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Sept. 6 2013 07:03 AM

An article in the May/June issue of this publication expressed strong criticism of trade associations, especially those that "employ ex-postal officials to lobby their friends," and implied that those associations fail to represent the interests of their members. Those allegations, and the general insinuations of the article, demand correction.

Without characterizing anyone's intentions, the March 7, 2013, meeting at USPS Headquarters assembled representatives (staff and members) of those associations whose member companies had a strong business reason to be concerned over real, potential, or perceived competitive actions by the USPS. Trade association staff represented their memberships, regardless of size, and not just those present. Not being present at the meeting does not generate a license to imply otherwise.

No trade association representing MSPs is "so afraid of losing access to postal management that they are ineffective in changing major policy decisions."â❠However, all associations deal with USPS management in a civil and businesslike fashion; this does not represent weakness or fear of being "ineffective." Rude and confrontational behavior is not indicative of strength; it's boorish and disrespectful. Professional dialogue and considering all sides of an issue are more useful than haranguing people in hopes of browbeating them into agreement. And, as one of many ex-postal employees who now work for a trade association, it's insulting and demeaning to imply that our sympathies for our former employer supersede our obligation to those whom we now represent; such a comment is offensive and false. We still have friends in the USPS but we all have our jobs to do, and we do them with mutual respect. Burning your bridges does not serve any useful purpose.

As one of the "ex-postal employees" with whom the writer has had a "heated" conversation, it appears that the problem lies more in what he wants the facts to suggest than in what they actually describe.

That the Postal Service is gathering data from postage statements is not news, nor is it as sinister as the writer implies. He insists that the agency's collection and retention of data about who mails can only serve to help it "compete with our industry." Convinced of that, he casts himself as the defender of mailing service companies against the postal monopolists, doing so without the support of trade associations to whom (for some inexplicable reason) he still belongs.

As Iâ¬ve told him, the USPS has a legitimate business right to know the identity of its customers â¬" ratepayers â¬" as well as of those intermediary service providers who prepare mail for them, and also has the right to contact them to promote what itâ¬s selling â¬" in this case, the use of hard-copy mail. The USPS does not advocate the use of any individual mailer or seek to direct business to or away from any service provider; no association or â¬Å"ex-postal employeeâ¬â staffer would tolerate that if it occurred.

Misuse of mailing information for inappropriate competitive activities would be wrong â¬" thereâ¬s no debate about that â¬" and our association has aggressively pursued the rare such incidents when theyâ¬ve occurred. At the March meeting and other times, senior postal managers have repeatedly disavowed any interest in competing with commercial service providers or misusing mailing information, and have responded effectively to every complaint weâ¬ve brought them about incidents of inappropriate selling, misuse of information, or what could be called competitive behavior. Because the writer refuses to believe those facts, or lacks personal knowledge of them, does not validate his assertions by default nor, more importantly, does not make association staff â¬" including ex-postal employees â¬"guilty of being unethical or failing to defend the interests of association members.

The writer further argues that â¬Å"the new requirements for accurate by/for information, the redefinition of mail owner, and major investments in new technology has [sic] made it clear to the apologists, the deniers, and the sheep too afraid to raise their bleating voices before being passively lead to slaughter that the USPS was indeed coming after them, their businesses, and their customers.â¬â The writer has the right to believe what he wants, but that passage hysterically misconstrues what the Postal Service is doing and why. And, as noted earlier, having such a perspective does not engender the right to accuse those who do not agree of being unethical â¬Å"apologistsâ¬â or failing to defend the interests of those whom they represent.

The article alleges that â¬Å"the desire by postal bureaucrats to expand postal services vertically into providing data and mail preparation services is nothing new,â¬â claiming heâ¬s been â¬Å"fighting against USPS competition since the fall of 1990.â¬â Only the writer know his experiences, but those should be extrapolated with caution. Few would agree with his sweeping generalization or that whatever war be believes heâ¬s been fighting really exists. Regardless, the conclusion that the Postal Service is secretly planning to compete with his (or similar) businesses is simply not supported by the facts.

Returning to the March meeting, the writer claims that it â¬Å"got very heatedâ¬â and that â¬Å"large businessesâ¬â who were â¬Å"threatened by several proposed new and or expanded postal offerings,â¬â and not the associations present, â¬Å"were effective in dissuading the USPS from providing data services.â¬â Thatâ¬s simply not true; he wasnâ¬t there and, therefore, has no basis on which to make such assertions or to conclude who was (or wasnâ¬t) effective. His characterizations of what went on at the meeting, who said what or why, and how the outcome unfolded are simply fictional embellishments designed to support his point of view and not representative of fact. Itâ¬s disingenuous for him to represent such presumptions as fact so he can adopt the role of the persecuted underdog left unprotected from â¬Å"postal bureaucratsâ¬â by feckless â¬Å"apologists and sheep.â¬â

The writer claims that associations have â¬Å"failed to stop the Postal Serviceâ¬s illegal ⬦ and unethical competition with their membership.â¬â Instead, he alleges, members have only received â¬Å"excusesâ¬â and â¬Å"requests for more detailed informationâ¬â while the associations â¬Å"have been protecting their own self-interests and pet projects.â¬â Itâ¬s unclear exactly what â¬Å"changeâ¬â was expected or what form of â¬Å"illegal and unethical competitionâ¬â was encountered. Regardless, the insinuations are off the mark. Responses that do not comport with his world-view are not â¬Å"excusesâ¬â concocted to avoid representing members⬠interests. Moreover, though the writer seems offended by being asked for â¬Å"detailed information,â¬â the simple fact is that corrective action against any real or perceived wrong cannot be taken without appropriate details; generalized griping does not support storming the gates of USPS headquarters. The â¬Å"self-interestsâ¬â of all associations include ensuring open lines of communication â¬" with the USPS in this case â¬" so that the concerns and interests of all members can be represented. Verbally poking postal executives in the eye may be emotionally satisfying but itâ¬s neither professional nor conducive to constructive relationships.

Itâ¬s also incorrect to ask why there was â¬Å"no industry press coverageâ¬â of the meeting; there was, and it wasnâ¬t restricted. For example, the final version of the USPS statement on â¬Å"by/for,â¬â amended after further industry feedback, was published in the May 20 issue of AMSPâ¬s Postal Points. Itâ¬s simply inaccurate to claim that any associationâ¬s members or the mailing industry is being kept in the dark about important developments; the facts do not support the writerâ¬s statements. Hypothesizing that a â¬Å"non-compete agreement with the Postal Serviceâ¬â is at work is ludicrous; there is no malicious agreement with any company to the presumed exclusion of his or others of that size. Moreover, the inflammatory allegation that no-one is watching â¬Å"the little guyâ¬s backâ¬â is just more unvarnished hyperbole.
I learned long ago thereâ¬s no point in arguing with such a mindset.

Leo Raymond is VP Postal & Member Relations, Association of Marketing Service Providers and can be contacted at 703-836-9200 x203.