Ever considered using our nation’s postal service for a direct marketing campaign? In the spirit of the festive season, I give you the tortuous tale of my first attempt at enlisting the services of Canada Post to deliver an Orca-rescuing flyer to two postcodes in Victoria, BC. Oh come all ye fateful…
As fortune would have it, just as I began designing a new membership flyer for the Canadian Orca Rescue Society (CORS), my cousin Frank pitched me to see if I might need any printing work done. He had just landed a job at TLC Global, a direct mail company in Montreal. I had just landed a job with CORS, a marine conservation organization. I was working 15 hours a week fundraising for the cause of saving Orcas and the Salish Sea. Once I’d designed the flyer — an illustrated appeal letter on legal size paper to fit a response coupon — I put the artwork on Dropbox for Frank to see. “This is magnificent Greg,” he said. “I’ll ask our estimation department to give me a price.”
TLC Global sent me a quote for various print runs. After reviewing their prices and comparing other quotes, my employers and I decided on a run of 3,000, costing around 30 cents a sheet. Two weeks later, the printed flyers arrived at my doorstep, triple folded and bundled in boxes. They looked absolutely fabulous. Bright colours, fine bleeding at the edges, and perfect folding.
Frank suggested I distribute them through Canada Post’s mail drop service. Seemed a good plan. Deliver 2,500 by mail drop and keep 500 to distribute at CORS events. Ever since I started fundraising on Vancouver Island four years go, I had been intrigued by Canada Post (CP)’s tools to target various neighbourhoods, but had not yet had the opportunity to try them.
As a fundraiser with 30 years experience, I can testify to the power of direct mail. And I don’t mean appeal letters you send by email, that get trashed after a five-second glance. I’m talking about a piece of mailing you can hold in your hand, that hangs around the study for a spell. If it’s well designed and bears a a compelling message, its shelf life will be even longer.
Starting with an appeal for membership, gathering members to CORS’s cause, the aim is to build a support base for the long term. A donor base of 100,000 supporters will bring in upwards of $1 million a year but takes years of effort to grow. Nevertheless, you’ve got to start somewhere. CORS’s flyer on the wealthiest doorsteps in town might just set things in motion for the non-profit society. At the very least it will provide us with data about responses and ROIs and get our branding out there.
Thursday: I went online and signed up for a Canada Post account, chose the postcodes where I wanted the flyers delivered — apartments in Oak Bay and Uplands — then tried to pay for my order. Nope. Cannot compute. The CP portal refused to take my payment. The indifferent machine gave no reason. I tried again. But doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a sign of insanity.
Monday: I called the main post office in downtown Victoria, asked if I could simply deliver the flyers, fill out some paperwork and pay in person. The woman on the phone consulted a colleague next to her. I could hear his reply. He was filled with indignation that I even had the temerity to ask. “No,” he said sternly, “tell him the paperwork has to all be filled out online and the mail drop paid for before it is delivered to one of our sorting offices.”
I then returned to my CP online account and tried once again to place the order but no dice. I called customer support and told them about the problem. Turns out I had set up a personal account when I needed a business account to use the mail drop service. Of course. Made sense… She warned me I would not be able to use the same phone number again, “So just make one up.”
Shrewdly, before setting up my business account, I exported the details of my campaign from my personal account, which I knew would save me time. And instead of making up a number, I used my wife’s phone number. Seemed an elegant solution. By nifty coincidence, her number differs from mine by just one digit, the last. My profile complete, CP then sent me a welcome email informing me of my customer number and that a membership card was in the post.
Finally, I was ready to place my order. However, before I could use my account, an anonymous robot at CP insisted I first verify my email. Fair enough. I clicked the button in its verification email and got bounced to a website with an error message. I then clicked the option to “Re-send verification email?” but wound up at the same dead end. I tried again and again. No dice. I was caught in an infinite loop and my inbox was getting swamped with verification emails.
Tuesday: I called customer support again, this time I got through to the Tech department. “We’ve been experiencing this problem since last Thursday,” said the young woman on the line,.“I’ve logged countless tickets about it.” She suggested I try verifying the email on my phone or my tablet. I tried. Still no dice. I was at my wit’s end. All I wanted to do was drop this mailing.
