For the past few years the mail, and by implication the Postal Service, has been under attack. Although strategic and targeted responses have kept state do-not-mail laws from being passed or moving forward, the Postal Service and the people who depend upon the Postal Service, are losing the battle to win the hearts and minds of American consumers.
Recently, the Postmaster General announced that he had created a new position the Vice President of Sustainability. The Postal Service is developing and sharing with its work force fact sheets that discuss the Postal Service's accomplishments in "being green," the value of the mail, and ways consumers can "manage their mail." Personally, I do not think this is enough.
I think the Postal Service needs a Vice President of Survival. Just in case I get a chance to interview for the job, here is what I would tell the Postal Service it needs to do.
The Postal Service cannot let the dialogue focus around issues of "consumer choice" or the "environment." The more time we spend talking about the mail in these terms, the more we pay homage to the buzzwords of those who don't care if the Postal Service and the jobs it anchors survive.
Even if the Postal Service tries to do damage control and stay out of the fray by saying, "We just deliver," this argument or position is also a loser. It's too passive.
Big Brown and Dominos deliver. The Postal Service needs to focus, and get out the word, about what makes the Postal Service special.
The Postal Service needs to be LOUD and PROUD about its mission. If I were the Vice President of Survival, I would be a mail missionary. I would make it my job to persuade postal stakeholders, including customers, consumers, the labor force and others to become mail missionaries.
The Postal Service has a Constitutional mission to connect the country together. It is the only free access, universal communication channel. The Postal Service is sender-supported. There are no subscription or access fees.
The Postal Service runs on volume. On print and paper.
Any attack on mail volumes, print or paper, whether in the form of a law or a consumer movement that would curtail mail volume, would destroy the Postal Service and its ability to deliver on its mission.
Here are the messages that the Postal Service should be promoting. Let me make it clear. These are not lobbying messages. They are messages about the critical, country-connecting mission of the Postal Service.
1. Free Speech. Mailers have a right to send a message to all consumers as long as they pay the postage. There is no "right" to opt-out or choose what mail you want or do not want to receive. The right to send is part of the economic underpinning of the right to have access for free.
2. Economic Equity and Affordable Service. The Postal Service delivers mail and packages to a lot of people who depend upon mail delivery. Frequently these people receive very little mail but the mail they get is important to them. The housebound person who shops by mail, the senior who gets prescription drugs by mail, and the many households who get benefit checks, or payments by mail that are essential for their rent, food and expenses, are postal dependents.
The ability of the USPS to reach all households affordably and regularly is paid for by postage payers who want to reach all consumers and businesses. Much of the volume that underwrites the Postal Service's network is advertising mail.
Any law, or consumer movement, that would give consumers a choice or incentive to opt out of the mail, or "redline" their mailbox, is elitist. There are a lot of "haves" in this country who get mail advertising from many sources. Most of these "haves" are wired, have cable, computers, Blackberrys, and Palm Pilots.
The "haves" do not need the Postal Service lifeline to get goods, services, and communications. Giving the well-connected upper crust some right to declare their mailbox a "gated community" will discriminate against the rates and services available to those who do not have so many communication choices.
3. Unrestricted Mail Promotes A Free Market System and More Jobs. The Postal Service has helped numerous small businesses get in business and stay in business.
The Postal Service helps businesses of all sizes with new products, services, and a way to reach consumers with "a better mouse trap." For the past 25 years I have worked with an organization of small business advertisers. I have heard their testimonials about how coupons, shared mail packages, and classified ads in free papers help them get in business and stay in business. The mail remains the most democratic and accessible way a small business service provider, retailer, home-based business, or handyperson can target and reach a small-to-large audience.
I remember the story of a recently-divorced woman who lost everything and only knew how to clean houses. She sent a coupon in the mail to some well-heeled communities offering her services. What would have happened to her if these "we've-got-enough-mail-thank-you" households had declared their mailbox off-limits to mail paid for by senders?
America's economic growth has historically been fueled by consumer spending. Anything that hurts or limits the rights of businesses to reach existing and potential customers hurts the American economy as a whole. It will hurt America's small businesses, self-employed, and home service businesses the most. These are the businesses that are most dependent upon affordable and locally targeted mail.
Advertising is the fuel that helps businesses get in business and stay in business. You cannot just "build it" and hope they come. As a consumer, there are lots of great products and ideas I would never have discovered but for the coupons, catalogs, and mail offers that come to my door.
4. Mail Is Good. Mail shopping is fun and environmentally friendly. Lots of people like to shop. With the high cost of gas, traffic congestion, and the press of time, window shopping and mall-walking is not always possible. I would urge the Postal Service to promote and partner with the mailing industry about the pleasures of clipping coupons, cruising through catalogs, and finding values in circulars and shoppers.
The Postal Service should NOT be shaping its message by consumer opinion polls. If the Postal Service believes it has a mission, and believes it is doing the right thing, start telling people why. Create and share your message and story based on your own convictions.
What do I think makes the Postal Service special?
The Postal Service has REACH. The Postal Service's ability to serve all, affordably and regularly, depends upon its ability to reach all.
The Postal Service, and the industry, needs to stop playing defense.
The Postal Service is driving America's greenest, most democratic and affordable, SUV. That stands for SERVICE that is UNIVERSAL and VOLUME supported.
The Postal Service has a national network, touching and connecting all, that's powered by print products and paper.
It is time for the Postal Service to start being LOUD and PROUD.