Postal: What If the USPS Disappears?

With a Postal Service on the brink, marketers are weighing the once unthinkable

Once, there was a Constitution-ordained, universal delivery service of hard-copy, print communications called the United States Postal Service. It was affordable, reliable and the most efficient of its kind in the world. Direct mail was its bread and butter, and many brands that sought to find and keep customers in a very targeted manner used the service avidly.

Then a century marked a transition. Change was revolutionary: A new form of communication—soft copy—emerged in a few short years to dominate marketers’ mindsets. It was instantaneous, almost universal and largely perceived to be secure, private and nearly free. Suddenly, the communication engine of hard copy sputtered, financial losses mounted at the Postal Service and an infrastructure for hard-copy delivery was bloated. Commercial and nonprofit organizations that largely paid USPS’s bills were questioning the cost of doing so any longer.

Welcome to the world “after” the Postal Service. Or is it?

Last year, the United Kingdom sold Royal Mail. Many other rich-world posts are already private. Could the USPS—the biggest of them all—really be next for “privatization”?

The ‘P Word’
Mailers, for one, appear mixed on the topic.

“When I look at privatization, I look at Canada Post—which is closer to the U.S. geographically and demographically than any of the European posts,” says Charles Howard, VP of postal affairs at Harte Hanks, an integrated marketing services provider which handles several billion pieces of targeted advertising mail each year. “And that’s when I realize I still have problems with privatization. In March of this year, Canada Post will raise rates as high as 35 percent in some categories.”

“In reality, it would be very difficult for any business to replicate the USPS’s infrastructure for delivery to every doorstep in America,” says Joel Quadracci, president and CEO of Quad/Graphics, a leading provider of print and multichannel media solutions. “Yet, the USPS continues to behave like a monopoly. Case in point: the exigent rate increase, which will negatively impact volumes, resulting in a situation where further price increases will be necessary to cover costs. Ultimately, this will drive even more volume out of the mailstream.”

Marketing Sustainably: A blog posting questions, opportunities, concerns and observations on sustainability in marketing.

Chet Dalzell has 25 years of public relations management and expertise in service to leading brands in consumer, donor, patient and business-to-business markets, and in the field of integrated direct marketing. He serves on the Direct Marketing Association International ECHO Awards Board of Governors, as an adviser to the Direct Marketing Club of New York and Marketing Idea eXchange, and is senior director, communications and industry relations, with the Digital Advertising Alliance. Chet loves UConn Basketball (men's and women's) and Nebraska Football (that's just men, at this point), too!


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  • ET-10Simmons

    "DMA’s Hudson says the USPS needs to recognize its role as a supplier to the American economy, and—like any supplier—work with its customers, and "not treat them like the enemy—listen, don’t dictate." She says, "Get excess capacity out of the system by doing it now. Eliminate door delivery. Don’t look to the customers’ pocketbooks to fix all ills. Don’t be afraid to lay off excess workforce.""

    Apparently, Mr. Dalzell doesn’t have a problem dictating the fate of an industry without which his would not exist… Try not being a douche for a few minutes and read the following, after which a short ‘thank you’ will suffice.

    The federal govt subsists solely on taxpayer monies. It and our country are $17.5 TRILLION in debt. The federal govt doesn’t prefund its retiree healthcare AT ALL. They pay as they go and dump the rest on Medicare. That is why Medicare has over $80 TRILLION in unfunded liabilities. The federal govt only funds its retirements, CSRS/FERS, @30%.

    The postal service subsists solely on profits generated by the sales of postage and postal products. It has received NO taxpayer monies since 1983. They were forced by Congress in 2006 to prefund retiree healthcare benefits for 75 YEARS, through 2081, which would include theoretical future employees who haven’t even been BORN yet. No other public or private entity in the WORLD does this.

    Postal CSRS/FERS are funded at over 100%, again forced by Congress, even though the Fortune 500 gold standard is 80%. There is already enough in the retiree healthcare benefits fund for every living postal retiree and currently employed future postal retiree. Short version, there is NO reason to continue prefunding at any rate, over any period of time.

    The threat of a looming taxpayer bailout is a red herring/straw man/crock of s#1t. Between monies squirreled away, somewhere north of $300 BILLION at last count, real assets, intellectual assets, etc, the United States Postal Service has a net worth of around half-a-TRILLION. How the hell does this equal ANY amount of unfunded liabilities?

