Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware – Commentary

Attention members of the commercial mail production community: You’re being pitched. After nineteen months in office, and ten months after issuing his 10-year Plan, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is getting out of his office at USPS HQ and taking his sales pitch to the people.

Actually, his Selling the Plan tour began last year; he appeared at selected USPS facilities, at carefully arranged Postal Customer Council meetings, and in a protracted infomercial during the virtual National Postal Forum. His most recent venue to win friends and influence customers was last week’s Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting.

A new version

Before the general session on Tuesday, January 11, the PMG hosted a lunch for MTAC leaders who’d been invited to attend in-person what was otherwise a virtual meeting. Those who were asked to lunch weren’t there just to be nourished; they were there so the PMG could sell them on his Plan. The selling continued thereafter during his semi-prepared comments to the opening public session.

During Congressional appearances, we’d seen the confrontational and hard-nosed DeJoy; at MTAC we saw the more congenial and conversational version. Each serves a purpose.

Persons who’ve heard him in person usually are impressed by a manner which, they say, is different from what they’d expected. Hearing DeJoy explain the reasoning behind his Plan, those persons leave with a more sympathetic opinion. That’s what was supposed to happen: they got sold.

Sometime between last March and the latter part of 2021, someone at USPS HQ – likely one of the few people from whom he’ll take advice – convinced him that if he’s to neutralize opposition to his Plan, he’d have to take his case to customers and sell it. Most importantly, he’d have to become a more tactful, less combative version of himself to do so. He’d have to schmooze.

Watch what you sip

Like any good salesman, DeJoy wants listeners to buy what he’s selling, so he’s charming and engaging when necessary, but listeners need to recognize such schmooze and not be seduced by it. Moreover, in this case, what’s being sold is contrary to the best interests of those listening: policies that can lead to the undoing of their businesses. For those who think such an assessment is negative, cynical, or spiteful hyperbole, let’s review a few points that would-be buyers should remember:

  • DeJoy’s Plan is not the product of collaborative discussion with the industry. His inner circle convinced him that what had been said at years of MTAC meetings constituted “input,” but there was no industry involvement in the Plan’s development.
  • Industry comments that don’t support his Plan remain unwelcome; during the recent MTAC session, he continued to throw barbs at critics, characterizing what they say as “not credible.”
  • Supporting the USPS is being equated to supporting his Plan; support for The Plan has become a litmus test of industry loyalty.
  • Cautions that his Plan’s “judicious and prudent” price increases are excessive and will drive away customers are dismissed.
  • Industry warnings that his reduced service standards for First-Class Mail and some Periodicals, paired with higher prices, will encourage diversion and undermine mail volume are rejected.
  • Hard-copy mail apparently is seen as a dying business line not worth preserving, while he makes the USPS “a package company.”

At MTAC, he was clear that he wants its members (like PCC attendees) to be apostles for his Plan. However, his isn’t an invitation to work together to grow mail volume or seek Congressional action. Rather, by his soft-sell he wants industry members to support a Plan, featuring sharply higher prices and degraded service, that he should know will hurt their businesses – not a result that any of them should be asked or expected to ignore.

DeJoy is right that USPS finances and service need to be fixed but that doesn’t mean he has The Only Right Answers. The Plan he’s so stubbornly and uncompromisingly advocating has key parts that are harmful to commercial mail producers and their clients. If industry shares the desire to fix the USPS and may agree with some of his ideas, that should not mean that it has to either swallow his Plan whole or be dismissed as hostile whiners offering meritless arguments.

Unfortunately, his schmoozing has lured some in the industry to sip the Kool-Aid and fully embrace what he’s selling. Lulled into sympathetic agreement, they’re no longer aware that what they’re buying may put them out of business.

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