Thursday, April 23, 2015

Flushed With Success: This Print-Based Ad Campaign Is an Extra-Base Hit

Maybe pine tar would help
I’m glad that great celebration of greenwashing known as Earth Day is finally over.

Bad turned to worse when my bank even urged me to “go green” (i.e. put more green into its CEO's wallet) by switching my statements and payments from mail to the coal-fired Internet.

But instead of getting pissed off, we here at the Dead Tree Edition Research Institute decided to take the offensive (some would say “very offensive”) and highlight yet another example of what print can do that digital media can’t.

Today’s edition of “Just Try That With an iPad” comes to you courtesy of a longtime Dead Tree Edition reader, who apparently has the unusual hobby of shooting photos in crowded public restrooms. He leaked news to us of a clever print campaign, placed in the urinals at a minor league baseball park in Trenton, New Jersey, that simply cannot be replicated via digital media.

O, say can you pee?
From what he observed, the campaign had what the web geeks would call “high reader engagement” and 100% “viewability.” Some reputable web sites struggle to achieve 70% viewability.

When was the last time you saw a digital ad that actually got guys thinking about whether their trouble with “balls and strikes” merited medical attention? And note that the marketing wizz behind this wee print campaign got the target market’s attention without even resorting to any high-tech tricks like HAUBs.

Yeah, you know, HAUBs – heat-activated urinal billboards. Sure, it sounds nuts (sorry), but that really is a thing.The message on these little billboards isn’t revealed until some “P” is added to the H-A-U-B, thanks to the magic of heat-activated inks.
Basketball has lots of dribblers. Just sayin'.

Can e-ink do that?

Nor did the urologists’ campaign take advantage of the latest paper breakthrough -- urine-activated origami distress signals. (I swear I am not making this up.)

A team of researchers recently announced it is coating sheets of standard copy paper (“uncoated freesheet” to us print geeks) with special microbes that get excited in the presence of “golden showers.”

After a few well-placed folds to make a tetrahedron, plus what polite baseball fans would call a visit to the dugout, a single sheet of the paper will broadcast a distress signal. Probably something like: “Alert! This dude needs serious help – can’t tell a tetrahedron from a toilet!”

Target market: Guys who can't hit the target.  
With advances flowing so fast in print and paper technologies, pretty soon we’ll have HAUBs that will sense when a guy has been “at bat” too long or is having trouble "hitting the strike zone."

Then it will send out a distress signal that schedules an appointment for him to see a urologist the next morning.

 You got an app that can do that?

Further thoughts on Earth Day and print media:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why Letter Carriers Are Not an Endangered Species

“Mail carrier” was recently named as one of the 10 worst careers in the U.S., largely because of a supposedly bleak employment outlook.

“Hiring of mail carriers has been on a steady decline with the proliferation of email and text messaging,” CareerCast said in ranking mail carrier #191 out of 200 careers. “Of all careers tracked in the 2015 Jobs Rated Report, mail carrier has the worst 10-year growth outlook.”

CareerCast’s jobs outlook was based on a U.S. Labor Department projection that the number of mail carriers would shrink by 28% from 2012 to 2022. That’s no surprise: Just about everyone knows that digital technology is making letter carriers an endangered species.

There’s just one problem with this scenario: “Just about everyone” is wrong.

The number of people delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service is actually growing slightly.

It's true that since the end of 2012, the number of career USPS employees involved in mail delivery has dipped slightly, from 243,000 to 237,000. But the shrinkage all occurred during 2013; recent statistics show the number has stabilized or is rising slightly.

And when non-career employees like city carrier assistants (CCAs), are included, mail delivery looks like a growth field. That, plus the high turnover among CCAs, is why “We’re hiring!” signs are popping up at many post offices.

USPS statistics don’t provide apples-to-apples comparisons of non-career employee counts, but the numbers on hours worked are a good proxy. So far this year, the straight-time hours worked by all (both career and non-career) “city delivery carriers” are up 5% from two years ago, while the hours for all “rural carriers” have increased nearly 3%.

Digital technology taketh away, and . . . 
What “just about everyone,” including the Labor Department, seems to miss is that digital technology – specifically, online purchasing – is adding work for the Postal Service’s carrier force. When stuff is bought online, someone has to deliver it.

And when that delivery is to a residential address, chances are that the “final mile” is handled by a USPS letter carrier even if the package was sent via UPS or FedEx.

The Postal Service is doubling down on its unique ability to reach every residential address. It has slashed some Priority Mail prices for frequent shippers and is testing rapid delivery of everything from fresh flowers to groceries.

