The U.S. Postal Service apparently subscribes to the Real Housewives of New Jersey school of money management: The thing to do when you're broke is to throw an elaborate party.
The Postal Service, which lost $1.3 billion in the fourth quarter, is hosting a reception with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe on March 18 at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco. Perhaps afraid the event didn't sound quite enticing enough on its own, the Postal Service produced a minute-long video invitation and mailed it out in a massive, 8.5-by-11-inch red box that weighs about a pound. Inside the box, which is decorated with a bald eagle in flight, is a sealed envelope containing a small electronic device that plays the video when opened.
The Huffington Posts's rough guesstimate of the cost of these invitations is about $8,000, less than a rounding error relative to the Postal Service's $19 billion in quarterly expenses. Then again, given that the Postal Service has been hemorrhaging money, perhaps it would have been better off inviting people to the reception simply by using an email, or some nice stationery.
The risk is that, in an effort to impress corporate executives that could possibly help it with that whole hemorrhaging-money thing, the Postal Service ends up alienating them instead. The Huffington Post obtained one of these invitations from an invitee to the reception. That person wished to remain anonymous, but was likely not passing along the invitation in order to highlight what a great idea it was.
In fact, the Postal Service may be reconsidering the wisdom of the invitation, as well. The original box told recipients they could RSVP at www.veryimportantnight.com, and you could see the video there until late Monday, when The Huffington Post began talking to the Postal Service about the invitation. But as of Tuesday afternoon, the URL was no longer working. We managed to save a copy of the video, which you can see above.
“The Postal Service often seeks to engage customers by showcasing innovative uses of mail," the Postal Service said in an emailed statement. "As a way of bringing together major customers -– many of whom may spend as much as $500 million annually with the Postal Service –- we mailed a creative invitation to a reception at the National Postal Forum that has drawn an excellent response to date."
The Postal Service did not respond to requests for comment about the cost of the video invitation, which, according to the now-defunct website, was the work of the office of the Postal Service's chief marketing and sales officer, Nagisa Manabe, a Yale graduate with a Harvard MBA. The Postal Service also did not offer an answer as to why the website given in the invitation is no longer functioning.
The physical invitation was produced by a Los Angeles company called Americhip. The company's president, Kevin Clegg, would not discuss how much the Postal Service paid for it.
Our best guess of the raw cost of the video-invitation mailer is about $4000. The mailer went to possibly 150 people, based on the capacity of the meeting room where the reception is happening. According to a quick search on Alibaba, higher-end video greeting cards made in China cost up to $25 each, and that's before shipping or handling, the cost of designing the card, and whatever payments went to Americhip. We have no idea what any of those other costs could be, so we have doubled them for the sake of argument to come up with a final cost to the Postal Service of about $8000.
The video itself appears to have been produced in-house, so its costs were likely minimal. Then again, it too may be self-defeating. It goes on at uncomfortable length about what a big, important person the recipient is and how excited he or she should be about getting to meet and physically touch the postmaster general. It describes San Francisco as containing "hippies" and "hills," a joke that was written in 1968, sealed in a time capsule and unearthed just for use in this video. (Fun fact: Most cities in the United States, including my hometown of Columbia, S.C., also contain a great deal of both hippies and hills.)
To be fair to the Postal Service, the money and awareness raised by schmoozing corporate executives, who will be in town anyway for the National Postal Forum, could possibly dwarf the cost of these invitations.
And the Postal Service's money woes are not entirely its own fault: Congress has done a whole lot more damage to it by demanding that it "prefund" health benefits for retirees.
Still, the Postal Service may be doing itself no favors with its party favors.
Just for added annoyance, because the video invitations are electronic devices with lithium-ion batteries, you can't just throw them in the trash. Tiny print on the back of the box invites recipients to research their local laws regarding disposal of electronics, or to simply mail the invitation back to Americhip. If you go the latter route, please consider sending it via the U.S. Postal Service. They could use the business.
This post has been updated with a statement from the Postal Service.