Advertising to Pay for Postal Service's Online Offering

Advertising to Pay for Postal Service's Online Offering

By William Welsh, Staff Writer

Online advertising will play a key role in a new service that debuts next year on the U.S. Postal Service Web site.

The Postal Service will be putting on its site an electronic version of the Mover's Guide, a package of printed materials designed for people moving from one address to another within the United States.

Created by Imagitas Inc. of Upper Newton Falls, Mass., the package contains a government change-of-address form and related materials, such as information about changing motor vehicle and voter registration.

Imagitas provides the Mover's Guide as a free service and, in turn, gets revenue from advertisers, such as truck rental and public storage companies, whose materials are also included in the package.

When MoversGuide.com debuts in January 2001, it will make address changes more convenient for the consumer and more cost effective for the Postal Service, said Mike Murphy, Postal Service manager of address management.

The online service also will represent an important step in opening up government Web sites to advertising, which may serve as an alternate source of revenue for both government and industry. Public officials thus far have been reluctant to allow advertising on government Web sites because of the legal implications and appropriateness of certain types of advertising.

Although a limited version called MoversNet already is available on the Postal Service Web site, it lacks many of the materials found in the printed version. Moreover, address changes posted to the Web site must still be re-entered manually into a database by Postal Service workers, said company and Postal Service officials.

The Postal Service will oversee the integration of the Web site so that address changes made there will go directly to the forwarding facility, Murphy said.

More than 42 million people fill out change-of-address forms with their post office each year, but only about 12,000 do it online, said Murphy. Most people either fill out the form in person at the post office or hand it to their mail carrier, he said.

Imagitas and the Postal Service are optimistic that an expanded, back-end integrated MoversGuide.com can boost considerably the number of people making address changes online. "Ultimately, we think we can grow it to a respectable number in the millions," said Murphy.

Imagitas founder Brett Matthews approached the Postal Service eight years ago with an unsolicited proposal for the Mover's Guide, said Nick Carter, Imagitas' vice president of communications and public affairs. Postal Officials turned down the offer five times before they agreed to it.

Imagitas has other work with the departments of Education and Transportation and the General Services Administration. The company also develops and manages content for FirstGov.com.

The electronic version of the MoversGuide.com will provide essentially the same materials as the printed version, which includes tips on moving and offers directly related to the task, such as discounts on rental trucks. The advertising has to be relevant to the process of moving and relocating, and the advertisers have to be reliable, said Carter.

Advertisers featured in the Mover's Guide routinely offer discounts, products and services designed to appeal to people in the process of moving, said Carter.

"If you are moving, and someone tries to sell you a vacation, that is annoying," said Carter. "But if they want to give you a discount on moving trucks, that is [helpful]."

The Postal Service expects Imagitas to select advertisers that are reputable and whose brand indicates that they are quality companies, said Murphy.

The Postal Service will review the advertising before it goes on the Web and will routinely audit it once it is posted. If a problem arises with an advertisement, it will be taken down, Murphy said.

"The whole issue of advertising and any representation of our brand with [private] companies is of a great deal of concern to the corporation overall in our role as a trusted third party," he said.

Carter also emphasized that Imagitas does not sell information to third parties.

Imagitas is one of only a few companies attempting to generate revenue through advertising on government Web sites. Although government sites likely could attract significant advertising dollars, many public officials are hesitant to allow advertising until they have fully explored its legal and political ramifications.

Consequently, services and applications that rely on government advertising have not proved profitable, said Rishi Sood, principal analyst with Gartner/Dataquest of Stamford, Conn. "There are not a lot of vendors that will make money on advertising as their main revenue flow," said Sood.

A trailblazer in Web advertising for government is eGovNet of Columbus, Ohio. The company's GovAds product is designed to help states generate revenue from Web sites with high traffic. The company also hosts portals for state and local governments.

GovAds' approach is to lease space on government or agency Web sites, screen the ads for the government client and split the revenue for ad sales with the government or agency. GovAds manages advertising for the Honolulu and Salt Lake City Web sites.

It's a tough market, according to eGovNet President Timothy Bartlett, who acknowledges the sales cycle is long and the political barriers high.

"In government, no one wants to be the first, and everyone wants to be second," said Bartlett, who believes that as his company signs more government agencies, the rest will become more comfortable with the process.

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