The Threat of “Do-Not-Mail”

By Peter L DeHaan

Five years ago, the call center industry was confronted head on with the DNC (Do-Not-Call) legislation. As millions signed up to block most telemarketing calls to their home, the pool of prospect numbers shrank dramatically. Since then, the face of outbound calling in the United States has been unalterably changed. Today, DNC registration has surged past the 100 million mark, with more residences now on the list than not.  The latest development is that phone numbers on the registry have been made permanent, not expiring after five years as originally planned.

Given the immense popular support of the DNC legislation, politicians – seeing an opportunity to win votes and generate good PR – began introducing all sorts of bills to further regulate and restrict the manner and mode of marketing efforts. One such area of attack is “Do-Not-Mail” legislation.

According to Jerry Cerasale, SVP of Government Affairs for the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), there are currently Do-Not-Mail bills pending in eleven states: Hawaii (both in the house and senate), Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington. Soon, enough states will have joined this initiative that a tipping point will occur, prompting action at the federal level. (Federal action is not all bad, as it will help usher in a single set of regulations with which to comply, hopefully replacing a patchwork of differing and diverging state requirements.)

According to the USPS 2007 Annual Report, over 74 billion pieces of mail were sent last year. Direct mail was cited by Cerasale to account for about one third of that.

The Do-Not-Mail bills pose a danger to the cost-effective viability of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The USPS management, staff, delivery schedule, and infrastructure all operate at a requisite level of mail volume. The revenues generated from that mail supports the current scale of operation and efficiency at the post office. If revenues drop, then the operational status quo cannot be supported and maintained. The result would be either that prices would need to take a huge jump or services would need to be drastically curtailed. This could include the hours that post offices are open, closing smaller, less used offices, eliminating Saturday delivery, or only delivering mail every other day. (One option is that half the routes would be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the rest would be Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Another option would simply be to pick up and deliver mail every other day, Monday through Friday.)

This is not a far-fetched scenario. Since about one third of all mail is direct mail, as Do-Not-Mail bills are implemented, the number of households to which unsolicited mail could be legally sent would decrease. Imagine a national Do-Not-Mail law with the same popularity and registration level as DNC. A large percentage of direct mail would cease to be sent, the USPS revenues would fall, and huge postage increases and/or dramatic service cuts would be made. Just as DNC permanently changed outbound call centers, Do-Not-Mail would forever and irrevocably affect postal service.

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