Feb. 4 2014 03:25 PM

This is the theme of this year's National Postal Forum. A strong industry/postal partnership existed from the inception of bulk 3rd class mail until 2001, when John Potter was appointed Postmaster General. With his ascension to the top spot, those within the USPS that felt the Postal Service should control all aspects of direct mail (from inception to delivery) were turned loose on our industry and severely damaged the government/industry bond that had taken 25 years to build.

As strange as it may seem, current postal management are oblivious to two basic facts. First, none of my customers over the last 30 years ever wanted to deal with the Postal Service, its rules, regulations, or employees. None, not one, not ever. This is why mail owners continue to hire mail service providers (MSPs)! Most mail owners do not want to be contacted by postal sales people or ex-mail carriers recently promoted to marketing genius. Most of my customers have encountered enough postal employees to know they needed a scarred (experienced) professional to be a buffer between them and the governmental monopoly tasked with delivering their mail. Postal bureaucrats need to face the startling truth that trying to convince existing mail owners to bring mail preparation services in house are futile, disruptive to the industry, and a waste of money. All this effort does is confuse customers, generate animosity from industry supporters, and drive volume out of the mail stream.

The second undeniable fact? Preparing mail to meet postal standards is very complex and difficult! It takes dedicated professionals to learn then track changes in rules and regulations so they can educate their employees (and occasionally postal employees) in proper mail preparation. As for the data and software expertise now required to produce Full Service mailings, you need a four year degree from MIT to keep up. Mail production is not ground that new mail owners can plow successfully!

Management's belief that occasional mailers can produce direct mail campaigns meeting DMM requirements is a group-think delusional fantasy. This delusional group-think is equal to some of the greats such as Jim Jones, or the group that committed suicide in order to catch a ride on a passing (alien) space ship. What the Postal Service needs is a reality check, not a top down self-deceptive ideology promoted as marketing salvation!

Take the challenge it will change the way you do business.

A true reality check would be for Postal Senior VPs to independently take their years of postal experience and attempt to produce two simple mailings the way a small business person would. Let them take 10,000 names stored in a database using a 1997 version of Excel and update the entire list to meet the move update standards using NCOA. After the total list has been updated, produce one mailing consisting of 5,000 pieces of a multipage personalized letter mailed in an envelope. The remaining addresses should be used in a second mailing consisting of a multi-panel self-mailer weighing more than one ounce. All work should be completed by them in their office or at home, by hand. This is where and how occasional mailers would prepare their mailings. The only human assistance should be postal help desks, their local BMEU, or MDA if they can find one. Of course, they can use online postal resources to endlessly search for elusive information about mail preparation and acceptance rules, regulations and policies.

To accomplish these two simple mailings the VPs will need to work with the Customer Gateway, the Postal One! Help desk (won't that be interesting), Ribbs (to get the IMB font(?) and other helpful information) and usps.com (to get updated DMM rules). They will of course have to become Full Service approved, get the mailpiece design requirements correct (good luck with that), make sure their mailings meet content requirements, produce the mail in a manner that will pass Merlin (no more than five percent skew when hand applying address labels with barcodes), prepare the mailing with the proper tab configuration, take the mailing to the acceptance unit in their car, deal with acceptance personnel at the local BMEU, track their two mailings to delivery (IMB Tracing) and of course update their data file with the free ACS information returned post mailing (but only if they used the correct STID and endorsement). And one more thing, they need to do all this as they keep up with their current duties and responsibilities. After all this is what they believe small business people should be able to do!

There is no one at headquarters capable of producing direct mail start to finish. None!

The fact is postal management will not take my direct mail challenge because they do not have the time nor expertise. But neither do the small business owners they are trying to sell on the concept of DIY direct mail. The only DIY direct mail campaign occasional mailers might find time to complete is a simple letter or postcard with a first class stamp. By the way this kind of direct mail marketing has tremendous value for its simplicity and very low cost. This is the mail the USPS should be promoting to small businesses. For anything larger than a couple hundred pieces, the Postal Service should be recommending the use of their partners, print and mail service providers.

Who knows, maybe I'll be surprised at the Postal Forum this year. Maybe "Stronger Together" means the USPS will have come to its senses. Maybe they will ask what they can do to help MSPs sell more mail. Maybe they will tell us that their sales force will be re-tasked to support our sales efforts rather than attempting to divert our customers. Maybe postal management will be on stage telling us that they are moving development dollars from building competing software products into new advertising programs that emphasize the value of direct mail and the ease with which its partners (MSPs) can produce marketing campaigns cost effectively.

I know I'm delusional. I'm just waiting for that spaceship to swing back this way and beam me up!