Friday, May 18, 2007

The Demise of Snail-Mail

One of the good things our postal carriers do each year is their annual “canned food” drive which they conduct during May. On the designated Saturday – which happened to be last Saturday – each carrier collects food along his or her route from postal patrons who leave donations at their mailboxes. At the end of the day, the postal carriers donate all the food to help feed the hungry.

It’s a really good PR move for the postal service, but, of course, it slows down delivery on that Saturday.

This year, it was even slower, because last Saturday was also the final mail-service day before the new 2-cent postal rate increase took effect. Untold millions of mailers took advantage of that final day to slip in a little extra mail at the lower rate.

Two things occurred to me:

1. I felt really bad for the carriers. It was the perfect storm for them, because in addition to rate-increase mail and cans of food, there were also millions and millions of Mothers Day cards being delivered.

2. I wondered whether there had been a major lapse in planning for the higher-ups at the Post Office to have scheduled their rate increase for the same weekend as the food drive.

Then, of course, the light went off! They probably did it on purpose! Why not take advantage of the postal service’s best PR of the year – the food drive – to slip in the worst PR of the year – the rate increase? Brilliant!

Just when I was thinking the Big Guys at the P.O. had rocks in their heads, they slip in the slickest PR move of the decade. The spin-masters of Wall-Street, Hollywood, and Washington, DC, should all be envious.

I have my own personal theory about the rate increase.

I believe their real intention is to honor the Founder of the Postal Service – Benjamin Franklin – by steadily raising postage rates until the price of a stamp requires you to use a monetary unit which bears his likeness.

During the past decade or so which has seen the development and proliferation of the Internet (and its off-spring, Email), old-fashioned snail mail has been assumed by many to be on its way to becoming a dinosaur… a thing of the past. During this decade or next, we were informed, we would witness the demise of the Postal Service.

But it hasn’t worked out that way. The good ole-fashioned US Mail is at an all-time high, and growing exponentially. It’s booming! While email has replaced some formerly snail-mailed correspondence -- as has the easy availability of nationwide, even global, telephone service – a new wave of mail has more than taken its place.

Technology has opened endless new possibilities for direct-mail marketing, which is by far the largest volume of mail.

And E-Commerce – which is a fancy way of saying you bought something from an Internet website – has created a greater-than-ever demand for cross-country delivery of items… which would previously have been purchased from a shop down the street.

Put it all together, and you have a mail boom which has frankly exploded almost faster than the USPS could handle. To process the daily tons of extra mail, they’ve called upon even more technological advancements: computerized machines which can sort the mail hundreds of times faster than humans – UNLESS the mail is of a shape or size that the machine doesn’t like. In that case, it’s back to the old way of sorting… AND your postage rate didn’t increase by two cents; it DOUBLED!!!

All of which I bring to your attention as a sort-of salute to the hard-working men and women of the USPS… the carriers, the sorters, the whole gang. They work hard, they’re more dependable than Ole Faithful, and deserve the wages they earn. AND… once a year, they pick up cans of food to help feed the hungry!

Unfortunately, the extra loot the USPS started raking in this week is mostly NOT going to pay-raises for them, but instead to investments in additional personnel, new technology, and extra facilities needed to handle “the demise of the Postal Service”.

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