Briefing: Royal Mail to promote itself using customers' envelopes
By Simon Nias Friday, 29 July 2011
Royal Mail's plans to stamp a slogan on the front of every envelope to promote its services have aroused fury among those in the direct mail sector
Royal Mail is not a monopoly. However, it’s intention to start literally "stamping its mark" on the majority of the 62m items delivered daily bears all the hallmarks of monopolistic behaviour.
Having spent eight months planning the change to the mark design specification (MDS), which describes the size, location and content of marks applied to the front of all UK post, Royal Mail gave direct mail printers and their clients just two months’ notice.
Asked why it had not consulted the industry, either through its own Strategic Mailing Partnership – the board of which represents the interests of UK DM printers and mailing houses – or directly with end-users, a spokesman for Royal Mail said: "We have informed the regulator and are now notifying customers of our decision to print the mark on letters. Current regulation does not require us to consult on this."
By the time you read this, sense may have prevailed, in that Royal Mail is expected to have started the client consultation it should have undertaken in the first place. While this would be welcome, unless it results in a major rethink, if not a reversal, of the planned mark, then the impact to the sector could be significant.
The ‘Delivered by Royal Mail’ stamp is, according to the postal operator, an attempt to give recognition to the postmen and women who are at the heart of the final-mile delivery service. Apparently, internal research showed that 80% of these key staff would welcome the inclusion of a Royal Mail mark, while the union that represents them – the CWU – has also voiced its support for the scheme. However, mailing houses have questioned the postal operator’s decision to make such a sweeping change based purely on internal consultation rather than discussions with clients, while some have branded the use of postmen and women to justify the move as "cynical and manipulative".
Lance Hill, group sales and marketing director at 4DM, said: "I explained to Moya Greene that roughly 50% of the non-polywrapped work we do has got creative on it and that this mark will go right over the top of that, which means that it will penalise firms that have spent thousands of pounds on creative to help achieve better response rates and stand out on the doormat.
"Royal Mail’s response was clear: it is going to happen and we need to embrace it," said Hill. "As a result of concerns raised by the SMP board, they’ve agreed to delay the launch by from 15 August to mid-September, but that’s all we’re going to get.
"Their intention is that this will hit around 30% of mail from day one and, longer term, it will also affect polywrapped packs as well – the only reason it isn’t now is because in the main they are non machineable."
The DMA has accused the postal operator of trying to "hijack" advertising space on the front of envelopes and one-piece mailers to promote its own business and has been leading the fight to get Royal Mail to reverse the decision by filing a formal complaint with Postcomm. While PrintWeek understands that a formal investigation from the regulator is unlikely, informal discussions between Postcomm and Royal Mail will have influenced any subsequent softening of the latter’s "like it or lump it" attitude.
As Alex Walsh points out, the concerns for the sector are threefold: the lack of consultation, the unrealistic deadline, which makes no allowance for firms with large stocks of pre-printed envelopes or mailers, and the "arrogant assumption that this is theirs to do what they like with".
While it is probably the first and third points that have provoked the most anger, it is the second that will prove most costly for clients, particularly those who have pre-printed catalogues for – in some cases – the next six months, which have been designed and printed to be sent unwrapped, meaning the new mark will literally obscure the companies’ products. Royal Mail has said that the space designated for the mark is "the least likely to be used for return addresses or any other form of artwork"; however, given the lack of consultation with clients it would be interesting to know how it came to this conclusion.
The stage is now set for Royal Mail’s belated consultation process and the DM sector will be keen to see this last as long and be as transparent as possible.
Whether the process will result in any more than a delay of the inevitable remains to be seen. Meanwhile, with Royal Mail due to announce changes to its mailing house scheme in the coming weeks, the sector is holding its breath for more bad news.
The postal operator is going through a period of significant and necessary change as privatisation plans require a dramatic improvement in its financial performance and prospects.
The worry is that decisions made for the short-term benefit of Royal Mail will be of long term detriment to the UK mailing sector.
• Royal Mail plans to stamp a ‘Delivered by Royal Mail’ message on all machine-sorted UK post, even if it has come from DSA providers
• It spent eight months planning the change to the mark design specification (MDS)
• Direct mail printers and their clients were given two months' notice ahead of the implementation
• However, at the time of writing it was speculated that Royal Mail will have started a client consultation, which was initially not carried out
• Royal Mail claims the stamp gives recognition to the postmen and women at the heart of the final mile delivery service
• Internal research showed that 80% of these key staff would welcome the inclusion of a Royal Mail mark
• Mailing houses have questioned the decision to make such a sweeping change based purely on internal consultation rather than discussions with clients
• The DMA has accused the postal operator of trying to "hijack" advertising space on the front of envelopes and one-piece mailers to promote its own business
• The DM sector will be keen to see any consultation last as long as possible and be as transparent as possible
• With Royal Mail due to announce changes to its mailing house scheme, the sector is holding its breath for more bad news
• This article was originally published in the 29 July 2011 issue of PrintWeek. Royal Mail has since announced a six-month consultation with clients.
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