Feb. 23 2007 04:37 PM

I have been reading so many postal-related publications lately that I'm thinking of starting a book club. The new postal law alone requires a close and repeated read. But there's also the Postal Service's annual report, its comprehensive statement on postal operations and its annual progress report on its Strategic Transformation Plan. And those are just the publications issued in the first two months of the year.


Further, the new postal law requires some 30-odd reports or studies to be done in the coming years on such topics as modern rate setting, service standards, universal service and worksharing. Whew! someone open the Chardonnay, call up Oprah and let's start a reading group.


My fear is that when too many reports are issued, no one reads them. Sometimes, the reports are so similar that they seem a rehash of a previous one. Another concern is that many of the reports that come out of the Postal Service are an internal exercise. Yes, I know that's the nature of these types of reports. I mean, you aren't going to study Pentagon operations or the profit and loss statement of Apple to determine whether the Postal Service met its strategic goals this past year.


But what I'd like to suggest is a very simple exercise, and it doesn't even need to be a formal report. I would like the Postal Service to go out and talk with its customers. In particular, go talk to the marketing people. Bring the operations people along for the discussion. See what the marketers think is working and what types of mailpieces they want to put in the mail. What trends do they see in mailpiece design? What types of pieces are getting the best response rates?


I read in the USPS' recent progress report on its Strategic Transformation Plan that the U.S. Postal Service created a new sales department organizational structure in 2006. (Yes, I actually read these reports!) There now are four regional sales managers, which the USPS expects will result in more focused account management and bring management closer to customers. Hopefully, these regional sales managers are out talking to commercial customers. My suggestion: Visit with the marketers as well as the distribution people. Ask them: "How can we make being in mail easier for you?" I'm pretty sure they would hear the marketers say, "Don't restrict the type of pieces I can put in the mail." I'm also pretty sure they'd see the distribution team at the company nod in agreement.


Ask them if a move toward standardization in mail processing systems will hinder their creativity. Or are companies willing to pay a little more per piece to mail what they want, regardless of the size or shape? If they aren't, how do we bridge this gap? Where do commercial customers see the opportunities under the new postal law? In particular, where do they think the Postal Service should be looking for opportunities?


How about showcasing the Draft Worldwides and the Campbell-Ewalds of the world at every postal educational gathering to talk about trends in marketing. Where do they see these companies spending their advertising dollars? Why have some of the advertising media seen growth and others a decline? What ways can we make mail more attractive as a marketing medium? Package this performance and issue it nationally through the Postal Customer Council workshops.


I bet the Postal Service will find some very interesting information out there all of it valuable for shaping the future business of the postal system. Who knows, it might even warrant a new report.


Kate Muth is Vice President of the Association for Postal Commerce, a trade association in Arlington, Virginia, that represents the interests of mail-related businesses before Congress, the Postal Service and the Postal Rate Commission. She has studied and written on postal topics for the past 12 years. You can reach her at kmuth@postcom.org or 703-524-0096. For more information on the association, visit www.postcom.org.