Postal Relief Is Just a Perception Away

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As most mailers know, the U.S. Postal Service announced proposed changes to the Direct Mail Manual in the Federal Register last month that relate to material eligible for mailing at Standard mail postage rates. The amendments propose to clarify the personal information issue, which has been under intense review in recent months.


What few appreciate is the unusual sense of timing related to this matter.


First, let's talk about bad timing! This interrelated issue of mail standard consistency and consistency of mail acceptance has been under review by the Mailers Technical Advisory Council - right in the midst of House and Senate hearings on the USPS' future.


Now let's acknowledge the good news on timing. In the brief period of 90 days, the matter has been discussed at the last quarterly MTAC meeting, a work group established, industry associations weighed in with debate and the USPS submitted its proposed amendment to the Direct Mail Manual.


Issue. In general, financial mailers and others have complained that business mail acceptance clerks at one USPS bulk mail entry unit require personalized advertising and promotional matter to be mailed at First-Class rates while clerks at another unit let the same mail piece go at Standard rates. Such situations have become exacerbated when the same or similar piece was previously approved as Standard mail and now is classified as First-Class matter.


The crux of the problem rests in:


• Definition of what personalized matter will be acceptable in Standard mail pieces.


• Restrictions, if any, on what personalized matter qualifies for Standard mail.


• Consistency of acceptance at USPS business mail entry units.


Dialogue. Industry organizations such as Major Mailers Association, Association for Postal Commerce and Mailing Fulfillment and Service Association have submitted clarification suggestions to the MTAC work group. And now the USPS, with its Federal Register notice, has presented its plan to draw a bolder line between the two mail classes.


The USPS proposes that personal information be permitted in advertising and solicitation mail sent at Standard rates only when advertising or solicitation is the exclusive purpose of the piece and personal information is included solely to increase the effectiveness of the advertising or solicitation. As stated, "the proposed changes are intended to create a 'bright line' concerning the inclusion of personal information in Standard mail."


Debate. With placement of this notice in the Federal Register, the 60-day comment period remains open until June 19. Concerns already have been raised by the nonprofit sector, and questions abound as to the appropriateness of message singularity or how it will be determined. Also, and perhaps more importantly, a suggestion has been made to have mail piece examples displayed at acceptance centers. This bears consideration because as we all know, visual examples offer quick reference for comparison for mail preparer and acceptance clerk alike.


Perspective. Is there an acceptance issue? If so, how encompassing is it; i.e., system wide or restricted to certain districts or areas? Surprisingly, the "issue" is virtually nonexistent. In cooperation with the preparation of this article, the postal service reviewed business mail activity since January. The research found that an average of 100,000 business mailings were submitted weekly to the USPS' business mail entry units, with fewer than two mail classification challenges in each weekly period. Said another way, only 21 challenges have been submitted through April.


Very interesting.


Two of this year's most volatile concerns - Merlin 0000/9999 extensions and consistency - have all the appearance of being issues of miscommunication more than issues of pure substance. Why is that?


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