Outgoing Postmaster General Pat Donahoe hinted late last year that Sunday delivery of packages would soon become the norm, not just something USPS does for Amazon in select markets.

So all indications are that the number of packages delivered by letter carriers will continue growing, which is why specs for USPS’s new delivery vehicles call for more storage space. Those packages are far more labor intensive than traditional mail; Priority Mail boxes don’t end up in nice walk-sequenced trays or carrier-route bundles.

And even the labor savings from the gradual shrinkage of traditional mail mostly get canceled out by continuing growth in the number of delivery addresses.

The big threat
The big threat to employment levels for USPS carriers is possible curtailment of Saturday delivery of letters and flats. But that would put only a sizable dent – nowhere close to a 28% reduction – in letter-carrier employment levels.

And it continues to face rough going in a reluctant Congress, where members have recently been getting an earful from constituents about slow delivery.

So don’t put letter carriers on the endangered-species list just yet. (There may be good reasons to put “mail carrier” on the list of 10 worst jobs, as I'm sure some postal workers would be happy to explain, but employment prospects are not one of them.)

The moral of the story: Beware of projecting past trends into the future, especially when the recent past runs counter to those projections.

Related articles:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

News Flash: New Postal Rates Slated for May 31

The U.S. Postal Service today filed tweaked versions of its proposed rate increases for the Standard, Periodicals, and Package Services classes and included this statement:

"The Postal Service hereby also provides notice that the Governors have authorized the Postal Service to adjust the prices for its market-dominant products effective May 31, 2015. This adjustment includes the prices previously approved by the Commission . . . for First-Class Mail and Special Services, as well as the proposed prices for Standard Mail, Periodicals, and Package Services, including the changes presented in this response . . . and the other prices presented previously in this docket."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Yo, Mailman, Bring Me a Flounder and a Dozen Roses

From dropping off water bottles to running a concierge service, the U.S. Postal Service is increasingly venturing into activities that have little to do with traditional mail delivery

A MailMyWay promotion
What's next, Postal Pizza?

The U.S. Postal Service’s recent experiments with new lines of business include delivering fresh fish, flowers, cases of water, and ready-to-cook meals.

In St. Louis, the agency is even trying out a “concierge service” called MailMyWay that picks up unpackaged items, places them into Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes, and mails them.

With traditional letter mail in slow decline, the Postal Service is eager to bolster its finances by developing new lines of business that leverage its massive delivery network and capabilities.

But getting such ventures off the ground is not always easy or simple. USPS and 1-800-Flowers announced a deal in late 2012 but only now are getting ready for a limited test in New York.

U.S. Postal & Rehydration Service
That will be on top of two existing NYC tests – delivery of fresh and frozen seafood for the famed Fulton Fish Market and next-day delivery of bottled water for Nestle. (Why try out these ventures in the nation’s most populous city? Hey, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.)

USPS’s same-day delivery service, MetroPost, is being tested in New York and Phoenix, with plans for expansion to 1,800 ZIP codes all across the country, Ed Phelan, Vice President of Delivery Operations, told a recent gathering of mailers.

Sunday delivery of packages for Amazon has been growing rapidly, with the e-commerce giant “looking at expanding the service to all serviceable ZIP codes across the country,” Phelan’s presentation said. That has USPS examining where it can place more delivery hubs for the service.

Another growing Amazon-USPS partnership is Amazon Fresh, which delivers groceries to doorsteps in parts of the New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco areas.

“We're branching out as fast as we can while being careful not to sacrifice the quality and convenience our customers expect,” says the Amazon Fresh web site. The service is coming soon to Washington, DC; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, according to USPS.

Amazon Fresh totes awaiting delivery
Phelan also said the Postal Service is providing deliveries for Blue Apron, which sends chilled meal-ingredient packages with recipes to its subscribers.

The question for USPS’s traditional clientele – you know, the folks who send out, like, letters and stuff that go into actual mailboxes – is whether the new ventures will strengthen the Postal Service’s finances or distract it from serving the customers who still pay most of its bills.

Related articles:


Sunday, April 12, 2015

U.S. Postal Shredder (USPS): Damaged Catalogs Spark New Business Idea

Catalogs are being damaged so frequently in the mail that one company has turned the problem into a new business venture.

Flyouts in an FSS machine
“A recent project involving a national catalog brand showed that 23 percent of the catalogs received by our field agents arrived in poor condition,” a US Monitor press release said recently.

