This issue's shoptalkers: Trish Hoppey, partner at the Democratic direct mail firm Pivot; Kevin Mack, partner at Mack Crounse Group; and Ben Mitchell, partner at the Republican mail firm Political Ink.
C&E: Which postal changes will have the greatest impact on your business and how are you all dealing with that?
Kevin Mack: I think what really impacts us are the sorting facilities and the fact that the post office is cutting shifts and laying off workers in those facilities. In Ohio, for instance, there used to be three or four facilities your mail could go through. Now, there’s maybe only one covering the entire state. So once you drop the mail off at a postal sectional facility, it impacts your ability to actually get it out to households and the ability to track it. I think what it means is that we’re going to have to build in longer periods of time for dropping the mail. People who try to be really precise are going to get in trouble.
Trish Hoppey: I think there are mechanisms we can use to help us determine how long delivery of our mail is taking. That way we can adjust the schedule after a few mailings based on that. There are organizations like Track My Mail that will put a barcode on the mail so we can see how it goes through the delivery system. We also use U.S. Monitor on every single mailing that we send out. For us, it’s simply a way of knowing exactly when things are actually hitting a mailbox. As postal facilities continue to close, that’s something that will help us to determine whether or not the closings are really having an impact. Now, I do think we saw a bit of the impact of these shifts being cut just this past year in Virginia. It’s really unfortunate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that more people are out of work.
Ben Mitchell: If a campaign is well organized, well-funded and well run you aren’t going to see much difference because of this. And that’s because good campaigns plan well. They know what they want to say and when they want to say it. What’s happening with the Postal Service is going to make it more difficult for mail consultants to bail out campaigns that are poorly planned. So perhaps it’s no longer going to be possible for a campaign to get on the phone with you 10 days out and say, “I just found some more money and I want to spend it on direct mail.”
Hoppey: Right, unless we’re in front of it. And campaigns typically aren’t as willing to take a risk to get in front of it because you then have a bunch of pieces in the bank that those campaigns have to turn around and potentially pay for.
C&E: What was the most immediate impact you saw on the legislative races in Virginia this year?
Hoppey: We just saw deliverability take a lot longer than we were used to. That was particularly the case in Northern Virginia. Is this something you guys saw, as well?
Mack: We absolutely did. It was just inconsistent. Sometimes we would drop on a Tuesday and actually be in households on Wednesday, which is what you would expect. Other times, it would take five or six days. When that would happen, we’d call the Postal Service and basically they would say, “This is the new normal.”
Hoppey: This is one of the reasons that it’s really important that people look at who they’re hiring. You want to make sure the people you hire are actually developing relationships with the sectional center facilities. They need to have relationships that allow them to call and say, “Hey, we’ve got a piece of mail that’s coming through and we want to alert you to it.” That’s something my firm does, and I know that Kevin’s firm does it too. It’s also important to have the capacity to try to figure out where the problem is if a piece of mail isn’t getting delivered as fast as you need it to. There are ways that we can at least keep our clients in the loop on this stuff. Ultimately, I just don’t think these changes are going to have as big of an impact in political communications as some people are fearing.
Mack: Every medium has challenges right now. This is just a new one for us. Television is dealing with hundreds of channels and satellites and DVRs. We’re dealing with five day delivery and slower delivery times. It’s just a new challenge that we have to deal with.
C&E: What about the possibility of three day delivery or something more drastic down the road? Can you survive that?
Mitchell: If the Postal Service gets more efficient and better organized, which admittedly is unlikely, then three or four days a week wouldn’t really be an issue. The exception is in races where you may be looking to be in mailboxes every single day. In that case, it’s a real issue. But that’s not the expectation for most of our clients. To me, it’s less about how many days the post office delivers and more about how efficient and reliable it is.