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A Glossary of Print and Postal Terms for UK Businesses

The world of high-volume print and mail services is full of terminology that can sometimes be hard to decipher.

We have put together this glossary to help your operations teams and procurement specialists when processing tenders for print and mail solutions providers.

For the fundamentals on print and mail solutions and postal optimisation, see our article Postal Optimisation in a Digital World.

Advertising Mail (Ad Mail)

Ad Mail is a Royal Mail product family, intended for marketing campaigns. Because it is cheaper than Business Mail, splitting out the Ad Mail appropriate letters is more cost efficient.

There are many different products within ad mail. Like Business Mail, it includes MailMark and MailMark Economy tariffs, while discounts applied depend on volume.

Bulk Mail

This is high-volume mail that has been sorted before it reaches Royal Mail. The Print Service provider supplies full trays into Royal Mail’s Inward Mail Centre (IMC), ready for the final mile delivery by Royal Mail.

Unsorted Mail must be manually sorted at Mailing Centres, which makes it a more expensive option.

Business Mail

As with Ad Mail, Business Mail is an umbrella term referring to products provided to businesses by Royal Mail. It includes Mailmark and Mailmark Economy.

Discounts are based on quantity, address accuracy, and sorting.

C9 Licence

This is the licence held by a print and mail house or a downstream access provider, also called a CDA or customer direct agreement, that allows a direct relationship with Royal Mail. The C9 is the licence number for the CDA.

The direct relationship with Royal Mail offers benefits such as the ability to influence Royal Mail policy.

To qualify for a CDA licence, you need to be sending at least 6 million items a year. This high volume of mail requires owning infrastructure such as printers, warehousing, data processing, composition software and sorting staff.

Customer Direct Agreement (CDA)

See C9 Licence above. 

Doordrop Mailings

Also known as Door-to-Door. This service is classed as AdMail, but at a different price. Partially addressed mail. Just a postcode. Through Royal Mail or DSA providers.

Downstream Access (DSA) Provider

Downstream access providers handle the delivery of bulk mail from customers to Royal Mail mailing centres. Their access means they can skip some parts of the RM network and deliver straight to mailing centres (see Inward MCs)

Final Mile 

This is the last part of the postal journey. For Royal Mail, this means sorting and taking mail from local delivery offices to their delivery addresses.


Frameworks are public sector procurement mechanisms. They are lists of pre-approved suppliers intended to help public sector buyers to procure goods and services that already have agreed terms and conditions and legal protections. 

There are several frameworks, for example the UK government’s Crown Commercial Service (CCS), the Scottish Government, Procurement, EEM and NEPO to name a few. 

Frameworks are divided by the type of service and subdivided into lots. When searching for your service, it’s best to look at the relevant lot. For example, Hybrid Mail comes under the CCS framework RM6027 “Postal Goods, Services and Solutions” specifically Lot 7 “Hybrid Mail, Digital and Transformational Communications”.

See our report The Offsite Advantage: A New Model for Local Government Communications for a detailed explanation of frameworks. (Plus you can learn about Hybrid Mail, postal optimisation and local government digital transformation).

Hybrid Mail

A cost-effective service that allows customers to compose documents and using a print driver  send  documents electronically to an  offsite production facility where it is printed, enclosed and dispatched.

See our hybrid mail services to learn more.

Inward MC (Inward Mailing Centre) 

Inward MC refers to mail received by one of 37 Royal Mail Mailing Centres around the country. Mail is sent here either from a Royal Mail Regional Distribution Centre, or by a downstream access provider (DSA) – hence the name downstream access as they are able to skip further down the mail network.

Royal Mail then takes the mail from here to local delivery offices before a local mail person completes the “final mile” delivery. 


Mailmark is a Royal Mail product that is provided under its Business Mail or its Advertising Mail product family. The “mailmark” is a barcode added to a letter, which helps Royal Mail sort and dispatch more quickly, which is why it is cheaper than standard mail. 

This tariff is volume related and users must send at least 4,000 items in each batch.

Mailmark (Business or Ad Mail) is delivered within 2-3 days.

Mailmark Economy 

Slightly cheaper than Mailmark, at this rate mail is delivered within 2-5 days. The savings are offered because you’re giving Royal Mail the grace of an extra day or two.

Note that Mailmark Economy can be delivered as fast as 2 days, but the obligation is for 5 days.

National Access

See Zonal Access.

A flat rate that Royal Mail charges regardless of where it goes. Your mailing partner can advise when this is the optimal rate, depending on what you are sending.

Postal Audit 

Also known as a Pricing Review, this is the first part of a postal optimisation initiative. Conducting an audit of every part of your print and mail process, and identifying cost or labour inefficiencies from document composition to data processing, production, collection and delivery. 

Print and mail service providers with a C9 Licence are able to identify further discounts from Royal Mail due to their high volumes of mail.

Postal Optimisation

After a postal audit is completed, organisations can optimise any part of their postal journey. They can evaluate whether Royal Mail discounts will apply to them, and whether third-party data and mail processing providers will be more cost effective.

Publishing Mail

This is a specialist service from Royal Mail for discounts on sending editorial titles such as magazines. You must be sending more than 1,000 items per mailout, at least twice a year, to qualify.

Royal Mail Incentives

These are rewards designed to keep businesses using mail. They are a version of promotions that mailing service providers will be able to take advantage of to help their customers optimise their postage prices.

For example, Testing and Innovation incentives offer customers discounts if they try experimental products, while others reward commitments to certain volumes.

They must be applied for and approved by Royal Mail before they count towards your postal costs.

Special Interest Group (SIG) Board

Print and Mail service providers (like Adare SEC) and DSA providers sit on the boards of industry bodies in order to influence policy as well as receive advance information on price changes and new incentives.

Subscription Mail

See Publishing Mail

Transactional Mail

Any kind of mail that completes a transaction with an individual customer, and so contains personalised content. E.g. bank statements, debt reminders, invoices.

Unsorted Mail

The alternative to Bulk Mail. This is low-volume mail, which requires Royal Mail or DSA providers to sort the mail, and is therefore more expensive than bulk mail.

Zonal Access

See National Access.

This refers to zonal rates charged by Royal Mail. Each postcode relates to a zone. Zone A is urban. B is suburban. C is rural. D is London. 

Your mailing partner will be able to advise on how to sort your outgoing mail to take advantage of the different rates.

For example, councils tend to use zonal pricing as they are sending out communications within their region.