March 3 2008 03:32 PM

Just before Christmas, a family member confessed to me that he had signed up on Green Dimes to get his name off of a number of mailing lists. He said he held off as long as he could, but after getting 11 catalogs in one day for three straight days he had had enough. This family member is a dyed-in-the-wool, free-market, rah-rah type one who understands why companies advertise and why they market aggressively to reach their targeted audiences in the most effective and efficient way they can. He had simply reached his tipping point. Mail had become a nuisance.


And that, my friends, is a real challenge for the industry. Do Not Mail legislation is a serious threat because it takes only one state to pass a bill and then commerce is disrupted. We as an industry can argue successfully against Do Not Mail bills, I believe, on the economic value of mail. We can debunk the environmental myths that proponents of Do Not Mail legislation toss around very carelessly.


Indeed, the Mail Moves America Coalition, industry groups and the Postal Service's unions and management associations have done an excellent job explaining to state and federal lawmakers the value of mail to the economy. When a united group of mailers, suppliers and labor representatives walks into a state lawmaker's office and explains that 8,000 people in the state are directly employed in mail marketing and another 59,000 jobs are made possible by direct marketing, it resonates. It's an argument that politicians understand, and once they hear it, they seriously consider whether a Do Not Mail registry really makes sense.


It's a much different and bigger challenge "to win the hearts and minds" of American consumers, to borrow a phrase. But it's a challenge we must tackle head-on. In fact, it's really the heart of the matter. If consumers are convinced that mail is filling the nation's landfills, despite the fact that discarded direct mail makes up only 2.4% of municipal solid waste, then we have to work harder to present the facts. We have to mute the environmentalists' argument because it's not rational. Oh, it's easy. Environmental groups are tapping the current mood in America toward going green. So, it's easy to say mail is filling our landfills. But it's a tiny percentage of municipal solid waste, and the recycling recovery rate of mail has grown nearly 700% since 1990, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. We need to make our voices heard.


If consumers believe that a Northwest state is being deforested to produce mailings, despite the fact that we have more forests in the US today than we did 50 years ago, then we have to get out in front of that myth as well. Old growth forests are not harvested to make direct mail paper. We need to make these facts known.


And if Joe and Jane Consumer believe that unsolicited advertising mail is cluttering up their end table, then we have to do something about that as well. Remind them how to use the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service. Tell them how to call or email the catalog company or nonprofit organization and ask to be taken off the list. Explain how to get off pre-screened credit and insurance offers. Ask them to recycle their paper products, much as they do their newspapers.


We, as mailers, also need to scrub our lists. I know that many advertising mailers go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to address hygiene. They don't want to spend money on postage for two identical pieces to the same address. They don't want to send a catalog to someone who throws it away without opening it. But there are some other organizations out there that don't bother to clean their lists. They look at the costs of using address hygiene products and come to the incorrect conclusion that it's not worth the money. It's incorrect because they are not factoring in the cost of lost opportunity. That is, the loss of a sale because a mailpiece doesn't reach its intended audience.


But if you really want to talk about lost opportunities and added costs, think about life under a Do Not Mail registry. Again, even if it's in one state, it's a major hurdle to commerce. Think about the costs of maintaining a database that includes all the information you would need to keep straight. Think about how you would need to prove an existing relationship. Think about the costs to your company of finding other ways to reach your market, many of them not nearly as targeted as direct mail.


That's why we, as an industry, have to do our part to get out in front of this issue. We have to remain engaged and stay united. I encourage anyone who wants more information on this topic to visit the Mail Moves America Coalition website, You'll find lots of interesting facts on the site and ways to get involved. If you choose another way to get involved, that's great. too. Just do it, to borrow another slogan. Your livelihood might just depend on it.


Kate Muth is VP of the Association for Postal Commerce. Email her at or call 703-524-0096. For more info on theassociation, visit