April 29 2008 10:25 AM

The various segments that make up the mailing industry sometimes find themselves at odds with each other. In the old days, First-Class Mailers would wrangle with Standard Mail users over cost coverage issues in rate cases. In the final omnibus rate case under the old law, we saw a little of that in-fighting between letter mailers and flat mailers. 


The industry sometimes finds itself at odds with the unions on certain issues that come before Congress. And at one time or another, we've all found ourselves on opposite sides of the fence with the Postal Service. One thing we all agree on, however, is that we want and need this nation's postal system to thrive. I submit it's not an easy proposition.


Mail volume has been flat or in decline for the past few years. The industry faces threats from a number of sides: electronic diversion, Do Not Mail legislation, a weak economy, other advertising outlets and the potential for the USPS to set restrictive regulations around automation mail. Further, we do not see many bold, new marketing ideas from the Postal Service for commercial mailers of market-dominant products.


I look at the previous paragraph and I see I have listed a bunch of hurdles we face as an industry. I haven't provided a lot in the way of solutions. It reminds me of the Pete Seeger folk song, "The Talking Union." Seeger said that once the song was written, he'd realized that all he'd done was add up all the problems. The solution, he said, is "we've got to stick together."


Our mailing industry faces numerous challenges. It seems to me that the advice of an iconic folk singer might be pretty good: let's stick together. If we as an industry take on Do Not Mail together, we have a good chance of prevailing.


As I wrote in a previous column, when we harness the power of this $900 billion mailing industry, we can educate and influence legislators on the foolishness of Do Not Mail bills. We can convince them they're a bad idea for the economy. We can mute the environmental arguments with the facts about mail waste (it's miniscule in the grand scheme of waste) and the use of recycled paper in the mail (it's large and growing).


We, as an industry, need for the Postal Service's business model to work. We need to find new growth opportunities for mail. If you have an idea, don't wait for the Postal Service to come to you take it to them. I'll bet you there are people at L'Enfant Plaza who would love to hear your idea. In fact, I know they want to hear from us.


Just recently, the Postal Service's senior vice president in charge of strategic planning put a call out to the industry asking for input on the Postal Service's strategy and vision. One question she asked specifically is, "What do you see as growth opportunities for the Postal Service?" Let's not ignore this offer of input. If you don't know how to get started or whom to call at headquarters, start with your association representatives. That's what we are here for, to help you navigate the postal maze. Pick up the phone, or a pen and paper, and tell the Postal Service what it is your company needs to increase your use of mail.


As for overly prescriptive rules and regulations, this is a real danger. Many mailers worry the Postal Service is moving in the direction of tightened mail preparation rules that will help it keep its own costs low, while shoving the costs on to mailers. The industry is all for the USPS lowering its costs, but not at the expense of the industry. "Lowest-combined costs" is the solution. You'll hear this term "lowest-combined costs" a lot at industry gatherings, and it's not just the latest management buzzword like "thinking outside the box" it is the gospel for mailers and their suppliers.


I look at that word "combined" and it suggests to me that we have to work together. The Postal Service needs us and we need the Postal Service. The nation's postal system simply will not survive without one or the other. Sticking together seems a logical solution.


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. You can reach her via email at kmuth@postcom.org or by phone at 703-524-0096. For more information on the
association, visit www.postcom.org.