Wednesday: I remembered I had a LinkedIn Premium account, which allows me to send a direct message to anyone with a LinkedIn account, so basically the entire corporate world. Subsequently, I wrote to Canada Post’s chief executive, Doug Ettinger:
Dear Mr Ettinger,
I would not normally write to you directly on such a matter as I am sure you are a busy man, but I am at the end of my tether. Who else can I turn to? I am a professional fundraiser. I own a small business in British Columbia that specializes in cause-related goals for donors and beneficiaries. A week ago, I set out to create a simple mail drop campaign on Canada Post’s website – 2,500 items to be dropped in two postal codes in Victoria — but I was prevented from putting my payment through because the service is only available to small businesses and I had mistakenly registered a Personal account. It took several phone calls to your support team for me to determine what the problem was. I then re-registered as a business. But at the final stage, I was asked to verify my email and have since been trapped in an infinite loop. Canada Post has issued me a customer number (0009788809) and sent me a membership card. But I cannot get past the email verification wall to place my order. I have since spoken to half a dozen customer service reps and each one of them has done nothing to resolve the issue except pass me on to another department. I finally got through to someone in your IT department who said the problem had been on-going for the past week. She told me she has sent countless tickets about it to the powers that be, but the problem persists. It must be affecting many new customers. Meantime, I still just want to do business with Canada Post….
Please help me resolve this issue.
Thursday: Mr Ettinger’s personal assistant, Ann called me from head office in Ottawa, or rather she called Roberta, my wife — the number I used when I set up my business account. Had I used a made up number, I’d probably still be in this mess. Anne was surprised that I couldn’t simply walk into a post office with my mailing and do the paperwork there. She said she would call Victoria PO and see if she couldn’t persuade them otherwise. She couldn’t.
Friday: I received a call from Director of Operations, Andrew Lonsbrough in Toronto, an Australian. I could tell by the confident tone of his antipodean voice that he was someone with the power to solve my problem. He listened intently then said, “I’ll see if there isn’t some way to free you from your infinite loop, mate. Can I call you Monday?” he asked. “Or does this need to be dealt with immediately.” I told him it could easily wait until Monday.
That night, over drinks with my mates I regaled them with my near triumph. It was not the first time I had used LinkedIn Premium to great advantage. The last time was when British Airways had me in its own infinite loop, over compensation for a cancelled flight from London to Rome. “So I in-boxed the CEO of BA with my gripe and soon after got compensated to the tune of $2,000.” Nevertheless, I wasn’t home yet with Canada Post. I spent the weekend on tenterhooks, hoping the problem would get resolved.
Monday: A text arrived from Andrew in which he confirmed, “we can force the verification in the back end.” Following an exchange of emails, back and forth, I was in, I was freed from the loop. I imported my campaign data, filled out my credit card details and pressed the “Place Your Order” button. Cannot compute. WTF? I was right back where I’d started. Bypassing Andrew, a busy bloke, I called CP Tech. Kylie cut to the chase, took control of my laptop using the support.me URL. She instructed me to clear my browser’s cache. I did. Cannot compute. “OK,” she said, “I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start your order from scratch.” Thanks to the saved campaign data, this took less than a minute. And then my payment went through. Phew!
Tuesday: Armed with printouts for my order to give to the Canada Post delivery folk, I took CORS’s flyers to Victoria’s main sorting office, a 15 minute drive from my home. It took me a few tries to find the right loading bay, and then park in the right space. I was prepared for more hurdles but since I had already come through a gauntlet of them, and in the course of ten days all my anger and frustration about CP’s infinite loop had been diffused, I greeted every person I met with warmth and courtesy. “You need to sort those into different bins,” said a young woman working in the delivery bay, whose childlike features were obscured by a mask. “Gladly,” I smiled. “But I can help you,” she added. We divided the 2,500 flyers according to individual postal routes. “You’re lucky we’re not busy,” said a man who joined us in the task. I wanted to sing, I was so happy. My mailing had finally dropped. The flyers would be delivered in a day or so, to apartments in Oak Bay and Uplands, still in time to appeal to good folks’ festive cheer. Merry Christmas, everyone!