Catalog Mailers Need to Address Congress Regarding H.R. 2309

Jul 02, 2012 10:22 PM  By

I requested this space to share a story with my peers who mail catalogs. It’s a story I find remarkable, alarming, somewhat shocking, and yet at the same time, not all that surprising – all in one. It’s my supreme hope that by the time you read all this, you too will be mobilized to hustle on over to Washington to let them know who the heck you are.

Because guess what? Congress still doesn’t have catalog mailers on its radar screen – they don’t get it – and we need to change this fast!

Last Thursday, I was able to get a meeting with a staffer for the U.S. House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, and a key member of Chairman Darrell Issa’s staff. Issa (R-CA is the chief architect of the House’s postal reform bill, H.R. 2309, which is expected to come up for debate on the House floor in just a few weeks.

Issa’s district is in California; my company is based in Connecticut. But with a little networking, this particular staffer, the guy devoted solely to postal legislation, was more than happy to spend an hour and a half with me in his office on Capitol Hill.

There’s a provision in H.R. 2309 that calls for a postal rate increase for underwater mail classes, products and types – this is a direct shot at catalog mail. If implemented, it could bury this industry.

If the 2007 rate increase weren’t enough; this bill could finish off the job. We can’t let this happen.

The most shocking and alarming part was when the staffer told me what’s been going on in the Rayburn Building in Washington (the House’s headquarters) both recently and historically. He sees reps from the magazine industry all the time – publishers, printers, CEOs, etc., all walking into the offices of their particular legislators.

Let me tell you, I saw plenty of nonprofits roam those halls and look what they just got? H.R. 2309 was going to fade out their special preference. That provision was deleted just the other day.

But this staffer, the person in all of the House of Representatives who spends nearly 100% of his time on postal legislation, told me the group of people he rarely sees roaming the halls of Rayburn is…us, the catalog mailers. He doesn’t see the CEOs of mailers. He doesn’t see the CEOs of our printers. He doesn’t see the CEOs of the paper mills. Where are they? He asked me. I had no answer.

I had seen this staffer once before when he and his colleague from the Senate gave a presentation at the American Catalog Mailers Association’s National Forum in May, and the two of them educated us about the legislative process and our role in it.

Now I had 90 minutes alone with him. Here’s what I found to be impressive: He understands the economics. He understands elasticity. He understands that we want to mail more and can help the USPS grow revenues. And, he knows catalog mailers are very relevant to the system.

This is truly refreshing. We as catalog mailers have succeeded here. We have been gathering data, providing facts, educating and educating. Over the last few years, I’ve personally seen the inroads we’ve made in the understanding of high level officials of the USPS. Thursday, I witnessed the inroads we’ve made in educating Congressional staffers. This is quite an accomplishment, and we can pat ourselves on the back.

But, here’s the astonishing part: We as catalog mailers expect the rest of the world to be made in our image. We expect the facts to speak for themselves. And, that my colleagues, is where we are naïve. The real world just doesn’t work that way.

The facts do not speak for themselves in politics and certainly not Washington. We need to speak them. We need to speak them loudly. We need to speak them often. And most of all, we need to speak them loudest at the point in the political process when it matters the most.

I’ve learned that part of my job as a CEO is public policy. Would I have ever expected this to require an allocation of my time? Would I ever have expected that this type of communication was a skill I’d need to develop? Was it ever even a skill I wanted to develop?

I interned on Capitol Hill exactly 30 years ago. It was to be a seven-week internship. I left in four. That should tell you something about my own personal desires and feelings on the matter.

As CEOs, our job is to manage the risks and the potential rewards for our organizations. It is what our stakeholders require of us. So, to all my peers, know that one CEO of a small two-title company of Connecticut can’t do it on her own. This is, and always has been, a numbers game. If I must do my job, so must you do yours.

Our voices must be counted. We have our first opportunity in five years to shape legislation that will dictate the fundamental economics of our business model. Please stand up. The time is now. We have the power to prevent another significant rate shock, and all the destruction it will bring. No one will do it for us.

Terri Alpert is founder and CEO of Stony Creek Brands.