USPS Faces Another Crisis Communications Crunch

Breaking down a reputational tough spot

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has seen no shortage of crisis communications challenges connected – directly or tangentially – to its strange status as a business enterprise operated by the federal government. Though most will say out loud that they have low expectations fromthe USPS, it only takes witnessing someone receiving a package from across the country one day late or a bit banged up to hear their displeasure and realize how high expectations truly are for this organization.

Now, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has the unenviable task of explaining the agency’s latest plan; in short, to get ahead of a projected $160 billion deficit over the next decade by using less air transport and relying on its significant ground network instead. The catch? Slower service for much of the country, though how much slower seems up for debate. There’s no doubt USPS leadership knew this would be unpopular, and they came out prepared with talking points to counter.

“This allows, from our perspective, for the customers to plan, to have predictability,” Robert Cintron, the Postal Service’s vice president of logistics, reported the Washington Post. “They’re going to know what they’re going to get. There’s that one to two days for the longest [delivery] distances that we have to achieve, and we have to achieve those today. Whether we’re traversing 300 or 3,000 miles, it’s the same service standard. And that’s really the part that we see that’s not sustainable.”

Of course not everyone agrees, and there’s already been very public blowback from customers, who cite time-sensitive document and medical shipments among critical items that may be impacted, along with a coalition of 21 Attorney Generals who have launched a full-on assault in the press and via their own online platforms.

Whatever your opinion on the proposed changes may be (and if any readers are experts in related fields we’d love to have your thoughts in the comments!), we can all agree that this is a HUGE crisis communications challenge for USPS.  If USPS does decide to move forward with this plan I would expect to see more communications centered around showing people exactly what will means to their daily lives, announcements of partnerships with groups like medical shippers to reduce concerns about timely delivery of essential goods, and highlighting other positive things USPS is doing to make shipping easier for all of us. Nobody is going to be happy hearing their mail may be a couple days slower, but sometimes bad news is inevitable. While USPS has its talking points, this is going to be a hard sell. We’ll continue to monitor and report.

Erik Bernstein
erik@bernsteincrisismanagement.com