Post office closings? Not with better marketing

Coda • GREG BEAN

Although the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t have an official motto, the one most people believe is the motto is inscribed on the façade of the James A. Farley Post Office in New York City:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Snow, rain and gloomy nights still don’t keep you from getting your mail delivery, but it looks like email, competition, fuel prices and the lousy economy might get the job done, at least on Saturdays.

Last week, the USPS, citing a huge budget deficit and declining revenues, said it was thinking about closing almost 1,000 post offices around the country, most of them in suburban areas.

New Jersey made out pretty well, with only a handful of offices on the list of possible closures. None of them are in communities served by Greater Media Newspapers. The Freehold Borough post office, operating out of a trailer on Lafayette Street, was scheduled to close this summer, but that has been delayed, largely due to the public outcry.

We’re not completely out of the woods yet, because the USPS said its list might eventually grow to 4,800 branch offices, depending on how much impact the first round of cutbacks has on the bottom line. There may be more New Jersey offices on the expanded list, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

The service is also thinking about other ways of increasing revenue, including another increase in the price of first-class stamps, which makes people who bought wheelbarrows full of those Forever Stamps when they first came out look like geniuses.

They’re also thinking about cutting back the number of delivery days from six days a week to five.

Personally, I think that’s a grand idea. In an average week, I get between 40 and 50 pieces of mail, and in that average week maybe one or two pieces are mail I actually want. The rest is junk mail, catalogs, credit card offers and, worst of all, bills.

Most of the junk mail never even makes it into the house and goes directly into the garbage can (I take great pleasure in this, imagining the screams of horror coming from the companies who paid good money to mail me that garbage), but the bills always bum me out.

If they decide to quit ruining my Saturdays with more junk mail and bills, then more power to them.

But I also think the USPS could increase its business with a good marketing campaign. For example, they could use:

Celebrity spokesmen. I don’t think Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson are doing much these days, and they might make great celebrity spokesmen for the Postal Service. Just look at what Paris, wearing a bikini at the car wash, did for cheeseburgers in those videos for Carl’s Jr. I envision a commercial with both Jessica and Paris, dressed in lingerie from Victoria’s Secret, showing up at the post office to send a text message to one of their Best Friends Forever. They could explain that although using their BlackBerries for texting is definitely faster, they’re flat tired of people hacking their accounts and publishing their text messages. They could explain that although texting by actual letter takes longer, it’s much safer, because tampering with it is a federal offense.

Cooperative advertising campaigns. You can’t escape all the

ads for erectile dysfunction drugs and other sexual enhancement products on network television these days, but those companies obviously know their markets and have a lot of money to spend. Maybe the USPS should team up with them. How’s this for a commercial idea? A guy writes his wife a love letter (how long has it been since you got one of those?) and mails it. A couple of days later, his wife gets the letter, is touched by the romance of it all, and writes him back setting a rendezvous for the coming weekend. Unfortunately, since the USPS has suspended Saturday delivery, he doesn’t get the letter until Monday, which is too late. Nope, I guess that won’t work. Let’s say he gets the letter, shows up at the rendezvous, and then that musical group singing “Viva Viagra” in the garage comes on to close the commercial out. I’d watch that commercial, wouldn’t you? Heck, it might even prompt me to mail a love letter.

Special promotions. The people who send you junk mail get a pretty good rate from the USPS; otherwise, they couldn’t afford to send you all that stuff to throw away. But the USPS doesn’t offer many special deals to the average customer. Maybe it’s time they did. How about TwoFer Tuesdays, during which you get to mail two letters for the price of one? Or how about Bring a Friend Friday, during which you get some of your mail delivered for free if you can convince your neighbors to mail their mortgage and cable payments through the USPS instead of paying them online? How about coupons, for cryin’ out loud?

Singing delivery. Make the delivery person sing you a song whenever he or she delivers your mail. Old Monkees’ songs if it’s junk mail. Opera if it’s Priority. And if they can’t sing, we could give them kazoos. How much would you pay to have your property tax payment delivered to city hall by a mailman with a kazoo? I’d pay a buck, at least.

Government incentives. We’ve all seen how popular the federal Cash for Clunkers program has been, and so far it’s only cost taxpayers a few billion dollars. Isn’t it about time the government started incentivizing (their word, not mine) us to mail our bill payments and text messages instead of sending them online? Darned right, it’s time. How about a government incentive program that gives you 10 cents back for every first-class stamp you buy for 44 cents? That makes as much sense to me as Cash for Clunkers, in which you trade in an automobile that’s probably paid for and get a brand-new one that comes with a hefty car payment, but gets a couple extra miles per gallon.

Now, you see how easy that was? Next week: Humanizing the Internal Revenue Service.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.