My prescription to heal the US Postal Service in 8 easy steps. (all direct marketers get behind this)


Looks like the USPS is back in the news again- it seems the five day work week issue has reared its ugly head.

The post office is claiming that declining revenue from reduced mail volume is the culprit.

Well Duh!

The USPS bit the hand that fed them way too many times with it’s rate increases.  They drive mailers out of the market, and they drove other mailers to look at alternative methods of customer acquisition and retention too.  Loosely translated, they helped many marketers shift their dollars to the internet to the point where I would hope that the folks from Google sent them a thank you letter.

I’m going to keep it short this week.  If John Potter and the post office want to get out of this mess, they need to take s few steps.  Now I’m not naive enough to assume that my prescriptions to heal the USPS are alone a cure, but hey, it’s a start

So here in simple form even a gov’t run bureaucracy can understand are some tips for the post office to help increase revenue.

  1. Do everything in your power to seek out customers they lost and woo them back.
  2. By wooing them back I mean, come up with ways for these lost customers to lower their postal costs to the point where they can mail profitably again.
  3. I love the concept of mail sales and discounts. Keep that stuff up.
  4. Don’t make the rules so hard and the criteria to get sale prices so restrictive that the average mailer doesn’t get to take advantage.
  5. Create promotions for smaller companies.  There are two kinds, companies who stopped mailing when prices went up, and companies who don’t mail because they get sticker shock looking at postage and printing costs.
  6. Get some postal ambassadors out to all of the local and regional direct marketing groups and clubs, plus internet/social media clubs and promote the heck out of small business discounts, first time mailer discounts, etc.
  7. Have those same representatives of the USPS start teaching more companies how to do direct mail buy the book.  I know they do some of this now, but it’s not nearly enough.  Teach stuff like analysis – the 40/40/20 principle and how to do mail right.
  8. Getting new mailers to test mail and smaller mailers back in the game will eventually create larger mailers!

Bottom line… USPS your image is damaged, and you need to rehab it.  Create products we can grow with using direct mail, promote the heck out of them on a national and grass roots level, and you will eventually get volume and revenue back.

Note from Jim.  Make a difference too.  Contact John Potter, the Postmaster General here and make your voice heard:

The Honorable John E. Potter Postmaster General

U.S. Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW

Washington, DC 20260-0010

E-mail: pmgceo@usps.gov

USPS “No 2010 Rate Increase”: The Loophole and a Call to Action


Just when I thought it was safe to believe in the U.S. Postal Service, I find out this lovely tidbit of information: Despite Postmaster General John Potter’s grand statement (or was it a grandstanding statement) that there’d be no postal rate increase in 2010, there’s a giant loophole.

No matter what Potter said in his memo, the USPS can still increase postal rates. Just to be sure, I asked Don Landis, vice president of postal affairs at Arandell Corp., a noted catalog printer/mailer. According to Landis, “It’s possible some mailers could see an increase in their postage come May 2010. The USPS could make regulation changes that would force mail into a more expensive category. We’ll know in January or February.”

How You Can Make a Difference
While I applauded Potter and the USPS for taking a stand for the direct marketing industry in this column two weeks ago, I hope I didn’t speak too soon. I still remain cautiously optimistic, but I also must do my part to help sway the decision. We must hold the postmaster general and the Postal Regulatory Commission to his/its commitment.

Thus, I urge you to write a letter to the postmaster general using the contact information provided below. Here’s the letter I wrote. Feel free to copy, paste and use it, or create your own. The key is to make your voice heard!

Dear Mr. Postmaster General,

You’ve started a trend here. Between the postal summer sale and now this offer to keep postal rates stable in 2010, catalog and direct mailers believe that you may actually be interested in working to our benefit. We look forward to the next postal sale, and hope that the USPS opens it up to smaller mailers to take advantage of. We truly hope that you’ll continue to stop thinking like a bureaucracy and encourage more mail volume with innovative special offers and such.

But direct marketers are also wary because the USPS holds a great deal of power and leverage over us. The last substantial postal rate increase nearly put us under with rate increases of 20 percent-plus. What was the USPS thinking? That move single-handedly drove more and more mailers into the online world. Doing the math, we believe the increase actually caused your revenues to go down due to less mail in the mailstream.

Remember this, Mr. Postmaster General: Every penny more it costs us to mail means we need to generate about 2 cents more per catalog mailed just to break even. In this economy, we need every opportunity we can get to mail our catalogs profitably. We’re struggling to stay alive and keep our workers employed and our customers satisfied.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Postmaster. Please continue this trend.

