'Direct Mail Is Here to Stay,' Potter Tells CADM Crowd

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CHICAGO -- Postmaster general John Potter left no doubt of his bias for direct mail in a keynote speech to attendees yesterday at the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing's DM Days & Expo show here.

Despite fax, e-mail and the growth of other technologies, he told direct marketers that direct mail has a strong future.

"I'm here to tell you that direct mail is here to stay," Potter said.

Mail last year generated $423 billion in business-to-consumer sales. The industry segment, Potter said, is growing 8 percent yearly.

He praised Chicago's pioneering role in direct marketing, citing Montgomery Ward and the development of the catalog. Of course, it helped that the city was the nation's railroad center.

Potter bolstered his case for direct mail with new research on mail-led purchases. The U.S. Postal Service found that 74 percent of mail is read by customers. Only 6 percent considered advertising mail objectionable. Twenty-one percent of those surveyed took mail to stores.

Also, 13 percent of prospects made purchases online after receiving a catalog, 2 1/2 times the response of those who did not get a catalog.

Potter referred to the controversy stirred by Google's intent to enter e-mail with its Gmail service, which would serve ads based on content in e-mail messages. A recent article in The New York Times titled "In Google We Trust" was brought up.

"The issue for most Americans is privacy," Potter said. "We in the postal service are all about privacy. I believe the consumer prefers to receive direct mail because it's not intrusive."

He defended users of mail against pro-environment critics. Many mailers now use recycled paper and environment-friendly inks.

Potter took the opportunity to boast about the USPS' increased productivity, lower headcount because of attrition, endeavors with usps.com and 2,500 new self-service kiosks modeled on ATMs. The Chicago area has 24 of these kiosks.

Of course, he also brought up the woes ailing the postal service: unbending unions, crippling obligations to the employees' retirement system and much-needed legislative reform in favor of annual rate reviews instead of every three years, which leads to rate shock.

Another issue that troubled Potter was unnecessary post offices -- 2,500 each serving fewer than 200 people and 4,500 post offices with fewer than 200 deliveries.

"Now who in their right mind would open a [retail] store to serve 200 people?" Potter said.


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