WASHINGTON: The United States Postal Service (USPS) became an
unwitting accomplice in the spread of anthrax spores this month, forcing
its public affairs department to mount an internal communications blitz
and aggressive media campaign aimed at calming nerves and stabilizing
the public's confidence in mail delivery.
Once letters mailed to several media outlets and the US Capitol were
confirmed to be carrying the bacteria, the 110-employee department,
based in Washington, DC, launched a PR offensive on two fronts. "One is
to mobilize our employees and educate them, because they are the most
valuable asset we've got," said VP of public affairs and communications
"An educated employee is the best offense against what's going on right
"Second is driving a very simple message to the American people, and
that is to mobilize common sense," he continued.
The first initiative was carried out via "all the mediums," including a
postcard sent to all 800,000 USPS employees advising them what to tell
The external PR campaign made wide use of postmaster general John E.
Potter, who appeared on "most of the morning shows, as well as evening
newscasts and many talk shows," said Jaffer. The message he carried was
intentionally simple: The USPS handles 680 million pieces of mail a day,
and there have been only two confirmed cases of mailed anthrax.
In the next week, the USPS plans to mail postcards to every American
household, asking them to keep calm and instructing them how best to
identify and handle suspicious mail.
Next to the safety of consumers and mail handlers, Jaffer said his most
important job is making sure the anthrax scare doesn't erode America's
reliance on the USPS. "Now is not the time to lose confidence in US
mail," he said. "Now more than ever, we need to make sure people don't
lose the one vehicle of communications they have had for over 225