You’re not going to love this: the USPS screws up Valentine’s Day

BREAKING NEWS: February 2: It’s official! The USPS will make the stamp available for sale to consumers online and in the post offices in time to mail Valentine’s Day cards.  Be sure to buy your 2012 Love Ribbons stamps and tell USPS how much you appreciate their decision!   Many thanks to USPS for their responsiveness to consumers; details here.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: FEBRUARY 2, 2012I have just received information this morning from a confidential source that — for the first time in its history — the USPS will release a stamp for sale in advance of its official dedication.  In response to customer demand, the 2012 Love Ribbons Stamp (item 577200) may be sold as soon as post offices receive their shipments.   The First Day of Issue Ceremony will take place as scheduled on February 14 in Colorado Springs.  An announcement from USPS Corporate Communications is pending.  This is wonderful news and I’m so pleased the USPS made this decision!

The original blog post published yesterday (February 1, 2012)  is below:

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: all the marketing and public relations in the world won’t help you if you engage in unwise business decisions.

And if there were any organization who could use all the positive publicity and good will they could get, that would be the U.S. Postal Service, the second largest civilian employer in the U.S., which laid off tens of thousands of employees last year  (this was my error: actually the correct statement is that USPS announced in December of last year that they will eliminate 28,000 jobs) and which will shut down more than half of their mailing centers in a desperate attempt to reduce their budget deficit.

Where’s the Stamp?

I’m not sure who is responsible for this latest decision, but you should know: the Love Stamp, you know the one we all buy to put on our Valentine’s Day cards?  Well, that stamp is not going to be available for sale in U.S. post offices until February 14.  Valentine’s Day.

Insert Head in Sand: Not a Good PR Approach

Breaking tradition now is a huge mistake.  The clerks at my post office are as upset about this as any of us romantic souls who are accustomed to buying these stamps in time to mail our Valentines.  And there’s no explanation why on the USPS website, either.  I don’t think that’s a very good public relations tactic, especially with first class mail expecting to drop by half by 2020.

Clearly, there was a big mistake, somewhere, but the USPS seems to be treating this situation as if they expect no one will notice, although Love stamps have been an annual February issue since 1973.  Believe me, consumers are noticing.

And what a lost revenue opportunity!  The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that American shoppers will spend more on Valentine’s Day than any year previously, an estimated $126 per person.  The greeting card industry in the U.S. is valued at more than $7 billion.  And according to Hallmark Cards, Valentine’s Day is the second busiest time of the year for mailing greeting cards.  Americans typically send more than 150 million cards and packages for Valentine’s Day.

Is not having the Love stamp going to stop them from sending cards?  No.

Is realizing the Love stamp is not going to be available until Valentine’s Day going to confuse and annoy postal customers?  Yes!

Maybe people will use the Love stamps for wedding invitations or Mother’s Day cards, as they have in the past.  I could see that with the 2010 stamp.  But this one is bright RED with pink ribbons, and it LOOKS like a Valentine.  It was clearly designed to be available in time for mailing Valentines (the week before Valentine’s Day).  And it isn’t going to be.

Just Tell Consumers Why! Maybe They’ll Understand (and Forgive)

In the sphere of crises that can befall an organization, perhaps not producing an annual stamp in time for Valentine’s Day sales isn’t that significant.  But with no explanation at hand, postal clerks and postal customers are just going to assume the worst — that someone, somewhere at the top, made a colossal screw-up.   And allowing consumers to assume the worst is never a good crisis communications strategy.

We’re human, and we have all made mistakes.  I think at this point, a straight out, public admission and apology from USPS would do more good than just silence and not addressing the issue.  Would it bring on negative publicity to USPS?  Perhaps.  But it would also confer accountability for next year.

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About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on February 1, 2012, in Marketing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. If your Valentine’s Day is going to be ruined based on the choice of stamp you place on the envelope, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about. You say this is a “lost revenue opportunity” then acknowledge that this snafu will not reduce the number of cards sent. How is that lost revenue?

    • I do not believe I said my Valentine’s Day would be ruined over a stamp! I am looking forward to a blissfully happy Valentine’s Day, actually. But I am disappointed that the stamp was not made available in time, and there is no question that it is a lost revenue opportunity for the post office. People will send cards, but they will use the stamps available to them, not buy the “special” stamps to send them (not all of which will actually get used).

  2. Suprise, suprise. What is the big deal here? Postal employees live with bone-head managers every day. The public would be up in arms if they knew some decisions that are made by stupid managers.

  3. If you are going to trash a company please make sure you have all of your facts straight. The Love stamp may be issued each year but it has NOT always been before Valentines Day. Maybe you should find something else to do to help the people of USPS besides trashing them.

    • It has been issued before Valentine’s Day, actually.

      • Actually no they haven’t. Research it. Last year Garden of love was released in May. The Love pansies for 2010 were issued in May In 1988 the pink rose was issued July 4. They are usually out before but now always. Do you want me to find you all the exact dates?

        • Thanks for your comment. Yes, would you mind finding all the exact dates for the Love stamp since the first Love stamp was issued in 1973? That would be terrific information to add to this post. However, I do believe this particular stamp was designed to be issued in time for Valentine’s Day, since the designer herself mentioned there was some sort of delay.

    • Also I am not “trashing” anyone. I love the USPS but they made a big mistake here and even the USPS employees I talked to are upset about it!

      • Of course because people do ask for them before Valentines Day. But it isn’t the policy for them to always be out before then. They can still use the Garden Of Love Stamps from last year they are forever stamps. That is part of the reason that they made forever stamps. To be able to continue to use them.