The company is now offering to tell its clients not only when their catalogs are delivered to customers but also whether those catalogs are “received torn, creased, smudged, wrinkled, stained or with water damage.”

The U.S. Postal Service’s Flat Sequencing System earned the nickname “Flats Shredding System” from postal workers because of its propensity to mangle magazines, catalogs, and other flat mail. In its early days, FSS generated plenty of complaints from mailers about damaged pieces.

The huge machines have been tweaked to reduce torn covers, “flyouts”, and other such problems. Still, shifting catalogs from traditional carrier-route bundles to FSS seems likely to cause more damage, especially for thin, flimsy copies.

Additional suspects
FSS is not the only likely culprit for increased catalog damage, however.

Companies these days rarely send “big book” catalogs that provide a comprehensive listing of their products; that’s what their web site is for. Instead, they mail more targeted pieces that are designed to spark interest and a visit to the web site.

That is resulting in thinner catalogs, more saddle stitching (using “staples”) rather than perfect binding, and lighter cover paper – all of which makes them more prone to being damaged in the mail than the big-book catalogs.

Full mailboxes may also be a factor. With the rise of e-commerce causing more parcels and thick envelopes to end up in mailboxes, flat mail may be more likely to get rolled or scuffed upon delivery.

Related articles:



Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Publishing on a Shoestring

You can bet that when Brad's Shoes decided to advertise in The New York Times' "Today's Headlines" email blast, it wasn't counting on the subject line being about shoes.

An alert reader who passed this along said the juxtaposition of the ad's shoe image and the "Learning to Kill on a Shoestring" phrase in both the subject line and first headline jumped out at him as soon as he saw the email on his iPhone.

The Times apparently spotted the issue quickly: The email was received at 5:58 a.m. EDT today, but by 6:20 the ad had been removed from the browser-based version of the newsletter.

Fellow publishers, there's a lesson here: Whether it's for print or digital editions, make sure you check for ad/edit conflicts before hitting the "Publish" button.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Are Postal Rates Headed Up, Down, Or All Around?

A slow appeals court, delays in the usual inflation-based rate increase, and the end of the exigent surcharge could converge to create a wild ride for postal rates during the next few months.

Rather than the usual, once-a-year increase, rates might go up, down, or do a loop-the-loop and barrel roll before the summer is over. No one planned it this way. In fact, the plans and expectations of everyone involved seem to have gone awry.

The deviation from normalcy began in late 2013, when the Postal Regulatory Commission approved an “exigent” 4.3% surcharge to compensate the U.S. Postal Service for its losses caused by the recent recession.

The PRC ruled that the surcharge would expire when it netted USPS $3.2 billion, which sounded simple enough at the time. But projecting at least 45 days in advance – the minimum amount of time to implement a rate change – exactly when the $3.2 billion target will be reached is no simple or uncontroversial matter.

Attacked by both sides
Both the Postal Service, which wanted a larger and more permanent surcharge, and mailers groups, which argued for no surcharge, appealed the PRC decision. After an appeals court heard their oral arguments in September, many mailing experts expected the court’s decision by the end of 2014.

USPS even held off on its usual January increase, figuring the decision was imminent.

However, nearly seven months after oral arguments, there’s still no word from the court, which could increase the surcharge, extend it, make it permanent, or even reject it.

Postal officials ended up filing for inflation-based increases after all, with implementation scheduled for April 26. But they miscalculated the effect of some efficiency incentives built into the rate proposal, causing the PRC to send the Postal Service back to the drawing board.

Even if the USPS revisions are filed tomorrow, the new prices probably won’t take effect until at least early June. And legal wrangling could delay implementation once again.

Possible postal maneuver
The Association for Postal Commerce figures that the implementation date for the inflation-based increases could end up being just a few weeks before the surcharge expires this summer. And, for all we know, the appeals court decision could land right between those two dates.

There is talk that, not wanting to implement back-to-back price changes, the Postal Service will schedule the inflation-based increases to occur simultaneously with the surcharge expiration. That would result in a net average increase of about 2.3%, with some mailers getting rate decreases and some significant increases.

It might also enable the Postal Service to dodge a thorny problem caused by the temporary surcharge: the prospect of reducing Forever Stamp prices by two cents, which could confuse the public and undermine the whole concept of Forever Stamps.

By rejiggering its proposed inflation-based rate hikes for other First-Class Mail, postal officials might be able to implement a rate hike on Forever Stamps that would cancel out expiration of the two-cent surcharge.

Related articles: