Why the Post Office Loves Junk Mail

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If you ask the Postmaster General about junk mail, he’ll likely correct you. “If you work in the postal service, it’s jobs mail,” he says. That’s why the postal service is pushing an online program to get more, um, jobs mail into your mailboxes.

As has been widely reported, the United States Postal Service is in trouble. Deep, multi-billion-dollar hole trouble. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the U.S.P.S. reported a $5.1 billion loss. That was on top of an $8.3 billion loss the year before. Mail volume has been down for years due to the rise of online bill payments and e-mail. And it hasn’t helped that Congress mandated that the post office sock away billions of dollars for pre-retiree benefits every year.

Even with the postal service teetering on default, however, there has been one bright spot: direct mail.

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Direct mail, a.k.a. junk mail, is all that stuff we generally don’t want clogging up our mailbox – supermarket fliers, shopping catalogs, pre-approved credit-card applications. “It has probably got the best return on investment of any kind of advertisement,” the U.S.P.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told me in an interview late last year. “What’s the old saying? One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. I love the term junk mail,” Donahoe says sarcastically. “If you work in the postal service, it’s jobs mail, right?”

That’s why the post office recently began a promotional campaign for its year-old online direct mail service, hoping that it will bring in added revenue and help get the faltering organization back to a less dire financial situation.

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The U.S.P.S.’s online service is called “Every Door Direct Mail,” which gives small businesses a direct pipeline to micro-target customers in their neighborhoods. Postage costs 14.5 cents (much lower than the regular 45 cent Forever stamp) and allows businesses to choose potential customers’ mailing route by neighborhood, ZIP Code, city, or area.

Even though the program has been around since April, the post office is betting that most businesses haven’t heard about it. The post office is airing three commercials nationwide to promote the service. And while it brought in about $150 million in revenue through December last year, U.S.P.S. thinks it could generate close to $800 million this year, according to CNNMoney.

The service seems like a smart move for businesses looking for better ways to target consumers. But the fact that the post office has to rely on something as widely derided as junk mail is a sign of its deep financial problems. Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than a reliance on circulars and grocery fliers to save the post office.

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