        • Let me ask you two questions, which I think are fair questions:
          1. Do you, personally, think it looks like a Valentine’s Day stamp, in it’s design? Does this say “Mother’s Day” or “wedding invitation” to you more than Valentine’s Day?

          2. If you, personally, had a choice, would you have rather been able to buy this stamp LAST week than on the 14th? Assuming you do send Valentine’s Day cards?

          • I can’t copy and paste the information I looked up…they are going from dates from January to August. I also have a link that you can look up and it gives you exact dates for every stamp. http://WWW.virtualstampclub.com . I do work for the USPS, and I haven’t seen one lay off. As for your question, last years garden of love stamp is very well liked. It is “lovish” so it would work for Valentines very well, there are always some love stamps that are more well liked then others. But that is the same with every stamp no matter what. But to answer your question, I do like the new love stamp alot. I bought one of the bags that we sell that have the stamp on it. And yes it may upset the artist that it isn’t out before Valentines, but according to everything I have read it wsa scheduled to come out on Feb 14th and not before. Since it is a forever stamp, people will buy a lot of them. They will look good for Wedding’s, and just cards in general. Remember that a lot of people don’t even send cards anymore. People have gotten lazy when it comes to actually showing some love with pen and paper.

            • I really appreciate your comments, and thank you so much for identifying yourself as a USPS employee, because that does lend credibility and context to everything you say — after all, I am not a USPS employee! And of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Personally, I would not put that stamp on a wedding invitation or Mother’s Day card, because to me, it really looks like Valentine’s Day more than just generic “love” but I would have used the other floral designs for that purpose. So, as a consumer, I can say: I wish they had put these pretty red stamps out in time for Valentine’s Day, but you are right, there is not dead-set precedent that it should have been so. It just boils down to perception, and my feelings as a marketer, I suppose. It appeared that way to me, of course, and to my friends in the post office. I still think it was a missed opportunity.

              The layoff sentence will be corrected — I appreciate everyone who clarified and corrected that for me!

              • I agree it would look good on Valentines day cards…but it is a Love stamp…which is used for Wedding and things in general that you are sending to people that you care about. A lot of people dont’ send cards, and a lot don’t even care what stamp is on it. I do send cards, and that was something my mom taught me. When I got married I had to purchase the Love stamp for the invitations, people will buy them for that because that is what they think they should do. It just says love…I personally like the stamp and am going to buy some just to use, and to send to my grandmother and Aunt since my parents have passed on.

        • This is the other part of the story. I went to the post office the other day. It’s the biggest one around here. I did not ask for NEW love stamps. I just asked for Love stamps. The postal clerk sighed and said, “Are you ready for this?” and I said “No, what?” and he said, “The Love stamps are not going to be out until Valentine’s Day.” and I said “What?” and he said “I know.” And then he called over to the manager, “When our those Love stamps going to be available again?” She said, in a tired kind of way: “February 14.” And I said, laughing “But that’s craziness!” and HE said “Tell me about it. My thoughts exactly.” They were also waiting for the new postcard stamps, too, by the way, which they didn’t have (the postcard rate went up Sunday). So obviously there is a distribution problem somewhere. And all I’m saying is that I’m not the only one disappointed about this. My postal clerks are clearly bummed. But it doesn’t mean I don’t love my postal service. I DO. They just made a bad decision, and it was an excellent marketing example, in my opinion. And you are right, not every time have those Love stamps been out for Valentine’s Day, but the first one was, and many afterward were. I just think there’s no REASONABLE rationale for the delay to V-day. And they already have the Love merchandise with the new design in the post offices, but NOT the stamps!

          • I agree, they should have the love stamps out before Valentines day. But in reality, they don’t think of it as just a valentine stamp…people come in to buy them for weddings and thats what they ask for..is a love stamp. We had the new post card stamps here for a week before the new rate went into effect. Part of that is in ordering. You need to place an order for stamps in advance, if they didn’t get the order in on time then they wouldn’t have them. I did see an issue that they said the printer was having, they didn’t get all of the stamps out that were ordered on time. So not every office was left out like yours was. And I am sure the clerks were frustrated with people asking for the new love stamp ahead of time. Maybe if people sent in suggestions then they would start ordering and releasing the love stamps before Valentines each year…like the end of January would be the best.

  4. Where exactly did you get the layoff information. There have been ZERO layoffs…

  5. “which laid off tens of thousands of employees last year”
    I stopped reading right about there. Judging by this gross inaccuracy I’m guessing the ‘Prince’ side of your firm has all the brains.

  6. Retired Postal Manager

    You might want to read the information from wilkipedia again. The word layoff is never used. The Postal Service announced that they will eliminate jobs not people. Once the jobs are eliminated the individuals are moved to other positions which become vacant as a result of attrition. There have been no layoffs. The closing of processing facilities are on hold pending further analysis.

    • Actually, I did not know about that distinction. I assumed eliminated jobs meant layoffs, but I see I was wrong about that! I will cross out my original statement on this and post the correction and I really appreciate your courtesy in correcting my error. Thank you!

  7. LOL. I am making a mental note here to never again even indirectly criticize the USPS! Such feisty — but many insightful — comments today! It’s clear I got a couple of facts mixed up — not that it really took that much away from my main point, which was an opinion about Valentine’s Day and marketing stamps. But I should have got the facts straight. I am really grateful for all the views — this is one of the top viewed posts I have written in a couple of years, and all the comments. As much as I hope to share what I know, I also want to learn from my readers. So, thank you! And seriously, I do love my USPS. I really like the idea of making the suggestion that next year USPS sells a unique stamp designed and released for Valentine’s Day. That would make me — and a lot of hopeless romantics out there! — very happy 🙂

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