Postal Partnerships Offer Promise

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The recent National Postal Forum offered a bevy of information, much useful, some interesting and other suitable for the company's reference files. Useful, of course, is an individual perspective. One might categorize no planned postage increase until well into 2004 as useful information compared with the U.S. Postal Service budget deficit being reduced by a hefty percentage as merely interesting. Both are important facts but the value level depends on where you sit.


Many, if not most, segments of the direct marketing industry are affected by this prolonged economic downturn. By a number of measures the term "recession" can be rightly applied to the present times. However, investing in attending the semiannual Postal Forums provides, I believe, a valuable ROI in terms of capturing a current perspective on industry matters (after dissecting the usual gloss and hyperbole). No outward attempts to paint a falsely bright or glowing picture of the immediate future were noticed at this conference. However, three promising business situations were presented, and all involve partnerships.


The first was a highly visible and symbolic alliance between USPS management and the National Association of Letter Carriers. It was outstanding to see postmaster general John E. Potter and NALC president Vincent Sombrotto come together as a team embarking on a new fiscal year with an eye toward improving efficiencies throughout the system. This was a milestone and reminiscent of a similar historic occasion three decades ago in the automobile industry.


An important retail partnership was announced with Hallmark Cards. Hallmark Gold Crown stores will begin selling some USPS products including stamps, Express and Priority Mail services. Gold Crown high-traffic locations will afford shoppers (mostly First-Class mailers) the convenience of completing their gift-buying and mailing process with ease. Not so coincidently, this comes just in time for the holiday season. We all know that First-Class mail is down. Making it more convenient for mailers to use the medium, including spontaneously sending a card and note, improves the present condition.


Mike Critelli, CEO of Pitney Bowes and industry chair of the Mail Industry Task Force Steering Committee, spoke of the progress the 20-plus workgroups have made on key initiatives.


"The good ideas developed in 2001 have been able to move quickly from concept to reality because of the remarkable collaboration between industry members and [the] postal service," Critelli said.


John Nolan, deputy postmaster general and postal chair of the task force, added, "The mailing industry shares the understanding that a vital postal service providing universal communication and delivery service to the American people is critically important."


The third important advancement was made by the steering committee with the establishment of a separate, independent Mailing Industry CEO Council, which was incorporated as a nonprofit business league. Its main purpose is to unify the fragmented mailing industry, and one of its initial efforts is to build congressional support for legislative advance of the Postal Service Transformation Plan. An ad campaign has launched to inform policy makers and other influencers of the crucial role that mail plays in American business and lives.


This is an area where we all can help our industry. Here's the message: The mailing industry employs 9 million Americans and generates about $900 billion in revenue, a staggering 8 percent of the country's gross national product. One council initiative is to translate those powerful statistics to congressional districts so each of us can inform our representatives of the effect this has on our respective communities. This message needs to be conveyed for two reasons.


The obvious reason is to inform our state and federal representatives of the importance of our industry and the sheer number of voters that serve it. The not-so-obvious reason is to inform ourselves of the valuable role we play in our local, state and national economy.


Our mail industry is fragmented, the nature of which causes many to look to our own interests (buy my services/products). It is to our individual company benefit to work as integrated partners with the postal service, helping it streamline operations while also understanding the value that mail plays in our economy. That better perspective will encourage greater use of mail, which means more business for our companies.


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