CAMPAIGNS: Media Relations - Santa delivers for a struggling USPS

Client: United States Postal Service (Great Lakes region)

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Peek Into Santa's Mailbag

Time Frame: November/December 2001

Budget: Staff time



The fiscal year for the United States Postal Service (USPS) begins

in early September. For just a few days, then, it appeared as if it

would be a year much like any other for the USPS. Then the terrorists

struck.



In the ensuing weeks, with one anthrax scare after another, USPS'

business went into a huge slump. Overall, it collected and delivered 2.5

billion fewer pieces of mail than it did over the same period during the

previous year.



An overall downturn in the economy resulted in less commercial and

personal mail being sent. Widespread panic and a few instances of

newspapers and television stations going so far as specifically

instructing citizens not to open their mail because of anthrax left the

Postal Service searching for a turnaround strategy to enter the holiday

season - historically, its most lucrative time of year.



Strategy



Refusing to let the holiday season - which typically brings in 20% of

annual revenue - pass by unsuccessfully, the Great Lakes region's

in-house PR team came up with an idea to work with local media to

encourage people to use the mail system.



"Our holiday mail campaign needed to renew enthusiasm" about sending

holiday cards and packages, and take away the fear factor, says Jim

Mruk, manager of public affairs and communications for the Postal

Service's Great Lakes area.



Every holiday season, the area's post office goes beyond the usual call

of duty by raising awareness of mailing deadlines, and offering tips for

protecting gifts and proper addressing information. The USPS also takes

the opportunity to promote its express and priority services. But this

year, "We needed a creative twist on the evergreen story," says

Mruk.



Tactics



Shannon LaBruyere, communications specialist for the suburban Detroit

district, examined the idea of capitalizing on letters to Santa. She

pitched the idea to local Fox news stations to have a letter carrier

appear in uniform on television, and read letters addressed to Santa

that children had dropped in mailboxes. By familiarizing the public with

postal workers, the PR team felt people would be put at ease, and regain

the holiday spirit.



Originally pitched only to Fox 2 in Detroit, the USPS was soon asked to

provide enough employees to read three letters per week on Fox News in

the Morning, done on Fox's own set that the station built for the

segment. Ultimately, "North Pole News" (named "Peek Into Santa's

Mailbag" by the USPS PR team) was aired every morning between

Thanksgiving and Christmas. The segment eventually ran on Fox 59 in

Indianapolis and Fox 2 in St. Louis as well.



Results



The address where children could send mail was displayed after each

letter was read on the air by a postal worker, so it came as no surprise

that the Great Lakes area Postal Service received a large increase in

letters to Santa over last year.



The campaign succeeded in instilling comfort in adults living in the

area as well. On the Monday before Christmas - typically the USPS'

busiest mail day of the season - the Royal Oak plant in suburban Detroit

counted 415,000 more postmarks than it had on the previous Monday.

Overall year-end volume came out flat, but the district is content with

its results, and ended the year on a spirited note.



Future



The USPS' Great Lakes region PR team is currently working with the Fox

affiliates to turn "Peek Into Santa's Mailbag" into an annual holiday

tradition.



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