No Day Is a Good Day for No Mail

From Mags to Coupons, Call for Five-Day Service Has Everyone Scrambling

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WASHINGTON ( -- No one knows what day the Postal Service will drop if it goes to a five-day week, but this much is certain: Someone is going to get hurt. Whether that someone is magazine companies, direct marketers or coupon mailers will depend on the day.

Postmaster General John E. Potter's request to Congress for the flexibility to offer five days a week of mail service has trade groups scrambling to voice their concerns.

Postal service cuts
Mr. Potter in testimony to a House Committee Jan. 28 cited dramatic mail-volume shortfalls from the nation's economic woes in making the request. The exact days dropped could vary by location and from month to month, and dropping of days would be temporary and only occur on the lightest-volume days, he said. He also stressed that the Postal Service would prefer Congress give it flexibility on some of the other mandates it imposes on it -- including fully funding retirement health care for employees years in advance.

In other words, the dropped day may be little more than a dramatic ploy to make a point.

Still the testimony opened debate about which day of the week could be dropped and which shouldn't.

Pick a day
Jerry Cerasale, exec VP of the Direct Marketing Association, warned, "The worst day of the week would be Saturday. It would lead to two days in a row with no mail and -- because of Monday federal holidays -- 10% of the time, three days in a row without mail service."

He suggested the Postal Service most likely would be talking about eliminating some Tuesday or Wednesday deliveries.

"The two days that would not be acceptable are Monday and Saturday," said David Strauss, Washington counsel for American Business Media, a group that represents business-magazine publishers including Ad Age parent Crain Communications. He said some magazines are put together at week's end and print Friday or early Saturday.

But Tuesday and Wednesday have their champions as well. Coupon mailers could have problems with halts in midweek delivery. Grocery-related coupons commonly arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday, in connection with food sales, while retailers' coupons for weekend sales arrive Wednesday or Thursday.

"We are program mailers. Some parts of our business would be most affected if Tuesday or Wednesday were dropped and other parts Thursday and Friday," said Vince Giuliano, senior VP-government relations for Valassis Direct Mail.

Bad news
Newspapers, looking to expand the use of mail delivery to reach suburban and rural subscribers, could lose no matter what day is dropped.

"[The postal service is] the circulation agent for some papers," said Paul Boyle, senior VP-public policy at the Newspaper Association of America. "So we would hate to see it go to five-day delivery."

Groups representing financial-service companies and mailers of bills warned about the beginning of a month, no matter what day, and any Saturday. With many consumers electing to pay their bills over a weekend, ending Saturday delivery could lead to bills getting paid later, potentially impacting the "float" companies get when bills are paid early.

C. Hamilton Davison, executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association, cautioned that the Postal Service better be careful or it will damage its brand.

"One of the things bandied about is dropping Saturday delivery. Americans love the U.S. Postal Service. One of the reasons is they react with the mail carrier on Saturday, and get to know the Postal Service," he said. "It could erode the brand equity and the [public's] view of the effectiveness of the mail."

Cry for help
All of the groups suggested that Mr. Potter's plea was clearly intended to raise the profile of the Postal Service's financial plight to Congress.

"The Postal Service has no present inclination to do it, and Congress has no present inclination to allow them to do it," said Mr. Strauss. He suggested the request was instead a "blatant and undisguised plea" for Congress to give it more flexibility.

Mr. Sackler said the Postal Service has a limited number of options under present legislation.

"They are being overwhelmed by the forces in economy. They are not crying wolf," he said.

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