Bless 'em for trying

Thursday, December 16th, 2004

Regular readers will know I spent something like two years working for the Royal Mail on its website, maintaining it and – on two occasions – rebuilding it from scratch.

It's a funny old organisation – no matter how hard it tries to professionalise itself, it never quite manages to get it right. It's always 90% there, and 10% percent looking round baffled, wondering what went wrong.

Case in point – a couple of days ago BBC News ran an item that had obviously been set up by the Royal Mail PR people. They posted a Christmas card in London and tracked its progress all the way to its destination the next morning, an isolated farm on a remote Scottish isle. The point was to demonstrate what good value you get – this particular letter was delivered by aircraft and quad bike, among other modes of transport, and all for only 28 pence.

What the Royal Mail had failed to predict was that the BBC would post 12 more cards to the same address, at the same time, from different locations to see how many of them arrived on time when they didn't have cameras tracking them. Only four did. Result: Royal Mail looks silly and shallow, rather unfairly.

(You can see this report online but I can't work out how to link to it – just go to the BBC News, search for the term 'The journey of a first class Christmas card', and it'll come up on the right of the screen as an audio visual result.)

Likewise this morning. I have a subscription to send a couple of people regular first day covers when they're released, set up as Christmas presents two years ago. This morning the Royal Mail stamps and collectibles unit sent a 'thank you' card, to express their gratitude for my shovelling money their way.

Obviously it was a marketing exercise, but it was a very nicely done one. There were no catalogues, order forms, or exhortations to spend more cash. It wasn't even in the form of a tacky Christmas card. Instead it was a print of an original illustration by Raymond Briggs, who did this year's Christmas stamps. It came on good quality art paper and is eminently suitable for framing.

Just one small problem.

It got horribly creased while it was in the post…

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.