On March 7, 2013, there was an invitation-only meeting between the Postmaster General and a few of our industry elites. The main goal of the meeting was to convince the PMG that competing with service providers was expensive, very disruptive, and counterproductive. In other words, they wanted the USPS to stop current and future plans to compete with them. Several corporations were present, along with a number of associations, all representing their own self-interests. The question is, did anyone represent the interests of small- and medium-sized print and mail service providers?

    The associations, which claim to represent print and mail service providers (MSPs), are generally so afraid of losing access to postal management that they are ineffective in changing major policy decisions of this governmental monopoly. In an effort to gain access, associations employ ex-postal officials to lobby their friends. Seems like a logical, reasonable approach to gaining influence. That is unless the ex-postal employee is more sympathetic to the concerns and needs of the Postal Service (and old friends) than the concerns and needs of the membership that hired them.

    Over the years I have had more than a few heated conversations with current and ex-postal employees over the need for the USPS to gather, maintain, and use our proprietary customer information. The only possible need for such detailed contact information would be for the development of postal products and services that compete with our industry. My position has always been and always will be that it is unethical for the USPS to require MSPs provide proprietary customer information and then use that information as a competitor to sell/provide services to our customers.

    A few years ago conversations with (some) association employees started with, well yes, the USPS is collecting proprietary data but not using it. Unfortunately for these apologists the OIG did a study (ms-ma-06-002) released in 2006. It said the USPS was collecting customer information from MSPs and if the USPS was going to continue to use that information for marketing purposes it had to notify the MSPs of this use. Up until full service and eDocs, customer information (now called by/for) was not required by the USPS! Surprised? Read the OIG report.

    More recently the USPS became more aggressive in the collection and future use of our proprietary information. The new requirements for accurate by/for information, the redefinition of mail owner, and major investments in new technology has made it clear to the apologists, the deniers, and the sheep too afraid to raise their bleating voices before being passively lead to slaughter that the USPS was indeed coming after them, their businesses, and their customers.
    The desire by postal bureaucrats to expand postal services vertically into providing data and mail preparation services is nothing new. We have been fighting against USPS competition since the fall of 1990, when as a small struggling company, the Postal Service nearly put us out of business by offering free ZIP+4 conversions for small lists. During this fight, postal employees told me that not only were they going to provide data services but they were running live tests for providing mail preparation services.

    The reason the USPS ceased providing data services was because they did what postal bureaucrats always do, they overreached! It was not associations that were effective in dissuading the USPS from providing data services; most were not even in the fight. It was big business that put a stop to the new postal data services. The bureaucrats had expanded data services from a maximum of 5,000 records (our market) to 80 million records. The same thing happened this March. It wasn't our associations, lead by apologists and sheep that prompted the meeting with the Postmaster General; it was large businesses threatened by several proposed new and or expanded postal offerings.

    Our associations have had years to affect change at the USPS but have failed to stop the Postal Service's illegal (since implementation of PAEA) and unethical competition with their membership. All members have received from some associations are excuses and requests for more detailed information! Associations were at the March meeting and may have been protecting their own self interests and pet projects, but they were not there protecting the interests of small- and medium-sized service providers.

    This meeting was a watershed event for our industry, or was it?

    Apparently the March meeting got very heated, but by all accounts the industry was successful in changing/clarifying the direction the USPS would take in the future as it looked to grow sales. The PMG apparently told those at the meeting that he had no intention of competing with vendors, nor would he use for marketing the proprietary information the USPS was collecting from service providers, and he stated that he needed the direct mail industry as his partners. Not competing with the industry it serves is a significant change in direction for the Postal Service. Wanting to be service provider's partner (again) takes postal attitudes and ethics back to the late 90's or the pre-Potter era.

    The problem is that there are some significant unanswered questions. The first is why has there been no industry press coverage of this meeting? Why no outline of the discussions or at a minimum the new policy positions taken by the USPS? With such a landmark decision affecting the mailing industry, you would think that all of our associations would be headlining their success at getting the USPS to stop competing with member companies. And yet there has been nothing!
    Maybe the reason the general membership (and our industry as a whole) has not been kept informed of the results of this landmark meeting is because the non-compete agreement with the Postal Service only applies to the big businesses present in the room. Which means once again, no one had the little guy's back!