The Editor’s Take: Weighing in on the New Catalog Group
For years, I’ve tried hard to appreciate what the Direct Marketing Association and the Association for Postal Commerce (PostCom) have stood for and done for catalogers. But from a cataloger’s perspective, both groups always struck me as a little flawed. In some respects, they resemble this country’s government. What’s good for New Yorkers isn’t necessarily the right thing for South Dakotans or even Californians.
Likewise, what’s good for Standard letter mailers isn’t always the right thing for catalogers — who account for about 75 percent of Standard mail flats — especially when it comes to setting postal rates.
Both trade groups have always had sharp people in place. Nobody knows postal better than Jerry Cerasale, the DMA’s postal lobbyist, or PostCom’s tireless president, Gene Del Polito — and that includes many U.S. Postal Service executives.
So in light of this year’s postal rate case debacle, in April a group of catalogers and catalog vendors created a new group called the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA). Unlike a similarly frustrated group that vainly attempted to splinter from the DMA and PostCom some 15 years ago, this one’s a nonprofit 501(c)6 organization that hired an outsider to run it, has a board of directors in place, and is collecting a $5,000 initiation fee from the 40-plus catalog members that have signed up so far — although actual dues have yet to be determined.
Though unfamiliar to most catalogers, its director, Hamilton Davison, is both a veteran businessman and industry association servant, having created and run the Cardsmart retail chain and having served as director of the Greeting Card Association since 1986.
Catalog Vets Unite
The ACMA is led by several catalog veterans, including board Chairman Neil Sexton of Northern Safety Co. and Vice President of Membership Ralph Drybrough of MeritDirect. A number of veteran catalog and catalog supplier executives, such as Lillian Vernon’s Mike Muoio and Arandell Corp.’s Jim Treis, are on the board.
The key will be that the ACMA will focus solely on catalogers’ interests; whereas, catalogers are just one of many groups that DMA, PostCom and other trade groups represent. “As the last rate case so dramatically highlighted,” Davison says, “mailer interests diverge from time to time. Without a clear voice in the process, catalogers’ interests weren’t represented and their unique needs not always heard.”
It all sounds good, but I wouldn’t necessarily assume that the new group’s presence in future postal rate cases will ensure that catalogers don’t get hammered again. It’s easy to fault DMA and PostCom for not advocating catalog members’ interests adequately during this past rate case. But this was hardly the first time catalogers got screwed in postal rate cases.
On paper, the formation of the ACMA makes total sense: At last, catalogers’ very own trade group that doesn’t have to be concerned with the interests of bulk letter mailers. But then again, to say that postal lobbyists like Cerasale and Del Polito haven’t gone to bat specifically for catalogers and won’t look to fight for them in the future is a tough argument to make.
Sexton promises that ACMA will be more than just a “one-trick postal pony.” The group intends to take on the likes of UPS, FedEx, Google and Yahoo! to try to work out more favorable contracted rates for catalogers. ACMA also will negotiate with sources in China to gain better sourcing contracts there.
But the bottom line is simple. The only way ACMA will succeed where the other groups have failed is if it can mobilize this industry in shaping your postal future. “The catalog industry is amazingly uninvolved in postal affairs and uninformed about how the postal process works,” Davison says. “Once when I was in a postal policy meeting, people laughed [about catalogers’ lack of involvement], and how every mail class and subclass was represented, except catalogers.”
Even at a recent USPS-hosted symposium on Standard mail flats that drew more than 300 high-level executives, only three catalogers showed up.
Face it: The issue here really isn’t ACMA, DMA or PostCom. It’s you. ACMA could certainly help this business, but unless you step forward to take an active role in whichever industry association you choose to be a part of, it really won't make a difference.
—Paul Miller, Editor in Chief
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