The Need for 1 Chief for Direct Mail

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We've all heard the old saw, "all chiefs and no Indians," which, of course, means all bosses and no workers.


Yet in most (if not all) large companies that use direct mail for customer communications and prospecting, the opposite is true. The worker bee cadre involved in the mail process is strong, but without singular managerial oversight.


That's not to say managers up the food chain aren't accountable for the many functions of the direct mail process. Quite the contrary, there are many who contribute to the deployment of every campaign.


For example, beyond the mailroom itself, strategists plan programs that use mail as an outreach tool; product managers build and maintain company business using the mail medium singularly or as part of their media mix; programmers process external and internal lists, preparing them for mail; accounting departments carry direct mail on the books as a line-item expense; and postal affairs managers keep companies abreast of changes at the U.S. Postal Service.


Ownership. However, none of these positions holds complete ownership of the medium and all it entails. I think it can be argued that lack of full accountability constitutes a breach of management responsibility.


The argument is supported by millions of dollars linked to an array of best practices associated with issues affecting the industry and medium. Best practices, for example, can be attributed to successful lobbying of postal reform to prevent extreme rate increases or, equally important to the bottom line, retroactive loss of postage discounts because of noncompliance of postal regulations.


Though large-volume mailers carry million-dollar budgets for the purpose of generating millions more in revenue, operating without a designated chief doesn't suggest that malfeasance runs amok. Lines of responsibility are well in place in virtually all types of businesses. The issue raised is one of direct and complete accountability.


Concerns. Do present organization structures provide checks and balances to ensure:


· Cost-containment measures are employed fully?


· Highest degree of mail accuracy procedures are in place?


· Compliance of work-share requirements?


· Are oversight programs in place to monitor, participate or respond to the billion-dollar issues affecting the mail industry? For example:


· To what extent is the company "contributing" to the undeliverable problem?


· What action is being taken to comply with the USPS-planned implementation of "finest depth of code" review on Merlin equipment? Evaluating cost consequences? Analyzing technical preparation requirements?


· What are the cost ramifications of the Consistency of Mailing Standards and Business Mail Acceptance Issue presently under review? Are any mail programs using Standard class being required to increase to First-Class rates? What options are being considered?


· Does the change in the postal service's mail mix - increase in Standard mail and decrease in First-Class mail - affect your operations? Will it in future rate cases?


· Is your company taking advantage of the USPS Intelligent Mail capability to capture real-time "trace and track" information on outbound and inbound mail? What efficiencies can this service bring to customer service and other company operations?


· Each issue has bearing on companies' financial pictures. It is quite possible that either inadequate attention is paid or insufficient priority assigned to one or more changeable, unpredictable direct mail issues unless there is a central reporting structure culminating at a senior position.


Therefore, I advocate the position of chief direct mail officer be established on equal footing with a company's chief marketing officer, chief information officer and chief finance officer. I also should mention that the title "direct mail" was chosen over "postal affairs" to underscore the importance of the medium, which employs 9 million Americans and generates $900 billion, about 8 percent of the gross domestic product.


This may be considered radical thinking to many, but is it? It is hoped that academia will weigh in, particularly with an appreciation of what is being taught in business schools today and what change of corporate organization structure is envisioned in the future.


Key associations - i.e., major mailers - are encouraged to present opinion on factors such as need and value. What is your opinion?


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