Challenges Ahead for Mailers, Printers and the USPS

For many printers 2009 was a challenging year of sales decreases; the result of less business from top customers and increased competition for new business from prospects. For printers who are also mailers, mail volume was off as customers had less money to spend on advertising or decided to move mailing dollars to e-marketing alternatives.

The year was extremely challenging for the USPS. Mail volume declined by an unprecedented 28 billion pieces—about 14 percent—to 176 billion pieces. Two forces were at work: the overall economy and the continuing, decade-long shift to Internet-based communication tools.

In July 2009 the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued its High Risk Series report and returned the USPS to its list of high risk areas “needing attention by Congress and the executive branch to achieve broad-based transformation.” (The USPS was last on the list in 2005.) The GAO predicts that mail volume will remain flat over the next five years, which means the USPS will not generate enough revenue to cover expenses and financial obligations.

The Do Not Mail Movement
In both 2007 and 2008, standard mail, which is dominated by advertising mail, provided $20.6 billion of the $74.9 billion and $66.5 billion, respectively, of total USPS revenue, making it an increasingly important part of the USPS financial picture. In an unwelcome and coincidental development, 2007 also saw the introduction in 15 states of legislation to curb the use of advertising mail.

Advocated by several organizations that are part of the Do Not Mail (DNM) movement, the legislation is modeled on the national Do Not Call registry and aims to create a registry of households that have opted out of receiving advertising mail. In 2007, DNM legislation was introduced in 15 state legislatures. In 2008, 12 states were considering DNM, and in 2009 DNM saw additional local involvement in Berkeley, CA, San Francisco, and Seattle. All told, 19 states and three communities have or are considering DNM legislation. There is no federal DNM legislation under consideration.

The DNM registry would operate like Do Not Call—a consumer would enroll in the registry, which then would be distributed to direct mail marketers as a suppression list. Advertisers who ignore the registry would be subject to a fine for each infraction.

Proponents of DNM policies claim that advertising mail is harmful to the environment, makes individuals more susceptible to identity theft and consumer fraud, and is a nuisance. Opponents cite counter claims to refute harmful environmental impact and claim that identity theft and fraud are rare. They also cite studies showing that of all possible advertising methods, including telemarketing and unsolicited e-mail (i.e.: spam), direct mail is preferred by consumers.

In 2009, Postmaster General John Potter took issue with the attacks on advertising delivered via the mail. “Somehow, they think a sale offer coming through the mail—as opposed to a newspaper, a magazine, TV, radio or the Internet—is a bad thing. Ads pay for the Internet, as well as broadcast TV and radio programs,” he said during a speech in October 2009 at the National Press Club. “So, too, ad mail helps pay for universal mail service in America.”

Mail Moves America, a coalition of the Direct Marketing Association and Printing Industries of America, whose executive director Ben Cooper is a former lobbyist for PIA, is spearheading the opposition to DNM legislation. Its Web site, www.mailmovesamerica.org, has facts about the economic impact of advertising mail as well as statistics that provide a different perspective on the environmental impact of ad mail. It points out, for example, that most paper is made from trees grown specifically for that purpose—a sustainable and renewable harvest—and that most advertising mail is recycled. Mail Moves America also has statistics on the economic impact of advertising mail.

The direct mail marketing industry currently provides a way for consumers who do not want to receive advertising mail to register their preference. Since 1971 the DMA has offered an opt-out preference system for catalog and other advertising on its Web site (www.dmachoice.org). The consumer credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian, Innovis and Transunion provide a registry for credit and insurance mail offers at www.optoutprescreen.com. DirectMail.com also offers a registry at its Web site (www.directmail.com).

Why Printers Should Care
The decreasing use of advertising mail because of the economy and e-marketing options, as well as the threat to advertising mail represented by the Do Not Mail movement, should be of concern to all printers—even those who are not mailers—because advertising and marketing image pieces are an important part of any printer's business mix. Even if you are personally sympathetic to the goals of the Do Not Mail movement, consider these reasons to support advertising mail:

  1. Benefits small and local businesses. Direct mail advertising is an important tool for small and local businesses to reach potential customers. Unlike radio or television advertising, billboards and telemarketing, direct mail marketing is within the budgetary reach of small business.
  2. Not intrusive. Unlike spam or telemarketing, a direct mail piece doesn't intrude on or interrupt the recipient from other activities.
  3. Targeted. Direct mail advertising is best for marketing in small geographic areas—often a goal of small and local businesses.

What Printers Can Do
One way to help preserve and encourage advertising mail is to be informed and responsible. Sometimes advocacy groups such as those involved in the Do Not Mail initiative dramatize the facts or present them in a biased context. Be prepared with an alternate explanation or counter argument to reassure your customers that advertising mail is not harmful. Visit www.mailmovesamerica.org for more information.

Keep mail that is undeliverable as addressed out of the mail stream.

Make sure that all mailings comply with USPS move update requirements and educate your customers on the benefits of updating a mail list with NCOA return information.

Refine the target audience and focus content on it. Rather than sending generalized mailings to a broad audience, break the target audience into segments and craft a specific message for each segment.

Use direct mail advertising in your own business so you know its effectiveness and limitations. Enable yourself to speak from experience to advocate for direct mail marketing.

Nancy DeDiemar is the president of Printing Resources of Southern California, a quick print shop in Upland, Calif., offering printing, copying, electronic prepress, and mailing services. She is the co-publisher of Printips (www.printips.com), a newsletter subscription service for printers. Contact her at nancy@printingresources.com. This article is available as a podcast at www.quickprinting.com/podcast and from iTunes.

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