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Sept. 27 2011 02:02 PM

Parasites are organisms (or organizations) that do significant harm to their hosts.

Partners are organizations that help and support each other. Butler Mailing Services, as with many businesses in the direct mail industry, has numerous partners. We share work and customer information. When our partners cannot handle a surge in business, we help (behind the scenes) to keep their customers happy. When we don't have a necessary piece of technology, they help us complete our projects on time. Partners TRUST each other to do no harm. I trust partners not to interfere with the life blood of my business, my customers.

Parasites are companies or organizations from which you have to protect yourself. A parasite is a competitor that will use your proprietary and confidential information to suck the life blood out of your business. If you do business with a parasite, any information shared will be used to aggressively convert your customers into their customers.

With the introduction by the USPS of their Direct Mail Hub, there can no longer be illusions about the relationship between the USPS and our industry. The Direct Mail Hub, which provides printing and mailing services direct to end users, proves that this governmental monopoly is a direct competitor to mailing service providers (MSPs). The United States Postal Service has transformed itself from an industry partner into an aggressive parasite that must be contained if our industry is to survive.

There have always been unethical postal sales people that gather information about our customers and then try to divert them to new postal programs, such as EDDM, or to competitors with differing skill sets than our own. Those MSPs negatively affected by these unethical sales practices grumble and complain, but typically have done little more. The rest of our industry wants to believe these ethical breeches are isolated instances attributable to ill trained, poorly supervised, or rogue sales people.

The fact is, it is postal policy for sales people to use our proprietary information and sell postal products (EDDM, Direct Mail Hub) directly to our customers! This policy is clearly articulated in a 2006 OIG advisory report conducted on the Postal Service's Use of Ghost Numbers. Under the "Managements Revised Internal Policy..." section on page 6, the last sentence states that "the Postal Service can use customers' information for marketing purposes." Clearly, any of your customer information that is collected through the mail acceptance process has been authorized by Washington for use by their sales teams!

Ghost Numbers are numbers assigned by an acceptance clerk when a mail service provider (MSP) presents a customer's mailing. Though it is clear in the OIG's report that this information is not required, acceptance personnel force MSPs to provide private, proprietary information about their customers for every mail job they submit. It is unethical (and may be illegal) to require MSPs to provide their customer information and then use it to interfere with the MSP's customer relationship.

Recent complaints to postal management (summer of 2011) resulted in a request for more detailed information about specific breeches of confidential customer data. This request for more information by postal headquarters seemed reasonable but was actually a bureaucratic sleight of hand. The request for more information implies a sincere concern about overzealous (rogue) employees and a desire to stop the offensive practice. When in fact upper management has implemented, promoted and defended the policy of using our customer data by their sales force.

Unfortunately for the Postal Service, MSPs have not always provided the correct Ghost Number information to acceptance units. Some have provided their own names, business addresses and phone numbers as their customer's contact information. It is obvious Ghost Number contact information is being used by the postal marketing group when postal sales people knock on the door of these MSPs, looking for the MSP's customer.

A sales person from one MSP ran for political office in 2010. His company handled his political campaign mailings, listing his name and home address on the NCOA PAF document and as the Ghost Number contact information. Recently he received (at home) a letter from 475 L Enfant Plaza SW, notifying him of an Area Mail Processing (AMP) study. He couldn't figure out how the Postal Service had gotten his home address, until he remembered that he provided it to the postal acceptance unit as the contact information for his political campaign. The letter was signed Susan M. LaChance, Vice President, Consumer & Industry Affairs!

So when postal management says that it is not their policy to use our confidential, proprietary customer information they are _______________! (You fill in the blank with an appropriate word(s).) With the LaChance letter it is obvious that this MSP's confidential customer data had been breached by the Postal Service and incorporated into their national marketing database of customers. It is also apparent that the lack of ethical behavior associated with the handling of our customer information has been injected into postal culture by senior management.

Unfortunately Ghost Number contact information is not the only place the USPS has access to our customer data. Unlike Ghost Numbers, MSPs are required to provide full contact information on PAF forms when we NCOA a customer's file. This PAF data is digitized into a database by our NCOA service providers before they send it to the Postal Service. So, not only is there Ghost Number contact information (including frequency of mailings, and number of pieces mailed) available to postal sales people but our NCOA PAF information is also available. And according to the OIG, "the Postal Service can use customers' information for marketing purposes."

Does all of this really matter? Based on mailings and phone calls MSPs have received, it is obvious that our proprietary customer information is being used to sell the EDDM program. According to postal news releases, the Direct Mail Hub program will use the same marketing tactics used to introduce EDDM. The Direct Mail Hub establishes the USPS as a mail service provider. Postal sales teams and the fall marketing campaign will be directing our customers to the USPS's one stop, web to print, web site The question is not if, but when these and future postal programs will have a significant, negative affect on your business.

The news releases clearly state that the USPS will be using direct mail, local outreach to businesses, and presentations to business groups in promoting the Direct Mail Hub. The Direct Mail Hub was designed to sell mailing lists, printing, and mailing services through their website. Is there any question where the Postal Service's sales force (nearly 1,000 strong) will get actionable information on local businesses that might be interested in using direct mail?

The important question now is how long before the United States Postal Service is targeting your customers for their printing and mailing needs?

The Postal Service is a parasite (1) not our partner.

Todd Butler
Butler Mailing Services
eKEY® Technologies

1. Correction: I used the wrong term in describing the Postal Service as a parasite. The correct term is parasitoid. Parasitoids are different from normal parasites in that they absolutely kill their hosts.