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Heed the Postal Prime Directive (And Your Direct Mail Shop): How an Event Promotion Got Off Track

By on Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I love reading the lighthearted e-newsletters written by Ellen Paul at Paul & Partners. Ellen knows postal regulations backwards and forwards – and is a direct mail maven. She’s also great at helping organizations raise money through the mail, but sometimes clients come along who don’t heed her advice. In this guest blog post below, she shares how a client project to promote an event went off the tracks and how not to make similar mistakes.

Dear Upset Customer,
I am truly sorry that your event announcement did not arrive until after your event. I am sure that not having your audience aware of the event until two days afterward did indeed have a dampening effect on your turnout.

I can only imagine how many dollars you lost at the door. And I don’t wish to imagine your boss’s reaction to a largely empty room.

If you need help with editing your resume, please let me know. I’d be glad to help.

In the meantime, let’s look at my job log to see what went wrong.

Event day minus 10. You came to me with another rush project. I know you were on a budget-you’re always on a budget-but opting to mail at Standard rate this time is penny wise and pound foolish. You certainly will save a lot of money in postage. Hurrah for that! Even a cheapskate like Scotty, intrepid engineer of the Starship Enterprise, would appreciate the effort. But what you’ll save in postage you’ll spend in extra time in the mail. You need warp drive. You won’t get it.

It’s always a time-versus-money equation at the post office. Ignore that basic rule-the Postal Prime Directive-at your peril. At this time when the Post Office is in flux, you should be super sensitive to the PPD.

I did warn you that the post office is cutting staff and closing facilities to trim costs. Smaller staff means longer delivery times. Delivery is less predictable than ever. Even First Class is taking 3 days; mailing at Standard when you have a short window of opportunity is like hugging an angry Klingon warrior. No good can ever come of it.

Yet somehow you thought your mail would be exempt from the Postal Prime Directive: More Postage, Faster Delivery; Less Postage, Slower Delivery. It was my first clue that you were suffering from Magical Thinking.

Oh yes, you still don’t have your data or artwork ready.

E-Day minus 9. You want me to Guarantee (your word!) that your mail will arrive “in home” on a specific day. I can’t and I won’t. I’m not nuts, after all. Once we drop your mail at the post office we have no control of it. It drops into a black hole, a time warp, and who knows where or when it will come out on the other end.

Still no data, but you sent some of the artwork today. Now we’re making modest progress.

E-Day minus 8. You want us to put a note on your mail piece requesting the Postmaster to deliver on a specific day. And we did. But will the Postmaster see your magical message? Probably not. Will he act on it? Nope, again. But it makes you feel better-like Bones’ placebo makes a sick man feel healthier. It’s more magical thinking.

You sent your data today. That’s good. But you changed your artwork twice. That’s bad.

E-Day minus 7. Today we had to fix your newest artwork-your third-again. It lacked an address panel and didn’t allow for bleeds. And of course, it was full color, not the 2-color you had initially asked for and we had spec’d.

We’re losing time in printing. But finally data is moving ahead. BTW, sending data at 5:00 last night is like sending it first thing today. Nothing happened overnight, but now we can get on it.

E-Day minus 6. Finally on press. We’re waiting for materials to dry so we can start addressing. Your event is only 6 days away, and I have an intense feeling of dread. You refused again to let us mail at First Class because your budget won’t allow it. My anxiety increases.

E-Day minus 5. We’ve taken your mail to the post office today, but I fear you’ve lobbed the fatal photon torpedo at your own promotion. Your event is less than one week away and your announcements are just going out.

Mailing late is courting disaster under the best of circumstances. Mailing late and mailing at Standard is a lethal combination. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are down for the count on a hostile planet circling a star going super nova, and the transporter is out of commission. Yet somehow Kirk and Spock (with able assistance from Scotty and Bones) always seem to pull off a miraculous rescue at the end. Maybe the post office will do the same for you, I theorize hopefully.

Yikes! Now I’m using your Magical Thinking!

But no, it didn’t happen. The Post Office delivered two days after your event-but still ahead of its performance standard.

I’m so sorry. We did everything we could to make your mailing a success. We advised, we counseled, we wheedled, but you remained adamant in your decisions. I guess this job was star-crossed from lift off.

We tried to pull off what no man has pulled off before. But the realities of the Postal Prime Directive, poorly prepared artwork, and an intransigent, ill-prepared client spelled doom. And that’s all she wrote.

Next time, listen to your mailshop when they try to give you good advice.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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