Postal Updates

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

Former CSAC trio critical of USPS stamp marketing efforts

February 03, 2015 11:19 AM

Saying that stamp collectors are being ignored by the United States Postal Service, three former members of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee have appealed to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan to halt the agency’s “institutionalized effort to maximize profits” from its stamp program.

Instead, the three argue in a four-page letter that USPS needs to return to a stamp program “to honor the people, guiding principles and events that have made this nation great.”

To do that, former Postmaster General Benjamin F. Bailar of Lake Forest, Ill., retired congressional staffer Cary R. Brick of Clayton, N.Y., and Linn’s columnist and former State Department official John M. Hotchner of Fairfax County, Va., urged Brennan to take a number of steps.

They urged her to consider revising the makeup of the CSAC, “hear out” the concerns of collectors, actively promote new stamp issues and improve the distribution of new stamps to post offices.

“Reverse the trend of appointing more and more artists and marketers” to the CSAC, they argued in a letter made public Feb. 2.

“How about a diverse two-thirds membership of of subject matter experts from the areas of history, science, sports, international relations, law, government and the fine arts,” they ask.

“The emphasis in designs should be on substance rather than edgy art reflecting the ooo’s and ahh’s of the artists and designers themselves. It’s not about them. It’s about the American people.”

The letter writers have been critical of the stamp selection process in the past.

A leaked letter from Bailar, postmaster general from 1975-1978, offering his resignation from the committee prompted concerns last year that marketing concerns were dictating stamp selections at the USPS.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe rejected those complaints, saying the agency was seeking a balanced stamp program.

The latest letter, dated Feb. 1, indicates that they were not satisfied by Donahoe’s response and will continue to press the argument that marketing has become a dominant force in stamp selection.

In their letter to Brennan, the three cite five actions that they say show the influence of “some pie-in-the-sky USPS marketers.”

1. “An increasing emphasis over time to change the content of stamps from substantive subjects with gravitas to more and more which are assumed to have winder appeal to the buying public.”

 2. “Sometimes repeated use of themes that were popular and therefore are expected to sell well if used again, rather than broadening the program to honor or recognize a wider range of subjects.”

3. “Over the last 20 years there has been a huge increase in the number of designs per issue, capped by the controversial 20-design 2013 issue for Harry Potter, and the eight-stamp 2014 Batman issue.”

4. Artists and marketers “are too often oriented to ‘what will sell.’ As a result, they have created odd multiple designs that often tip toward art that is edgy and even incomprehensible.”

5. Increased numbers of high denomination stamps. They cited the $12 Inverted Jenny panes “and the shameless hawking of these to those who might hope to get one of 100 un-inverts?”

The 100 Jenny panes that do not have the airplane inverted may have created excitement for the marketers, the three say.

“How about the everyday consumers? No. Collectors, No.”

Donahoe moved the stamp program from government relations to marketing, placing it under chief marketing officer Nagisa Manabe.

Manabe earned Donahoe’s public praise by her efforts to boost growth of package mail, one of the bright spots the USPS has seen in the face of a sharp decline in first-class mail volumes in recent years.

Asked to comment on the letter, David A. Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesman said:

“The Postal Service stamp program has never been stronger and more relevant as it continues to celebrate the American experience by raising awareness of individuals, events and topics which define our diverse national culture as well as the beauty of our nation.

“Under the leadership of chairman Janet Klug, the current members of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee  are helping the Postal Service develop exceptional stamp topics that represent the best of America on subjects of broad national interest that are educational, contemporary, relevant and timely.

“To attract younger, more diverse audiences, the Postal Service is providing and effectively marketing stamps that appeal to them.

“At the same time, the Postal Service remains committed to the needs and interests of long-time collectors and others in the philatelic community as we continue to recognize important events, people and topics relating to our nation’s history.

“It’s all part of our commitment to constantly look forward as an organization to meet the changing needs of our customers as we adapt as quickly as we can to a competitive and evolving marketplace,” the spokesman said.