Proposed USPS Mail Changes Could Affect Industry

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has announced a proposed rule change to its Mailing Standards for Marketing Mail, which could have ramifications on promo firms.

The notice of the rule change, issued by the USPS in the Federal Register, would limit all USPS Marketing Mail, both regular and nonprofit and both letter-size and flat-size, to “content that is only paper-based/printed matter.” No other merchandise or goods of any type would be allowed to be shipped as Marketing Mail.

This means items often sent as direct-mail pieces or promos, such as pens, buttons, magnets and more, would need to be sent by another shipping method, such as Parcel Select or Priority Mail.

[At left] Peter Palermo, general manager of Elm Street Marketing Essentials Powered by Proforma, and [At right] Paul Lage, president of Top 40 supplier Imagen Brands, are among the promo industry professionals with concerns about the proposed Marketing Mail changes.

While pricing under the new standards remains to be seen, based on the most recent USPS Price List, companies that have paid Marketing Mail rates for direct-mail items would be looking at price increases by several dollars per parcel when the same item is sent by Parcel Select versus Marketing Mail. Meanwhile, the least expensive Priority Mail flat rate envelopes cost $6.70 a piece.

The changes could significantly affect promo firms and their clients that use Marketing Mail rates to send direct-mail marketing pieces, self-promo products and the like. Peter Palermo, general manager of Elm Street Marketing Essentials Powered by Proforma (asi/300094), told Counselor the change would impact his team’s marketing and prospecting strategies.

“We do a tremendous amount of dimensional mail with custom boxes containing promotional products, both for self-promotion and for clients,” Palermo told Counselor. “It’s very effective at opening doors for an appointment, showcasing creative ideas or just sending samples. The increased cost would kill this very effective tactic by more than doubling the postage on these mailings.”

To go into effect, the change would require adoption by the USPS Board of Governors, but it’s already encountering challenges. The Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers has issued a letter to the USPS this week calling the proposed change “unlawful.”

“Nonprofit mailers rely heavily on Marketing Mail that contains merchandise,” the letter goes on to say. “For these kinds of mail matter, Marketing Mail is often the most economical channel of communication, and by a wide margin. Excluding merchandise or goods from Marketing Mail would needlessly deprive the Postal Service of profitable mail volumes, give mailers another incentive to find alternative marketing channels, and force more nonprofit publications to close.”

The Alliance also says that the change would violate a section of the United States Code that entitles nonprofits to mail content at nonprofit Marketing Mail rates.

In the proposal, the USPS lists benefits of the change that include allowing the USPS to track more merchandise, and reducing operational inefficiencies that occur when machines can’t process inflexible letter- or flat-size pieces.

“The Postal Service has many products available to support this shift and seeks to align postal processing with the intentions of its mailing customers,” said Ruth Stevenson, an attorney for the USPS, in the official proposal. “This shift also simplifies the mailing experience: Letter-size and flat-size pieces will move through processing and delivery more efficiently.”

Still, some in the industry aren’t convinced. “In a world of ‘how can we do more for our customers,’ there’s always someone who goes in the opposite direction,” Paul Lage, president of Top 40 supplier Imagen Brands, told Counselor. “It’s not surprising that it’s the USPS, which never seems to make money. Instead of trying to attract customers, they’re steering them away. Instead of updating their equipment, they want to charge more. That sounds like a government program. Someday there will be a company that sees this as an opportunity and will step in and do it all.”

The USPS is inviting comments on the proposed change to be made before October 22. Written comments can be mailed or delivered to the Manager, Product Classification, U.S. Postal Service, 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 4446, Washington, D.C. 20260-5015. They can also be emailed to with the subject line “USPS Marketing Mail Content Eligibility.”