• Marketers Give New Mail Rules Mixed Reviews
  • November 16, 2004
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Mailers had mixed reactions to the final rules published by the U.S. Postal Service late last month that purport to clarify when mail containing personal information may be eligible for Standard rather than First-Class rates.

    The rule, which takes effect June 1, 2005, is part of a USPS strategy to create greater consistency "in the way we apply our mailing standards," vice president of pricing and classification Steve Kearney told DM News last week. It modifies an earlier proposed rule that called for an exclusive-purpose test in which personal information would be permitted at Standard rates only when advertising or solicitation is the exclusive purpose of the piece and personal information is included solely to increase the effectiveness of the ad or solicitation.

    The USPS received over 400 comments in response to the proposed rule, mostly from nonprofit groups concerned that it might disqualify nonprofit mail consisting of program-related content as well as a solicitation for donation. In response, the agency modified the final rule to state: "The exclusive reason for inclusion of all the personal information is to support the advertising or solicitation in the mail piece."

    Although nonprofit mailers seem satisfied with the modification, others said the ruling could cause major problems for Standard mailers. "It appears that in its new ruling, the USPS will begin open hunting season on Standard mailers," Randall Putala, president of Strategic Direct Marketing Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, told DM News.

    Putala said local postal employees "will be trained to read a mail piece and determine what data is appropriate to the sales offer and what is not, and my whole contention is that there is no way they are going to train those people in all the different industries." For example, he said, a medical company might use patient information to qualify an offer and the company will recap that information in the letter, "but as soon as the postal clerk sees that, he is going to say, 'You are notifying this person of medical facts. It's got to go First Class.' They won't understand the terminology in what's involved in that marketing offer. Same thing for the mortgage business and every single industry. I honestly think it is really going to cripple Standard-Class mailers."

    Sherry Freda of the USPS countered that the number of appeals the USPS was getting has dropped since the proposed rule was published. "That tells me that the clerks are not seeing very much at all out there that they believe doesn't qualify [for Standard mail]," she said. "I believe the vast majority of marketers do understand the rules and are applying them correctly. Marketers are doing a good job."

    Kearney said the Postal Service doesn't "expect a significant change for mailers who have been mailing Standard mail for a long time."

    Significance: The jury is still out on whether the new rules will result in clarification or confusion. Much depends on how postal workers are trained to implement them.