Postal Pieces: Papers Partner with USPS
When Dan Alexander, publisher and owner of Denton Publications, Inc., and the publisher of Sun Community News and Printing, got up early to attend a postal roundtable at the AFCP annual conference in 2015, he was looking for the latest information on postal service rates, service changes, and promotions.

He is always on the lookout for ideas that can help his paper, his customers, and significantly, other papers in the industry.

As the publisher of a community newspaper with distribution through much of the Northeastern portion of New York, Alexander values the Postal Service and his relationship with the USPS. He describes the Postal Service as a "vital partner" and "the best distribution system in the world." He is also a passionate spokesperson for the free paper industry and the ability of community newspapers to provide advertisers with the relevant, locally delivered, print advertising messages they need.

When Alexander heard about the Postal Service's 2015 Mail Drives Mobile Engagement six-month, two-percent discount incentive program, he recognized an opportunity to do more than just earn a discount for his own paper. Donna Hanbery, executive director of the Saturation Mailers Coalition, explained how the incentive program was designed to connect consumers to the Internet to trigger an online purchase, with a product or a mailed confirmation and receipt delivered by the USPS.

Alexander saw an opportunity to use the USPS promotion, combined with a donated ad from his publication and that of other papers, to help support Fisher House Foundation, an A+ rated charity that relies on the generosity of the American public to fund its homes and programs. AFCP and other state, regional, and national free paper associations, acting individually and through PaperChain, have supported the work of Fisher House Foundation for the past two years. Fisher House is best known for its network of comfort homes where military veteran families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment.

Alexander did the leg work to look into the Postal promotion and to determine the steps that would need to be followed for a publisher, and the Fisher House promotional ads, to qualify for the two percent Postal discount.

So what is Fisher House and how did it come to be the sponsored cause for the free paper industry? The story begins with AFCP Executive Director Loren Colburn. When the Government shutdown occurred a few years ago, Colburn heard that Fisher House was stepping up to help ensure that military families would continue to receive death benefits for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Colburn, like many Americans, was moved by Fisher House offering to do what the Federal Government would not. He also saw the opportunities for home town America to contribute to Fisher House in meaningful ways. Fisher House accepts donations, large and small, in the form of cash but can also use donations of airline and hotel points or miles to help military families travel to be with a loved one and find lodging in areas where Fisher House does not have one of its "home away from homes" to house military families. He describes Fisher House Foundation as "the perfect opportunity for hometown America to move the needle to help a good cause in a meaningful way."

Colburn reached out to the Foundation for information and sample ads that free papers could include as part of their community service commitment to help Fisher Houses nationwide and in the communities where papers are published and read.

So let me return to the diligent efforts of Dan Alexander. He is involved with PaperChain, a combined effort of all free papers to help build the brand of free community papers. PaperChain strives to present the free paper industry as the most persuasive and locally relevant print product that advertisers and media buyers can choose to help advertisers connect with customers.

For papers with either editorial or 100% advertising content, free papers receive excellent audited scores for readership and response. In communities where free papers are distributed by mail, papers work closely with the Postal Service to provide advertisers and readers with a weekly source for shopping values. Most free papers devote a significant amount of unpaid space within each publication to community news, announcements, and other non-profit or charitable efforts. For PaperChain President John Draper, the opportunity to support Fisher House while partnering with the Postal Service's promotion was a win-win-win.

Draper liked the Fisher House opportunity, as it was a cause with connections throughout the country. The free paper industry works to push results in local community markets. As one of its brand-building outreach efforts, PaperChain values the opportunity to partner with charitable programs and to educate free paper publishers on opportunities, like the Postal promotion, to strengthen the free paper industry.

Draper credits Dan Alexander for doing the leg work to get a template ad and bar code for the promotion, and for making sure that publishers understood and could fulfill all USPS promotion program requirements.

The program rules for the Mail Drives Mobile Engagement incentive were designed to encourage mailers to drive consumers to complete an online transaction. Alexander made the inquiry about designing an ad and program that could help readers make a contribution to Fisher House. He describes the Postal Service promotion office as being very helpful in answering his inquires and working to design a program where a true exchange of funds for a contribution was achieved. "They took the time to understand the promotion, and to help us explain to participants that wanted to register in advance how to meet program requirements," said Alexander.

PaperChain communicated with its members to promote and describe the Postal Service promotion and the opportunity for publishers who mail to participate in communications to members. PaperChain pointed out that donations of miles or hotel points would not qualify for the promotion at this time. A donation of money or another financial contribution that could be confirmed by a receipt that the Fisher House Foundation would send by mail was required.

PaperChain got to work in sharing information about the Mail Drives Mobile Engagement promotion with all publishers.

After describing the steps to participate in the Mail Drive Mobile Engagement promotion, PaperChain provided some information about Fisher House and the Postal Service.

"Fisher House has been serving our military families for 25 years with 66 facilities around the country and in Europe, providing housing close to a loved one during hospitalization for an illness, disease, or injury. This USPS promotion provides PaperChain publishers with an incentive to run the Fisher House ads and assist them in this very important mission.

"Our delivery partner, the United States Postal Service, sees this mobile engagement promotion as an ideal way to further strengthen their market position in this ever challenging economy. Keeping our delivery partner well positioned to meet the technology changes, maintains our publications delivery method through this valuable vendor."

Alexander has been running the Fisher House ads in every edition of his paper since the promotion period began. He pointed out some other win-win benefits of the promotion. He states, "Our readers have seen the ads each week and have learned about Fisher House and the valuable work it is doing. The savings the paper has received in postage has helped the paper invest in inserting equipment to help expand its distribution business and strengthen its mailed community products."

Alexander is bullish on print and the free paper industry. "As the dailys are pulling back and doing less in full saturation coverage, insert and flyer customers are moving towards the free paper industry and the mail," he said.

Alexander also believes in the Postal Service. "In our rural market, it surely is our partner," he said. "The Postal Service has been interested in our well being and has worked with us. We hope this promotion is offered again in a way that we can help and support the Fisher House next year."


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