Royal Mail dispute could turn direct marketers off mail

A Marketing Week special report this week featured several brands and agencies extolling the virtues of direct mail.

Russell Parsons

The key benefit, many argued, is direct mail engages consumers directly and is therefore more likely to be acted upon. That is, of course, if the material is received in the first place.

Many direct marketers will be anxiously awaiting the outcome of the latest stand-off between the Royal Mail and Communications Workers Union (CWU) over working practices.

The CWU has taken the decision to ballot its members over industrial action, which could result in strikes and millions of undelivered items.

Leaving any judgement on the CWU’s case for strike action aside, it is clear that any interruption in mail deliveries would cause businesses both considerable inconvenience and money.

It would also further rob Royal Mail of brand equity at a time when it is under increasing pressure from rivals such as TNT Post, as well as leading direct marketers to question whether direct mail is a strategy worth the potential hassle.

The protracted stand-off, which has already led to a number of regional strikes over the summer, has severely dented the postal service’s brand reputation, with YouGov data showing Royal Mail’s “Buzz”, a measure of whether people have heard negative or positive things about a brand, falling to a low of -14 last week.

Any autumn industrial action could also accelerate the drift away from mail towards digital channels. Royal Mail is handling 10% less mail each year already, a figure that could shoot northwards if direct marketers conclude that the nation’s primary postal service is less than reliable.

The CWU is acting in the best interests of its members, while the Royal Mail, with its perilous financial state and £10bn pension deficit, has much to lose from any strike action.

The Direct Marketing Association, therefore had it right when it called on the Government to intervene and broker a deal.

Otherwise, direct marketers may not be so quick to praise the channel next time around.

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