There is an industry in America that is generally overlooked by almost everyone, yet it touches almost every industry and every home. Direct mail, printing and related services employ approximately 9 million people in the U.S. generating $900 billion a year in revenue. The printing and mailing industry in partnership with USPS generate and deliver 203 billion pieces of mail per year. Often the butt of jokes, Americans take for granted the exceptional level of service we receive from the USPS.
I have made my living for over 30 years in the printing and mailing industry. In that time I have never seen the industry in this bad a shape. The recent economic meltdown has had a major effect on the USPS, direct mail and related industries. The tightened credit markets and the mortgage crisis have virtually destroyed an entire sector of the direct mail market. Couple this with a massive slowdown in consumer spending and retail sales, you have the perfect storm. Mail volumes have dropped drastically, resulting in the elimination of approximately 50,000 USPS jobs in the last 7 months and record revenue losses. The mailing/printing industry also lost over 15,000 jobs in the same period.
(Value of Mail – USPS) – “For more than 230 years, the Postal Service has delivered mail to every citizen regardless of address – six days a week. But the Postal Service may be forced to curtail its’ operations due to legislative efforts to reduce the volume of Standard Mail or advertising mail. This includes mail such as catalogs, retail offers, coupons and ads for local services. Efforts to reduce the amount of advertising mail could undermine the economics of mail and require the USPS to make difficult choices about the kinds of services it is able to provide Americans. The postage paid on letters, checks and bills (First Class Mail) is not nearly enough to fund today’s universal service mail system”. Standard mail is actually the most highly prepared mail the USPS receives and handles making it the most profitable.
While the industry tries to deal with the problems I have already mentioned it also remains under attack directly and indirectly. There are attempts to impose government regulation through “Do Not Mail” legislation, the constant misinformation about the industry’s environmental impact and identity theft concerns. Government, environmental groups and consumers do not understand or appreciate our industry’s role in the economy or the self regulation measures we have adopted to address concerns from recycling, waste reduction, privacy protection and forest stewardship.
In 2007 American businesses spent about $284 billion on advertising their products and services. Of this 21.5% or $61 billion was spent on direct mail. A common complaint from proponents of “Do Not Mail” legislation is that consumers are continually bombarded with mail they do not want. However this does not have to be the case as the industry, the postal service and credit bureaus already provided consumers ways to selectively manage the mail they receive. All provide opt out choices on both an individual advertiser or category basis. Some of these services are listed below:
For pre-screened credit card and insurance offers go to http://www.optoutprescreen.com or call (888) 567-8688
For catalogs and other advertising mail go to: DMA Choice at https://www.dmachoice.org and set up your mailbox preferences. This site is sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association an organization that supports both the industry and consumer in maintaining a customer and environmentally friendly mail system.
Also individual advertisers welcome your direct feedback. You can contact them directly and ask to be removed from their mail list. Unwelcome direct mail is a bad investment for the advertiser so your feedback is appreciated by them even though it might seem negative.
There is also an extremely negative perception of the environmental impact of direct mail. Here are a few facts about how green our industry really is:
Forestry – Currently in the U.S. there are over 1,600 paper companies and printers who are members of the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC is an international organization dedicated to green and sustainable forestry practices worldwide.
The wood products industry (which paper companies are a large part of) in North America plants more trees than it harvests each year. As a result, the amount of U.S. forestland today is about the same as it was in the early 1900’s despite a dramatic rise in population.*
Recycling – 66% of the U.S. population has access to recycling for magazines, catalog and direct mail paper as a result 55% of all paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling in 2007.*
Last year, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) successfully worked with the Federal Trade Commission to legalize the placement of the DMA “Recycle Please” logo on direct mail to encourage recycling. Prior to that time, the FTC considered it an unfair business practice for direct marketers to use the logo because there was no conclusive research demonstrating that a majority of consumers had access to recycling for direct mail. Now due to DMA’s efforts, many catalogers are using the logo and participating in a nationwide “Recycle Please” program to raise consumer awareness about the new opportunity and capacity to recycle catalogs and direct mail pieces throughout the US. Through this program, DMA intends to improve the overall recovery rate for catalogs and other “mixed paper.”*
Greenhouse Gas Reduction – Shopping by mail-order or through a catalog replaces shopping trips made by car. This reduces gasoline consumption and carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. In fact, by replacing just two shopping trips to the mall each year, Americans could eliminate 3.3 billion driving miles, reduce emissions by 3 billion pounds, and save more than $490 million on gas costs.*
Going Green – Last year, the Direct Marketing Association adopted the “Green 15,” a set of standard business practices to reduce our environmental impact. These recommendations will encourage the direct mail community to focus on using more recycled, certified paper, reducing paper size, and decreasing unwanted and undeliverable mailings by improving list management and targeting.*
The USPS – The postal service has a wide variety of green initiatives covering everything from their delivery vehicle fleet, delivery route optimization, facilities management, internal recycling programs to eliminating undeliverable as addressed mail and educational campaigns such as “environMAIList” a program which encourages green practices in business mailing policies & production. The USPS has already become a recognized leader in environmental stewardship having won over 70 major environmental awards including 40 prestigious White House Closing the Circle Awards.
For more information on industry environmental efforts visit:
Sustainable Forestry Initiative at – http://www.sfiprogram.org
Forest Stewardship Council at – http://www.fsc.org
The USPS at http://www.usps.com/green
Direct Marketing Association at – http://www.the-dma.org
* = source DMA
Last, there are the concerns regarding identity theft through the USPS. According to the Federal Trade Commission only 2% of all identity theft results from mail. The most common sources for identity theft are online or in-person commercial transactions, theft by a personal acquaintance or family member or loss of a wallet.
The Postal Inspection Service has formed an alliance with banking, credit card, retail, airline and law enforcement representatives known as the Financial Industry Mail Security Initiative. This collaboration allows the inspection service, law enforcement and private companies to pool resources and information to target criminals and fraud schemes. Through this collaboration effective strategies are developed to prevent and deter fraud schemes. The Postal Inspection service also leads the Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness, a program that informs consumers about overseas fraud activities that target Americans with a variety of fake check, money order and charity schemes.
For more information on identity protection and mail fraud visit:
The Postal Inspection Service at http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov
The Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness at http://www.fakechecks.org
The Federal Trade Commission at: http://www.ftc.gov
As I hope you can see direct mail while not perfect, is a responsible, environmentally conscious industry. In spite of all the job losses and set backs of the past 18 months we are not asking for a bail out. However, we are an integral part of the U.S. economy directly employing millions of Americans and contributing $900 billion a year to the CDP.
Catalogs and advertising mailers have been around since Ben Franklin produced the first mail order catalog in 1774. The mail is used to raise over $200 billion a year in charitable donations covering everything from medical research to famine relief. Direct mail and the U.S. Postal Service are both a part of Americana. The postal service according to recent surveys remains the most trusted government agency by citizens with an 83% rating compared to an average of all other agencies of only 47%. (source: 2007 Privacy Study)
Our goal as an industry must now be to educate consumers and law makers of the value we provide to the economy and the quality of life in the U.S. For those of us in the industry it has been a difficult 18 months watching tens of thousands of our fellow workers in graphic arts and related industries lose their jobs. The economic down turn has been tough to weather but the prospects of facing even deeper losses due to the misperceptions about the industry by detractors who don’t understand it is unfathomable. If you think that advertising mail is just “junk mail” please use the resources I have provided and give us another look before you decide your position on this valuable industry. If you already understand the value of mail, please write your congressional and state legislators and let them know where you stand. Eliminating advertising mail is eliminating jobs and is not the answer to protecting the environment, your identity or your mailbox.