Sincerely,

The Direct Mail Industry

Reach the postmaster general at the following:

The Honorable John E. Potter
Postmaster General
U.S. Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, D.C. 20260-0010
Email: pmgceo@usps.gov

Originally published in All About ROI Magazine

Dear Mr. Postmaster General, you’ve started a trend… but…


A week ago the USPS Postmaster General sent out a memo stating there would be no postal increase for direct mailers in 2010.  This coupled with the recent postal sale are a start that I applaud.  It seem that the USPS for the first time may be interested in helping business mailers do business.

But we as direct marketers must keep the pressure on the USPS.  We must make our voice heard and hold their feet to the fire to keep the direct and catalog marketing business moving.  Therefore I wrote the letter below to the USPS.  I urge you to send in your own letter, or use/modify my letter to suit your needs.  The Postmaster General’s Contact information is below…

Dear Mr. Postmaster General,
You’ve started a trend here. Between the postal summer sale and now this offer to keep postal rates stable in 2010, catalog and direct mailers believe that you may actually be interested in working to our benefit. We look forward to the next postal sale, and hope that the USPS opens it up to smaller mailers to take advantage of. We truly hope that you’ll continue to stop thinking like a bureaucracy and encourage more mail volume with innovative special offers and such.

But we’re also wary. Direct marketers are wary because the USPS holds a great deal of power and leverage over us. The last substantial postal rate increase nearly put us under with rate increases of 20 percent-plus. What was the USPS thinking? That move single-handedly drove more and more mailers into the online world. If we were to do the math, we believe the increase in postage actually caused your revenues to go down due to less mail in the mailstream.

Remember this Mr. Postmaster General: Every penny more it costs us to mail means we need to generate about two cents more per catalog and direct mail piece mailed just to breakeven. In this economy, we need every opportunity we can get to mail profitably. We’re struggling to stay alive and keep our workers employed and our customers satisfied.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Postmaster. Please continue this trend.

Sincerely, 
The Direct Mail Industry

As to you, my loyal readers, I encourage you to send your letters to the Postmaster General (or just copy mine and send it). Make your voice heard! Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Reach the Postmaster General at the following:

The Honorable John E. Potter
Postmaster General

U.S. Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW

Washington, DC 20260-0010

Email: pmgceo@usps.gov

Kudos, an open letter (and a warning) to the USPS Postmaster General (spread this around)


Over the years I’ve been super vocal about my dislike for the U.S. Postal Service and its less-than-forward-thinking bureaucracy. When it slammed direct marketers with a 20 percent postal increase back in 2007, I went (pun intended) postal on it in my Catalog Success Magazine Column.

Earlier this year after it announced its summer postage sale, I was optimistic. But once I looked at the fine print (i.e., how much you had to mail to qualify), I was critical then, too.

I try to be fair in the offering of my opinions.

Therefore, I have to applaud the USPS for its announcement last week that there would not be a postal rate increase in 2010 for dominant classes.

For those of you not aware yet, last week the Postmaster General sent out a memo announcing no 2010 rate increase, which has spread around the internet faster than a scandalous YouTube video goes viral. That memo can be reviewed here.

I know, I know: Postal rates are already ridiculously and restrictively high, but at least mailers can build their 2010 mail plans without having to cut circ from marginal lists and housefile segments.

But along with my kudos to our Postmaster and the USPS, I also want to put them on notice.  Here goes:

Dear Mr. Postmaster General,
You’ve started a trend here. Between the postal summer sale and now this offer to keep postal rates stable in 2010, catalog and direct mailers believe that you may actually be interested in working to our benefit. We look forward to the next postal sale, and hope that the USPS opens it up to smaller mailers to take advantage of. We truly hope that you’ll continue to stop thinking like a bureaucracy and encourage more mail volume with innovative special offers and such.

But we’re also wary. Direct marketers are wary because the USPS holds a great deal of power and leverage over us. The last substantial postal rate increase nearly put us under with rate increases of 20 percent-plus. What was the USPS thinking? That move single-handedly drove more and more mailers into the online world. If we were to do the math, we believe the increase in postage actually caused your revenues to go down due to less mail in the mailstream.

Remember this Mr. Postmaster General: Every penny more it costs us to mail means we need to generate about two cents more per catalog and direct mail piece mailed just to breakeven. In this economy, we need every opportunity we can get to mail profitably. We’re struggling to stay alive and keep our workers employed and our customers satisfied.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Postmaster. Please continue this trend.

