This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of Mailing Systems Technology.
A fork in the road is often defined as a metaphor for a deciding moment in life or history when it’s required to make a major choice — any of which will have distinct consequences. In business, as in life, there are always forks in the road. We make choices and decisions and hope we are lucky enough to make the right ones. “Lucky forks” is what I call them. Sometimes, we make a decision and find out we have to correct it. But that, too, is life. To be successful, we must have the capacity to adapt to a changing environment almost daily. There is no doubt that speed is the name of the game in business these days.
The mailing industry is not exempt when it comes to the speed of change and the required decisions to accommodate them. When a company in the technology services sector stays around for over 40 years, it’s obvious that organization is successful at adaptation. Today, change is simply a part of our daily world, and with every change, there is a fork in the road. A decision made in one area usually causes something else to change. Were they lucky forks? I guess it depends on where you sit and how you choose to look at it.
The USPS’s Fork in the Road
A good example of a current fork in the road is the ongoing conversation about the financial difficulties of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and what to do about it. The USPS has been losing billions of dollars a year and, while we are all aware there are several legitimate reasons for these losses, something needs to change. Two recent articles in the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal reported that the latest entrant into this controversial conversation is President Trump by way of his 2018 budget plan. The plan leaves the door open for reducing the current six-day day mail delivery "where there is a business case for doing so." But here comes the fork. When Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe attempted to end Saturday mail delivery in 2013, the move was met with such strong resistance from members of Congress and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association that it ultimately failed.
What would ending Saturday delivery mean for business mailers? For those of us dealing primarily in First-Class transactional mailings, probably not much. With mail volume down as it is, there most likely won’t be a huge backlog over the weekend. Monday holidays may be a bit of a problem, but if the elimination of Saturday mail delivery does pose a difficulty for your business, you can always open a PO Box or lock box if you don’t have one, and your mail will be put in the box on Saturday. Mail typically arrives to a PO Box faster than a residential or business location, and a business can establish permanent PO Boxes in multiple cities.
But what about those in the direct mail business? Eliminating Saturday delivery may adversely affect their business because Saturday is the perfect in-home delivery date. People are usually off work, less rushed, and tend to pay attention to offers in the mail more than they might during the week. It seems to me that losing that day could be a huge problem for ad mail, yet, oddly enough, I haven’t noticed huge complaints from this group about the possibility of losing this delivery day.
As a board member of the National Postal Policy Council and an active member of the Major Mailers Association, I know one thing: There are many forks in the road when it comes to keeping your business interests at the forefront of postal communications. In an attempt to choose the lucky one, the USPS continues to reach out to us for ideas and new solutions to alleviate its financial burden. If there are some possible future actions you hear about that would subsequently cause a burden to your business, the time to step forward and be heard is now. Keeping your business interests at the forefront of postal communications will not only help ensure your business is not adversely affected by any cost-cutting decisions, it will also help the USPS come up with solutions that make sense for us all in its effort to offset rising postal costs.
Choosing our Forks – Lucky and Not So Lucky
While we never like higher postal rates, many businesses have made the choice to adapt in a positive way for our customers and our companies. For example, the idea of mixing transactional and promotional documents in First-Class letter mail was a smart way to reduce postal expense and maximize our customers’ marketing dollars. Additionally, the USPS is now allowing mailers to send three ounces at the one-ounce rate. What I like to call “3-4-1” provides additional stimulus for marketing via First Class. It’s a win-win for mailers and the USPS, providing the extra value needed to keep printed mail relevant.
Informed Delivery is another good decision the USPS has made for people receiving mail. Introduced in February of this year, it uses mail imaging processes to provide residences a digital preview of mail arriving soon. The feature is for households based on a delivery point address, so multiple residents can sign up. My household takes advantage of it, and by early morning, I know what mail will be delivered to us that day. Informed Delivery creates new opportunities for marketers to draw attention to their campaigns or coupons with a synchronized physical and digital touchpoint. The USPS reports that 70% of those who have signed up use Informed Delivery to be more aware of incoming mail.
Those are the smart forks that have been put into place to continue to make mail valuable and keep a positive feeling about the efforts of the USPS. However, on the flip side, the USPS also chose a bad fork in the road of choices as well. The Washington Post published an article on July 19 reporting that the USPS broke the law by pressuring managers to allow letter carriers to participate in campaigning in the last election. The Postal Service’s Office of Special Counsel and inspector general found that the agency violated the Hatch Act, which restricts federal employees from working for or against a political candidate or party during election season.
So, there have been lucky forks and not so lucky forks — and certainly there will always be more forks in the road to come. To continue to prosper, we always need to find ways to turn them to our advantage and recognize that success in business is something we ultimately make ourselves. We can make any fork in the road a lucky one depending on how we choose to react, staying open to change and in constant pursuit of new opportunities.
Harry Stephens is President/CEO, and founder of DATAMATX, one of the nation’s largest privately held, full-service providers of printed and electronic billing solutions. As an advocate for business mailers across the country, Stephens is actively involved in several postal trade associations. He serves on the Executive Board of the Greater Atlanta Postal Customer Council, Board Member of the National Postal Policy Council (NPPC), Member of Major Mailers Association(MMA), and member of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service. He is also immediate past president of the Imaging Network Group (INg), an association for Print/Mail Service Bureaus. As an expert on high-volume print and mail, he has frequently been asked to speak to various USPS groups, including the Board of Governors, about postal reform and other issues affecting business mailers. Find DATAMATX at www.datamatx.com