At a time of great uncertainty in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, businesses across the country and world have had to re-imagine their operations. The mail and print industry is no exception – and has faced some unique challenges as an essential industry.
Usually August means we at BCC Software are hosting our annual User Conference, Information Exchange, but obviously this year called for postponing our in-person conference to next year. In an effort to facilitate the learning that takes place at Information Exchange, however, on August 12th, we held a webinar entitled “Understanding COVID-19’s Impact on the Mailing Industry,” where we talked with different industry representatives to understand how this pandemic has impacted them and what they think the future holds.
At the beginning of the pandemic, mail volume experienced a steep decline. This was in direct relation to so many businesses shutting down operations. From the software side of things, the number of lists processed daily dropped dramatically. Carlos Moreno, Director of Postal Compliance and Mailing Services with Shamut Communications Group, described the experience from an MSP perspective. “Right away we had 8-9 jobs canceled. We understood why, even though it was disheartening.”
Michael Plunkett, President of PostCom, shared, “Nobody escaped unscathed – there were impacts across all products and mail classes.” Saturation mailers were the most severely affected as local establishments such as restaurants and contractors halted their mailings. “Marketing Mail is still not doing well, and Periodicals saw a double-digit decline. However, First-Class Mail, especially Pre-Sort, did relatively well, but even that experienced impacts.”
Initially, the industry was swept up into a multitude of confusion regarding the exact nature of essential business. “Communication is so critical and early on it was confusing – there were so many unknowns,” said Mr. Plunkett. Once the USPS released its letter on March 22nd deeming not only itself but its network an essential business, this helped clear up some of the initial misunderstanding – but now businesses in the industry found themselves learning how to operate in a pandemic as an essential entity. At PostCom, they focused their attention on getting as much information for their members as possible. While so many businesses in the industry were dealing with severe work disruptions, they did not have the time to devote to overall network operations.
Recognizing the need for information, the USPS decided to hold meetings three times per week with various industry leaders and representatives. Steve Monteith, Acting Chief Customer & Marketing Officer for the USPS, helped lead these meetings. “There was a lot of give and take. The USPS focused on what we knew, while the industry participants would share what they had been hearing. We solved a lot through these calls.” However, while technology does allow for increased attendance to virtual events, all four speakers lamented the current inability for face-to-face interactions. As Mr. Monteith said, “I miss the interaction. You get a lot out of the face-to-face. Being able to go up to people and ask questions directly just isn’t possible in a virtual setting.”
What Comes Next
Collectively, the panelists agree that the end of 2020 will see an increase in mail volume, and they expect 2021 to return to normal. The contentious fall 2020 election season is likely to break mailing records, both from political and election mail standpoints. Additionally, while we may be entering an unconventional back to school season, school supplies will be needed nonetheless – and back to school mailings are likely to increase as a result.
Speaking from the MSP perspective, Mr. Moreno said that he has already seen things starting to come back. As businesses are starting to re-open, clients are starting to turn back on their yearly mailings. Additionally, local universities are ramping up their mail campaigns as the back to school season approaches. Mr. Plunkett agreed, and thinks the contested election will lend itself to political mail, especially with so many states becoming battlegrounds.
Mr. Monteith assured attendees that the USPS is ready for a record fall mailing season. “We are starting to see things get back on track, and we are starting to get more of our normal network as things begin to open up.”
Chris Lien, president of BCC Software, expressed feeling “bullish” about the fall mailing season, especially thanks to the election. While October tends to be the highest mailing season of the year, list processing is already increasing in August.
BCC Software understands the criticality of staying informed in this industry, which is why they are making this webinar available to all who want to watch it. To watch the webinar for yourself and to learn more, visit https://bccsoftware.com/informationexchange/webinar/ today!
This article originally appeared in the September/October, 2020 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.