Sincerely, 
The Direct Mail Industry

As to you, my loyal readers, I encourage you to send your letters to the Postmaster General (or just copy mine and send it). Make your voice heard! Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Reach the Postmaster General at the following:

The Honorable John E. Potter
Postmaster General

U.S. Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW

Washington, DC 20260-0010

Email: pmgceo@usps.gov

Speak to you next week, when I’ll discuss a tactic to help you reduce mail costs by doing a specific suppression on your housefile and list rentals.

Orignally published in All About ROI (formerly Catalog Success) Magazine.

10 Ways to Reduce Direct Marketing Costs, Save Your Company and Look Like a Superstar!


While our economy is showing some signs of life, still most people I know are freaked out, totally stressed; and terrified of losing their jobs, homes and more.

It has been tough out there for direct and multichannel marketers.

But all isn’t bad. I swear!

There’s an amazing opportunity in all of this chaos to streamline your business, strip away the dead wood in your budgets and be a rock star in your company.

Here are 10 steps to help you get started:

1. It’s time to renegotiate everything. Start with your key area’s of business — printing, mailing, lists, creative, prepress (oops, I meant premedia).

2. Do a print review. Have your printer bid against other printers. I did this for a turnaround I worked on and was able to reduce printing costs by 20 percent. (Seems my predecessor was asleep at the wheel.)

3. Tweak your catalog’s trim size or basis weight. You may find some cost savings there.

4. Co-mail! This can reduce your postage costs.

5. Take advantage of destination-entry discounts. (Ask your printer about what this and co-mailing entail, and what you can save. Or e-mail me and I’ll explain.)

6. List brokers are offering discounts and test pricing for mail files. Ask and you shall receive.

7. Look for more list exchanges. These can be had for run charges, a fraction of the rental fee.

8. Use the co-op databases, such as I-Behavior, Abacus and NextAction. They’ll model your customers and rent you prospect names for less than list rentals.

9. Do your matchbacks. Make sure you’re analyzing your mailings the best and most accurate way possible.

10. Run NCOALink, merge/purge and other list hygiene products before each mailing. I had a client who had the same name on his database six times. Waste of money! You only need one instance of a name to mail it. Find yourself a great service bureau to steer you to savings.

In two weeks I’ll give you 10 more ways to save money and reach superstar status. In the meantime, if you need any clarifications on these or any other ways to save money, let me know and I’ll work your answer into my next column.

Hang in there!

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com.

We’re on a mission to create the best direct marketing education forum on Linkedin


3 weeks, 540 members strong. Join us: http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/2080726/ We have members from all area’s of direct marketing ready to share their expertise with you.  We also have international members.

Want to know more about search, blogs, direct mail, telemarketing, lists, social media, and all direct marketing disciplines, then join us.

If you are an expert in direct marketing, please join us too.  And our members are using this group as a great networking tool!

Thanks, we look forward to seeing you there. http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/2080726/

Jim Gilbert

You lost me there (part one, website issues that lose you business)


Last week, I gave a presentation to the Florida Direct Marketing Association titled “50 direct marketing tips, tricks and tactics to make you a superstar.” I’m going to share those tips with you over the course of the next few weeks.

Part of that presentation dealt with improving Web marketing. Right up front, I’m asking you to contribute to this article by posting your comments below. If I miss something, please add it, OK, lets make this a collaborative effort.

As a side note, I’ve spent a lot of time lately looking at multichannel and other marketers’ Web sites, and have seen tremendous opportunities for companies to capture not just orders, but prospects as well.

Many e-commerce Web sites are good at taking orders, but not so good at capturing prospects.

Thus the goal of this series, which I’m calling “You Lost Me There,” is to help you get more of the people who visit your Web site to raise their hands and request to continue the dialogue with you. You want these people in your database, as they’ve expressed some level of interest in your products.

