Will it matter if Royal Mail is private?

Protesters waved dark red flags and a coffin bearing the slogan “Here lies the remains of Royal Mail” was carried through David Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency of Witney last week, as the Communications Workers Union took to the streets to call for a rethink of the Postal Services Bill.
But will the Bill really be the final nail in the coffin of an organisation which can trace its roots back to Henry VIII and, if so, should direct marketers be bothered?
To be fair, direct marketers have always been seen as the enemy in this debate. After all, according to some sections of society, the industry is responsible for the bulging mail sacks which poor old posties have to lug around the streets, delivering ‘junk mail’ to consumers who have never asked for it and therefore just chuck it in the bin.
Far more debate seems to have gone into whether the Queen’s head would remain on postage stamps than has been aired about how business customers would be affected. Yet it is this industry which supports Royal Mail more than any other, and the unpalatable truth – for some – is that it is also this industry which shores up the Universal Service.
If the Government is using privatisation simply to raise cash for the Treasury that could spell disaster; if it is a genuine attempt to inject much needed cash into Royal Mail then direct marketer should welcome it with open arms, although, at this stage, no-one seems to know how it will pan out.
With digital channels proliferating, direct mail is being used increasingly as a CRM tool and not for acquisition, so inevitably the reliance on Royal Mail is waning. The postal operator knows it, so does the union, so does the Government.
If the result of privatisation is price hikes and a poorer service, the stampede to digital media will increase and direct mail could then be viewed as more of a luxury than a crucial part of the marketing mix. If the result is product innovation, and a better service, it could see brand owners return.
This is the real issue, the question is, when will it be tackled?

Charlie McKelvey, publishing editor (charlie.mckelvey@decisionmarketing.co.uk)

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