Enough blame for everyone

Oct 01, 2006 9:30 PM  By

If only the U.S. Postal Service could use some of the marketing industry’s top talent to promote its pending rate case: “Now with more sortation levels! Giving you more opportunities to save!”

Okay, maybe not. But though many of us here used to dread covering postal affairs, lately it’s become one of the sexier beats. There’s the ongoing rate case, of course, which some say is the most complicated and widest ranging ever (see writer Jim Tierney’s story on page 19 for a sampling of what to expect).

And then there’s the postal reform saga. As of mid-September, the House of Representatives and the Senate had each passed a postal reform bill, but the committees of each house had yet to come forward with a unified bill to be voted on.

While this is the closest we’ve come to postal reform legislation in more than a decade, close matters only when playing horseshoes, as my mother used to say. Even if Congress passes a bill, President Bush could well veto it. Then there’s the matter of this being an election year, which means Congress is expected to adjourn in early October, making time even more of the essence than usual. As Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, told managing editor Mark Del Franco, if the reform bill does not pass by then, it will be “safe to assume that the bill is dead.”

Beyond the “beat the clock” aspect of the story, there’s another element of drama: the pointing of the fingers. Some mailers say that the limbo in which reform appears to be residing is due in part to a lack of effectiveness on the part of the DMA. “Lobbying in Washington is obviously not adequate to get postal reform signed into law, so why hasn’t the DMA changed its tactics?” one DMA member, who insisted on anonymity, asked us. “The DMA is in a unique position to bring mailers and legislators together across the country to build the necessary momentum for postal reform to be finalized. So why haven’t they taken a more pragmatic approach and provided the logistics and leadership to bring their members into the fight?”

Some smaller groups, such as the Maine Postal Reform Committee (MPRC), have done that, gathering groups of mailers and printers to meet with legislators. This past summer the DMA’s Multichannel Council took a small group down to Washington to meet with key legislators as well. And the DMA itself has posted on its Website sample letters for members to address to their representatives that it will hand-deliver. Unfortunately, the DMA didn’t have this resource center (www.the-dma.org/postal) live until Sept. 7, and I’ve not seen it promoted anywhere other than in articles we’ve posted on our Website.

Dues-paying DMA members do have the right to question and criticize how their money is being spent. But as Quebecor World exec John Patneau pointed out, the DMA membership as well as its leadership bears some of the responsibility for the lack of a more organized grassroots effort. “Has there been a coordinated effort among the members? No,” he told Mark.

I’ll accept my share of the blame as well; though one of the tenets of Journalism 101 is to report the story and not become the story, perhaps Multichannel Merchant should have taken more of a leadership role. If the reform bill fails to pass this go-around, we won’t wait for someone else to do our speaking for us next time. Too often it’s like waiting for Godot.

P.S. — Mark Del Franco had a non-USPS delivery to deal with recently: He and his wife (our one-time features editor Sabrina Horne) became first-time parents in August. Mother and son Benjamin are doing fine; Dad is still feeling a little shaky, but we expect him to recover eventually.