It’s impossible to predict the future, but when there are storm clouds in the sky, you can be pretty sure it’s going to rain. Lightning and downpours can be seen in the distance, inching their way forward. We brace for the worst.
Of course, a good rain helps farmers grow crops. Watersheds and aquifers are refreshed, increasing the supply of clean water for our homes. Grasslands and forests are rejuvenated, staving off brutal fires.
There are clouds in the skies for the print-mail industry. Right now, it’s hard to say whether they bring relief or disaster, and we need to pay attention to five key issues to determine if we should celebrate or seek shelter.
- New Postmaster General – at the end of January, Postmaster General (PMG) Megan Brennan will retire after 33 years with the US Postal Service (USPS). In the next few weeks, the USPS Board of Governors will announce their selection for the 75th PMG.
The Board may a) select an internal candidate from current USPS executives; b) appoint an individual from outside the USPS and the mailing industry; or c) appoint an interim candidate and extend the time for the search. Considering that an executive search firm was hired, and the Board understands the need for stability, both options “a” and “c” aren’t probable.
Whoever the Board appoints will be taking the helm of an organization whose financial situation is hampered by the lack of legislative reform. The new leader will be expected to introduce changes to meet the dual challenges of declining volumes and more delivery points. The PMG appointment may be the biggest story in the print-mail industry in 2020.
- Updated Postal Rate Setting Rules – two years after their original proposal, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) issued their “Revised Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” on December 5, 2019. The new proposed rules allow for increases greater than the rate of inflation under certain circumstances – increased costs outside the control of the USPS and exceeding performance standards.
No one wants to pay more, but USPS postage rates need to be raised. The new proposed rules demonstrate that the PRC considered the comments and feedback from the 2017 proposal. The public may submit additional comments until February 3, 2020. The new rules will probably be posted within 60 days after that date and be used to set the postage rates for 2021.
- National Postal Forum – for mailers, this year’s National Postal Forum (NPF), April 26-29, in Orlando, FL holds significant importance. This will be the first major public appearance by the new PMG and the first major industry event after the new rate rules are published.
The PMG and the PRC can use their presentations at the NPF to set a positive tone for the rest of the year. Attendees will be expecting more than commercials, but insights into how the changes will benefit the print-mail industry. People will also want the opportunity to provide direct feedback. Education may happen on both sides of the podium.
- The Next Big Merger - The print-mail industry continues to be in a state of unrest that has been going on for several years. Declining volumes, disruptive technologies and corporate alliances add to the instability. Every week brings announcements of mergers, bankruptcies and closings.
The potential merger in the news right now involves two powerhouses in the printing equipment world. Behind the scenes, service providers are discussing partnerships and acquisitions. Rumors showing up in emails and social media posts increase uncertainty.
We should expect even more transformations in the immediate future. Industry professionals need to stay informed about their vendors, their competitors and their own companies to be prepared for whatever happens next.
- Trade Shows – Retreat or Resurgence? Last fall’s Printing United show was a success by almost every measure. An exhibit hall teeming with hundreds of vendor booths, classes on a wide range of topics, and thousands of energized attendees wanting to learn. It felt like a party in 1999.
Was it a unicorn or the beginning of a new trend?
Trade shows have seen significant decline in attendance in the 21st century. In addition to corporate cutbacks, several vendors have launched their own customer conferences and user groups. Some national shows have merged, some have disappeared. Meanwhile, local industry associations are offering larger events.
The Printing United show may signal a revival in the large national event format. To maximize opportunities, our training and speaking calendar for 2020 is a blend of events – local organizations, vendor events and national trade shows. There’s not a “one size fits all” solution.
No one knows for sure what will happen next. Stay aware, stay informed, and don’t forget to carry an umbrella.