Are we headed for three-day mail?

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The numbers are staggering. Since 2007, mail volume in the United States has dropped by 43.1 billion pieces, post office visits are down by 200 million, and retail transactions have decreased at least $2 billion. The figures, worry some in the direct mail industry, could eventually lead the United States Postal Service to reduce delivery to three days a week.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted to move forward with debate on a bill that would restructure the postal service long term. The measure would pump some cash into the hemorrhaging agency to reduce the number of processing centers the postal service wants to close. It would also force the postal service to wait two years before dropping Saturday mail delivery.      

A spokeswoman for USPS says there’s no plan for anything as drastic as three-day delivery just yet. But there’s no doubt big changes are coming to the agency and direct mail consultants need to be ready.

Reforms at USPS will have far-reaching implications for the direct mail industry and states that vote by mail. With that in mind, USPS said recently it would delay some processing plant closures and consolidations until after the 2012 election. Still, it plans to go ahead with the bulk of its proposed restructuring plan this spring. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the agency was "confident" it could still make "dependable and timely delivery of election-related mail."

Eric Hogensen, who founded the Los Angeles-based HSG Campaigns, isn't convinced campaign mail will fundamentally change, at least in the coming months. 

"It might take longer to get a piece out and you might have to plan for that," he says. "I don't think functionally it matters a whole lot. What matters more is social media and the ability to communicate and target directly online. That becomes a place where budgets are going and everybody knows that."

USPS, which operates independently from the federal government but answers to Congress, has been steadily losing business to the Internet. Officials have projected it will record losses of $18.2 billion annually in just three years. 

In order to cut costs, USPS wants to move to a five-day delivery schedule and would like to close or consolidate 223 processing facilities—40 percent of its network—starting in May. That's expected to complicate already unpredictable delivery times, according to Mike South, production manager at Arena Communications.

"The randomness of the USPS deliveries makes it necessary to plan for the worst case scenario and mail earlier than we would like to preceding an election," says South.

Still, campaigns shouldn't expect higher mailing costs just yet. "According to USPS communications to mailers, the normal delivery standard for presort standard mail (3-10 days) should not be affected," South said in an e-mail to C&E. "We will more fully understand the accuracy of this statement once they begin their network realignment this summer and we start analyzing mail delivery across the nation."

USPS plans to resume its restructuring in early 2013, the results of which will hold real long term implications for campaign mail.  

"The real issue is what the postal service is going to do in the long haul," says Trey Ourso, a partner in Ourso Beychok, Inc.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for USPS is advising consultants to use Tag 57, which is available for candidates and the parties, for greater visibility on their mailings this cycle. 

Aaron Puebla contributed.


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