Postal Service woes could hit direct mail vendors

Postal Service woes could hit direct mail vendors
The Postal Service is in the red and some direct mail vendors worry about delivery cutbacks.

The U.S. Postal Service is in the red and with a projected loss of more than $8 billion this year, some political direct mail vendors worry that delivery cutbacks could exert an impact on what they can offer to candidates and campaigns.   Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe sounded the alarm late last month in an interview with USA Today, telling the newspaper that financial woes necessitate some serious changes, starting with the elimination of Saturday mail. Within 15 years, he warned, it could mean scaling back mail delivery to just three days a week. Dropping Saturday delivery would save an estimated $3.1 billion a year, according to the Postal Service—no small sum for an organization projected to be $238 billion in the red by 2020. As for what it means for political direct mail vendors, several consultants tell C&E eliminating Saturday delivery could mean a major hit and lead to “crowding the box,” potentially making mailers less effective. “This will crowd the mailbox,” says David Johnson, who heads a Republican direct mail firm. “It narrows our opportunity to get into mailboxes.” The greatest concern, says Johnson, is that Saturday before Election Day. An elimination of Saturday delivery would mean the closest direct mail delivery option for campaigns would be the Monday before Election Day. Essentially, says Johnson, it means more voters could be likely to simply toss the mail out. The potential loss of Saturday delivery is far from fatal, according to Democratic direct mail consultant Jim Spencer. But, he concedes, crowding will be an issue, particularly with younger voters. Direct mail consultants generally divide consumers into three groups, Spencer explains: an older generation, which always looks methodically at its mail; a second group, which tends to comb through their mail and segment; and a third group, which takes about five to nine seconds to go through the contents of their mailbox. It’s that third group that’s growing and it contains more young voters than the other two. The more crowded their mailbox becomes, worries Spencer, the more likely that group is to toss their mail. Despite the concern, says Spencer, he's confident direct mail will remain relevant given that it's “still the only delivery medium that you have to throw away. Everyone has to see it.”   Mail consultant Aaron Beytin is among those who are less pessimistic about the potential loss of Saturday mail delivery. While the change may exert an impact on the production cycle, Beytin says it doesn’t change the fundamental value of direct mail for campaigns. “Mail isn’t about to disappear,” says Beytin, founder and head of The Beytin Agency. “It is still a very cheap way of getting a message out. Ninety-five percent of what we have done in the past, we can still do now.” The potential for three-day delivery, however, is a different story. But it is likely one that direct mailers won’t have to worry about for at least another decade. The Postal Service, meanwhile, says it’s taken pains to address concerns specific to the mailing industry and spent considerable time on market research to gauge the effects of a five-day delivery schedule.  The new mantra from the Postal Service: five days of delivery, six days of service. Saturday, officials argue, is already the slowest day in terms of mail volume and would be the least disruptive to the average customer. The Postal Service even points to a recent Gallup poll that supports their contention that Saturday is the best day to cut. Still, the Postal Service needs congressional approval to make the change and while legislation has been introduced in Congress, it's not clear when lawmakers will act. “In formulating our plan, we conducted extensive outreach among business and consumer groups,” says David Partenheimer, spokesman for the Postal Service. “Many key elements of our plan were the result of these consultations.” Partenheimer says discussions are ongoing with customers, “including those involved in political direct mail to prepare for five-day delivery.”

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Travis N. Taylor

Fewer postal delivery days is an issue direct mail consultants will have to be concerned with probably sooner rather than later. But I encountered an issue over the past week with the sheer inefficiency of the Post Office. Here's a quick recap:

I am managaing a State Senate race in Louisiana. We dropped a direct mail piece last Wednesday. It was a solid piece that delivered an incredible message and was to make a huge impact, to be followed up with another piece a few days later. We mailed that follow up piece on Monday of this week. On Tuesday, we started getting the calls. Both pieces hit mailboxes on the same day! This diminished the effectiveness of our first piece and made our campaign look disorganized and unprofessional, not to mention wasting thousands of dollars.

The inefficiency of the USPS has never been more clear to me. While I believe in the principle of direct mail, I am now extremely hesitant to include it in my strategic plan for my future candidates.

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