Five PMGs Urge Change if USPS Wants to Continue

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SAN ANTONIO -- The U.S. Postal Service must alter how it does business if it is to thrive in today's global environment, the present and four past postmasters general told 2,000 attendees at the National Postal Forum here this week. The conference ended yesterday.

The panel -- which was led by current Postmaster General William J. Henderson and included Marvin T. Runyon (1992-98); Albert V. Casey (1986); Paul N. Carlin (1985) and Benjamin F. Bailar (1975-78) -- covered topics such as privatization, deregulation, competition from companies like United Parcel Service as well as overseas postal services, legislative reform and technological initiatives. Panel members agreed that the USPS' monopoly is about to disappear and that the freedom to compete is a challenge the agency is more than ready to tackle.

"I think that if the change -- the end of the monopoly -- were made, the postal service should make an unequivocal commitment that it would retain universal service by providing delivery to every home and business throughout the United States," Carlin said.

The popular support of the public is paramount in these endeavors, Casey said, while Runyon added, "Some of our customers like it the way it is. Some of our customers would like to see changes made that we wouldn't care for at all. Somehow, we've got to get it all together and move forward."

In summarizing his opinion on the future of the postal service, Carlin made a direct appeal to the audience, saying Henderson has laid out a challenge to the mailing community that stresses the importance of becoming more technologically savvy and more competitive, but was surprised to hear the deafening silence in response to the challenges.

"The time has come," he said, "for all of the customers and all of the members of the management team to join in the debate to solve the problem [these changes will bring]."

While these lofty issues, along with the Postal Modernization Act of 1999 <B>(see story, page 3),<B> are important to mailers, direct marketing attendees were less interested in the USPS' future and more interested in its present. They expressed concern about whether the recently announced budget cuts would affect service, how they can work with the postal service to improve their address quality and what is the best way to explain the USPS' processes and procedures to their customers.

Laura Zimmerman, vice president at C-E Communications, Warren, MI, a marketing and public relations agency that offers database marketing services to companies such as Continental Airlines, was at the forum to find out how she could improve the company's loyalty club database.

"The standards are very different all over the world, and I have to make sure I am addressing mail that is going to Japan properly. And, soon, I will have to do this in Hebrew for mail that is going to Israel," she said.

Janey Walker, an account manager at Presort Partners, Los Angeles, a presort house that serves many direct marketing customers, attended some of the forum's educational sessions so she can explain to her customers the different procedures and rules that take place within the postal service.

"My clients don't have the manpower to do this," she said, "and this is where we can bring a value-added service to our relationships."

Other direct mailers were trying to decipher when -- and if -- the USPS would start a measurement program to track Standard-A mail service performance. While the postal service has been testing and measuring First-Class mail independently with PriceWaterhouseCoopers for some time, there is no service measurement program for Standard A -- and mailers want one.

"We certainly would love to see the postal service pay more attention to this," said Barry D. Brennan, director of postal affairs at the Mail Advertising Service Association, Alexandria, VA. "There is an MTAC work group studying this right now, but we'll have to wait and see."

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