Mailers: Forge a Presence in DC or Stop Your Griping
Remember what Woody said about success and just show up, already!
A flash quiz for mailers: Are members of Congress more likely to get re-elected by supporting A) more jobs for middle class Americans or B) lower business costs for large corporations? All those who answered “B” need to sit in on your high school kid's Government Studies class. And if you happen to be a direct mailer or cataloger, you need to do some serious soul-searching.
I write a lot of stories about rising postal rates, and a lot of people who depend on the mail to conduct their businesses read them. They're interested in postal rates because their businesses are in danger of going away if those rates get too high. At the outset of 2007, the year the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) took effect, Standard Flats and Carrier Route volume was in excess of 23 billion pieces and some 16,000 catalog titles mailed in the United States. By 2013 flats volume had plummeted to about 3 billion pieces and about 6,000 of those catalogs ceased to exist. The scourge endured by the catalog industry led to the formation of the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA).
“It all started in 2007 when we really didn't have a seat at the table and our mission is to change that,” says Brad Darooge, CEO of the catalog company Baudville and board chairman of the ACMA. “Our challenge is that—if and when new legislation moves forward—we want to make sure we are a party to those discussions.” (Listen to the full interview with Darooge in the podcast above.)
The big question for catalogers and direct mailers is how big a shindig they can put together. Their presence on the Hill as PAEA took shape was negligible, and while the catalogers have significantly upped their game under the guidance of coach Hamilton Davison (ACMA's exec director), they still have a recruiting problem.
There are three key stakeholders in postal operations: big mailers, postal worker unions, and the Postal Service itself. The four major postal unions have voluminous membership rolls and full-time staffs. They are all planted in D.C., know all the players on Capitol Hill, and can muster tens of thousands of workers to demonstrate on a day's notice. The Postal Service is a government institution with annual revenues of $67 billion. It fields an army of lawyers and has a chief lobbyist known as the Postmaster General, an office once held by Benjamin Franklin. The mailers have the Direct Marketing Association, The Association for Postal Commerce, and the ACMA, but they lag the other players in both gravitas and sheer numbers when it comes to playing legislative tag at the Rayburn Office Building. I recall hearing one cataloger new to the game talking about cooling his heels in the anteroom waiting to introduce himself to a member only to see him emerge laughing and back-slapping with a couple of postal union officials.
It's not that the game is rigged, it's just that it's skewed from the grasp of thousands of disparate mail houses, printers, catalogers, and marketers for whom mail is but one channel among many. Darooge, in his first year as board chairman, is quite aware that his people are never going to win in a numbers game. Still, he is determined to ratchet up those numbers. The ACMA has scheduled a D.C. fly-in for October 20 and 21 and is actively recruiting current members and potential new ones. It's a prime opportunity for mailers to personally ask their reps what they'd like to see included in the final version of Senator Tom Carper's iPOST Bill of 2015 rather than settle into an old DeLorean and go back to the future of 2007.
Darooge promises a well-planned and rewarding experience. “Participants will fly in, meet with our experts who'll give them talking points and refresh them on the issues, and then we're off to the Hill,” he says. “When we can have people coming in who are living in the backyard of that congressman, particularly when they employ people in their districts, we can have an effect.”
Capitol Hill denizens call it “The Ask.” If you call on your senator or representative, be prepared to have him or her ask you for something back home. But he or she will also be expecting to hear what you want. If you walk into their offices without an Ask, you'll confuse them. Ask and ye shall receive—maybe.
I'll sign off with advice from two noteworthy Americans, Dale Carnegie and Woody Allen. “First ask yourself,” Carnegie once wrote, “What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.” For now, though, just lean on Woody, who said: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”