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USPS to Launch New Standard-A Mail Programs

The U.S. Postal Service is set to launch a series of mail programs designed to increase Standard-A mail volume, Marty Emery, the agency's manager of marketing integration, said yesterday.

The programs include everything from a full-fledged advertising campaign designed to aggressively promote the value of direct mail, to new pricing options designed to attract new direct mail usage.

The postal service is concerned that Standard-A mail volumes, though stable, are starting to be threatened by other forms of advertising such as the Internet, and that Standard-A mail growth eventually may be cut in half, Emery said.

“If you look at the last five years, our Standard-A mail product has grown 4.5 percent per year on average,” Emery said. “For 2000 to 2002, we are projecting a growth level of 2 percent, and for the years 2003 to 2008, we are projecting a growth of 2.1 percent.”

As a result, Emery said, “we have to kind of reinvent and jump-start the direct mail product. We need to get an education campaign out there. … There's a lot of new advertising folks in the market that are expressly geared toward the Internet, and I frankly think a whole lot of them really don't understand the value and power of direct mail. We want to instill that into the marketplace again.”

An advertising campaign, to begin in early fall in time for the fall mailing season, will be geared in part toward dot-com companies. It will be called, “Direct Mail Makes All Other Media Work Better.”

The theme of this year's campaign will differ from the themes of years past, when the USPS tried to persuade mailers to use only direct mail, Emery said. Instead, this year, “we want to position direct mail as a medium that, if combined with other media such as the Internet, it can do things for you that other media can't,” he said.

The advertising campaign will most likely contain mass media, trade print and direct mail components.

“If we can't successfully execute a direct mail campaign to sell you [our] service, I don't know how anybody would expect that direct mail would be useful to somebody else,” Emery said.

Though Emery could not say what the advertising program would cost, he said that the postal service's Board of Governors would probably approve money for it by July.

Emery also could not say which agency would handle the program, because the USPS' contracts with its advertising agencies are up in July, and the postal service is in the middle of a resolicitation. The USPS currently uses four advertising agencies for various functions, including Young & Rubicam, New York; Foote Cone & Belding, New York; DraftWorldwide, Chicago; and Frankel & Co., Chicago.

The USPS also plans to measure and improve service expectations from Standard-A mail through the agency's existing tracking systems.

“Currently, we do not measure service performance for Standard-A, and it is something we are working very hard to fix,” Emery said.

The USPS would use two of its systems to track performance, according to Emery: Confirm, and Delivery Confirmation for Bundles — also called Advance. Confirm is a USPS product that uses a 12-digit barcode called the Planet Code, which collects location and time data about the company's mailings as they move through the automated mail-processing flow. Advance tracks delivery information about Standard-A mail bundles.

In both cases, the services would allow the USPS to understand where the agency may have problems operationally, as well as “[to] portray to Standard-A customers the ideal makeup for their mail and let them know how deeply into the system they need to drop their mail to better assure themselves that we will hit their in-home delivery date,” Emery said.

Currently, Emery said, “it's kind of a guessing game on where we have problems. If a mailer said that we delivered your mail six days late, it is virtually impossible for us to track backward and understand why it was late and what parts of the operation did not run smoothly.”

The USPS will also establish service performance measurements based on these systems to track single-day, two-day and two- to four-day delivery performance.

Emery said this program eventually would evolve to offer direct mailers date-certain delivery opportunities, through which mailers can ensure that their mail pieces will be in a specific customer's mailbox on a specific day.

Lastly, Emery said the agency is exploring ways to make the price of Standard-A mail more attractive. Pricing options he envisions include:

* risk-sharing and seasonal discount opportunities;

* re-examining the relevance of existing work sharing categories and discounts;

* exploring opportunities to simplify pricing schedules.

However, Emery said many of these programs could not take place until the passage of H.R. 22, the Postal Modernization Act, “or some kind of fairly significant postal reform to give us the flexibility to do this. Right now it is a little difficult.”

H.R. 22 is on its way to being passed. Insiders said a streamlined version of the bill would be reintroduced as early as this week by John McHugh, R-NY, chairman of the postal service subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee. The bill will not include the controversial proposal to set up a private law corporation and will be free of other controversial language, insiders said.

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