That said, here are three tips to optimize online sales:

  1. Why is your phone number not prominently displayed on your homepage and ALL pages of your site? Make it big. Make it stand out. And put it on pages in multiple places! Your prospects and customers don’t want to have to WORK to find you.
  2. If you say you don’t want the phone number to be easy to find because you don’t have the phone staff to handle the calls, think again. Even pure-play Internet companies need to coddle their prospects and customers in this day and age; otherwise they’ll shop elsewhere. Contract with a call center, even if it’s just to take messages and pass them on. There are call centers that even allow you to pay as you go by buying blocks of time. Essentially, adding a call center doesn’t have to be as costly as you think.
  3. For crying out loud, respond to customer e-mails. Same customer service issue, different methodology. If you want to drive people to interact with you via e-mail, make your e-mail contact info stand out. And respond in a reasonable amount of time. In the second week of my direct marketing class at Miami International University, I have my students conduct an experiment: Send an e-mail to a company and see how long it takes for it to respond. Guess what — fully one quarter of the e-mails don’t get responded to. Here’s a rule of thumb for you: Return every e-mail in less than four hours. Not only the same day — four hours.

Every call and e-mail is an opportunity. Start a dialogue, and get customers ordering.

Bottom line: Consumers don’t have the time to spend on your site figuring out how to contact you with their simple questions. They don’t want to search your FAQs or dig around for contact info. They want answers immediately; otherwise, they don’t care how good your products are, because they won’t order. Don’t lose business over this.

Check back next week for part two of this series, when I’ll give you some more tips on how to increase ROI with your Web site. In the meantime, post your comments below.

Four Questions to Continually Ask About Your Customers, Products and Brand


You don’t have to operate any stores to always “mind the store.” For us in the catalog/direct/multichannel world, that means finding time in our 24/7, 365-days-a-year world to step back and ask ourselves a few questions. It’s not an easy task to pull back from our everyday happenings, especially in this insane and fear driven economy, but it’s still mission critical to stop and ask:

1. Are we the company our customers want us to be? 

2. Are we the company our competition envies? 

3. Are we looking around every corner to see what’s coming next? 

4. And for that matter, how can we adapt to meet the needs of the next “trend” so we can effectively contribute to our customers’ wants and needs and therefore our own EBITDA?

Kumbaya Now! (how we can all professionally and personally survive the economic crisis)


Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this recessionary economy together. 

If you’re still lucky enough to be employed, listen carefully to my message, as simplistic as it may seem: It’s time to put aside the natural rivalry, competitiveness, intraorganizational politics and just plain silliness that is everyday business life if you want to stay employed, and moreover, to keep your business from going under.

It’s time to really look at the way the silos within your company are formed. Take them apart, and relearn how to run your business.  

Yes, I know I’m preaching. Sorry. But you can always stop reading here (but don’t).

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I assure you that on this day, in this economy, businesses need to adapt or die! We’re all terribly scared about the future of our careers and how it will affect our families. The more we — and when I say we, I mean employees and business owners — succumb to our fears, the more difficult it is to work together. We second-guess ourselves. We second-guess others, and most importantly, we spend a lot of time playing armchair quarterback to the decisions that are being made.

It’s no wonder companies are going under daily. If you look carefully, you’ll see mismanagement as the big culprit. Greed. Power. Ego. We can’t run businesses this way at this time in history.

It’s officially time for kumbaya! From this point forward, you and your colleagues must work together to fight to keep your company alive.

Beyond newfound camaraderie, two keys to doing this are obviously increasing sales and reducing costs. If you look, I’m sure you can find many places where your company’s inefficient.

As an employee, you already know they’re there, but fear keeps you silent, doesn’t it?

Recently, while consulting for a company, I set up an internal group, more like a renegade operation, and named it “Operation: Unturned Stone.” The goal of this operation was to turn over every stone in the organization in search of opportunities to either reduce costs or increase sales. This required getting people together from each department in the company. And not the heads of that division either, but key managers who aren’t usually empowered to make a difference like this. 

We put them together in a room, told them NO topic was off-limits, even pet projects their CEO might be working on, and told them to build a report on what can be done better.  

The last part of Operation Unturned Stone is critical: C-level management must make the commitment to listen and take action. Also critical is that each member of the presenting group can feel 100 percent comfortable that there will be no consequences for what they recommend. Additionally, upper management at all companies need to address the paranoia level. Peoples’ nerves are frayed as they wait for more bad news or the axe to fall.

The time is now for reassurance, comfort and team building. This can be accomplished relatively quickly. Along with reassurance, get your employees together. Suggest outside-of-the-office events. Create events as well. No, I’m not talking about corporate retreats. How about an ice skating night? A company picnic for no reason? Give out free movie passes; something along those lines.  

In short, it’s your responsibility to do what it takes from any level to ensure that your staff sticks together in these troubling times. Now is not the time for every man/woman for him/herself!

We will get through this difficult time and thrive again.