    FedEx and UPS could not exist without very lucrative, multi-billion dollar contracts with the postal service. 40% of their ground shipments are delivered last mile by the USPS. The USPS processes the combined annual volume of FedEx and UPS twice a WEEK!!! Without the postal service, the $1 trillion/year bulk mailing industry, which supports 10 million jobs, would not exist…

    Does the postal service owe the government $15 billion in loans? What about the law Congress passed in 2003 which forced the postal service to pay its own military obligation? No other federal entity, all of which are supported by taxpayers, is required to do this. This cost the postal service $27 billion.

    Outside of the DoD and Wal-Mart, the postal service is the largest employer in the country. Surprising as they’ve cut 42% of their career positions, from over 850,000 to under 500,000, since 2000. The postal service is THE largest employer of veterans. The postal service processes over 40% of the WORLD’S entire mail volume more efficiently and cheaply than all but the very smallest of the world’s posts.

    Lastly, look up U.S. Code; this is federal law on the books as it currently reads, title 39 section 101. EVERY SINGLE THING postal corporate has done thus far to destroy first class mail service standards is illegal. The majority of postal legislation in front of Congress today is bad and most of what it recommends is also AGAINST THE LAW! The sad part is that short of the prefunding requirement, which postal corporate counts as a loss even though they haven’t paid it in two years, the postal service is in the BLACK and none of what’s being proposed is even necessary…

  • sue

    Howard said. "Were the Postal Service allowed to have its own healthcare program, it would save $8 billion immediately every year … Even the labor unions are supporting this effort. Congress should pass this now."

    This is an absolute lie. The postal unions DO NOT support this at all.

    A bunch of crap in this article.

  • Postal logic

    Of all the foolish propositions out there to "save" the Post Office, none is more ill conceived than eliminating door to door delivery. Getting your mail safely and securely delivered to your front door is the whole point of a postal service. Otherwise, you are a mall.(As in congregating the masses at one delivery point; sometimes called cluster boxes.)

    Have you read about home invasions, hacked computer systems, assault and battery, elder abuse, lost children, home fires, unreported injuries in the home, mail theft, and mayhem? Your postal carrier in part solves all of these daily occurrences and more. Picture a cluster box,….YOUR cluster box, located some 500 yards from the nearest residence. It’s dark; you’re running late; you’ve got to stop real quick to grab your mail. You might even have skipped a day or two. There are a few cars parked nearby; a few people milling about…….probably just reading their own mail, you tell yourself. What could possibly go wrong for you, there alone, or perhaps with small children in the car; maybe your Grandmother getting her own mail because nobody visits anymore……..

    The point being, in eliminating door to door delivery, you are setting up a wild west scenario, where anyone could wind up delivering your mail,(if it gets delivered at all), and virtually anyone can take your mail, as opposed to the system in place now where you can safely and securely access your mail, delivered to your front door, by a federal employee who is paid sufficiently to ensure the sanctity of your mail, be it checks, medicine, magazines, packages; what have you.

    Or perhaps you are one of those wide eyed optimists, who envision a minimum wage worker dedicating a lifetime commitment of service to safeguarding your valuables from point A to point B. Look, we ALL want to save money; we want the best value for our dollar. But as the old saying goes, you can be penny wise and pound foolish. You already get the most bang for your buck with the Post Office. Replacing letter carriers with cluster boxes is so beyond stupid, it should not even come up in serious discussion. Think about it.

  • Joseph (Joe) Zilka

    The article states, ostensibly quoting Charles Howard , VP of postal affairs at Harte Hanks, "…In March of this year, Canada Post will raise rates as high as 35 percent in some categories." I went to the link to pursue this claim directly with Charles Howard but the only result I could find was to be referred directly back to this same article. So I would like to question the author of the article: Could you please specify the categories (plural) that Canada Post will raise as high as 35 percent? Thanks very much!

  • Just Me

    The loss of the USPS would be a crime against our nations future.
    The other carriers would raise rates beyond comprehension.
    The truth is package shipments are on the rise as more people buy online. So the USPS should be doing the same as other carriers and signing up big online shippers such as Amazon, eBay, etc. to pay the bills and then lower rates for other shipping to garner still more sales.
    Cutting back USPS as the fools in Washington keep talking about is just plain stupid, as cutting back basically runs any business into the ground.