Mail vendors working around the country are scrambling to adapt to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Printing and delivery may be hampered by state-mandated business closures, or in worst-case scenarios, by manpower shortages or by United States Postal Service (USPS) delivery concerns.
Even if the USPS continues to operate as normal, Matt Hafer and Tracy Dietz, of DonorBureau wrote in an email March 20, “and the Federal Government doesn't enforce the California and New York-style ‘shelter-in-place’ requirements for the United States as a whole, it is inevitable that every print house, mail shop, and caging operation will have at least one confirmed COVID-19 case, and out of safety concerns will be forced to temporarily shut down operations.”
Texting and emailing was the alternative Hafer and Dietz proposed in those circumstances. Meanwhile, if you can get your pieces out, how do you message to the increasingly captive audience of Americans under stay-at-home orders?
“To say we are literally changing everything on a moment's notice would be an understatement,” said Karen Petel, president of Petel & Co.
Her firm is servicing clients running in Wisconsin’s date-disputed primary, which is still slated for April 7 despite opposition from a growing list of Wisconsin officials and legal action from the state Democratic Party and DNC over deadlines for online voter registration and vote-by-mail applications. A number of other states have already shifted upcoming primary dates, including Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Maryland, Connecticut, Georgia, and Kentucky.
If that wasn’t enough, Petel’s firm is also grappling with the possibility that the print shops they rely on end up closed either by government order or due to lack of staffing.
“Last week we front-loaded our printing to help the print shops stay safe,” said Petel. “We also made additional investments in digital components to reinforce direct mail and reach voters at home.”
In the event of an election postponement or a USPS service disruption, Petel said they’re prepared. “The USPS tell us they don't expect interruptions in standard mail delivery as they are deemed essential. However, we are taking nothing for granted.”
A disruption to the mail in this environment would be a missed opportunity, given how the lives of millions of voters have slowed giving them more time to interact with a piece.
In fact, Josh Grossfeld, of Wildfire Contact, told C&E he thinks the 5-7 second rule to make an impression doesn’t necessarily hold here. His formula: “More people at home, more people with time on their hands to look at what's in the mailbox.”
But that raises the bar on the creative at a time when messaging for mail pieces on everything from fundraising to contrast ads is unclear.
“This is especially challenging for candidates who don't hold office,” said Chris Russell of New Jersey-based mail firm Checkmate Strategies. “Incumbents can talk about what they are doing to address the crisis — challengers will have a tougher time being credible on that front.”
He added: “These unprecedented circumstances will really require campaigns to get creative and think outside-the-box, especially challenger campaigns."
Other consultants see campaigns charting in real-time their courses on messaging for their mail pieces.
Bergen Kenny, chief executive of SpeakEasy Political, which offers a self-service platform to down-ballot campaigns, said they’ve seen “an uptick both in mail as a means to advertise virtual town halls and to communicate important health information to vulnerable populations.”