’re wondering, we’re probably in the month of September at this time as it’s usually wise to allow six to eight weeks for production and shipping. But, oh, the purchasing process isn’t done yet because the company will need to send a proof which requires…
#15 Approval of the proof. Did they spell our company name correctly? Is the font the correct size? The right color? Cross my fingers that nothing is wrong requiring me to wait for another proof with the changes before I can approve it for production.
Okay, the cards are ordered! Phew! Now on to…
#16 Create spreadsheet of card recipients. It is very likely at during the gathering of names I was given simply that – names – with no address. Which makes this process much more daunting than it would seem. Probably I would need to call many of the companies to get their current addresses. My sister initially suggested that this spreadsheet creation process could be initiated in the spring, but since businesses move and mail is only forwarded for six months we decided against that.
#17 Order and purchase labels. No, I wouldn’t do this before step 16. How many lines are on these addresses? If I can get away with an entire spreadsheet of recipients with only three lines of address that would be amazing. But I anticipate having a number of recipients that have an address of five or six lines. And small labels just wouldn’t do.
#18 Create mail merge for printing labels.
(#18B Wish I still had Office 2003 instead of Office 2007 to simplify creation of a mail merge.)
#19 Print a test run of labels on plain paper. It’s probably at this point that I would…
#20 Proofread all addresses. Whoops, put two S’s in Texas! That would be embarrassing. I don’t think folks at the Tex*** Flower Company would appreciate our attempts at sending this seasonal sentiment. Note: this is another step that I notice [insert company name] sometimes skips.
Somewhere around this time, let’s assume that the cards and labels arrived. The order is not as vital for some of the following steps. We’re in the month of November now, the month when my boss is trying to decide if we should send out these cards again next year.
#21 Print labels. Unless you’ve worked as an administrative assistant, you don’t know how complicated this task actually is. You need to print on the correct side of the labels. You need to make sure the printing is centered on the labels. I guarantee at least one page of labels will jam inside the printer. And if you have shared network printers like me, you’ll load the printer and turn back to your computer to hit print just as a co-worker sends a copy of the new internal communication policy to the printer, leaving you to race back to the printer and hurriedly yank your precious label pages out before any more pages are lost.
#22 Stuff cards into envelopes. I’m sure since we’re not actually signing them on the inside that some card-making companies offer the option to have envelopes pre-stuffed. But that costs more money, and getting that line item through my five budget-approving agencies in the first place was difficult. Get a box of band-aids ready for the ensuing paper cuts with this process.
#23 Seal the envelopes. A tedious and messy process involving either a leaky sponge on your desk or a nasty taste in your mouth and paper cuts on your tongue – which really hurt, by the way.
#24 Label the envelopes, making sure the labels are straight, centered, and right-side up. (Or you can be like [insert company name] and just get them somewhere on the envelope.)
#25 Re-print labels for the few that accidentally got folded or stuck to something else on their way to the envelope.
#26 Deliver the stack to the mailing department for metering. Accept some narrowed-eyes looks for bringing an extra 500 pieces of mail to handle.
Finally, fourteen months after this process was started, an envelope lands in the mailbox of the Texas Flower Company. The label is straight, and the name is spelled sans expletives. A front desk person glances at it briefly, slits the envelope open, and pulls out my card. One of two things happens: the card and envelope go straight in the trash, or the card is placed next to the card from [insert company name] and other companies in some kind of lobby display where it stays for a week before going in the trash.
I pity the poor postal workers who have to deal with the zillions of these cards that are sent out every year that they are forced to process, all of which – despite my hard work – carry no sentiment.
What’s more, I pity the sanitation workers that have to haul all these cards to the landfill. Ah, can’t you feel the Christmas spirit?
With all these steps, it almost makes me think twice before throwing that card from [insert company name] away when it lands on my desk. Almost.
Oh, I almost forgot the final step:
#27 Receive a stack of cards back in my mailbox in January with “Return to Sender” stamped on them because the address is wrong. Bang head on desk.
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