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Can We Shape the Future of Philately?

On November 15, 2004, a group of 17 individuals gathered at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum (NPM) to discuss the future of philately. Why? Because philately and the number of active enthusiasts and participants are, by many indicators, in decline. These indicators include:
  • Declining memberships in nearly all philatelic organizations
  • Declining subscriptions and readers of philatelic publications
Many organizations and businesses that have a stake in its future offer excellent education and promotional materials in support of philately. However, there is no overall effort that would pool all available resources into a unified effort that could have greater, more far-reaching impact than the dozens of smaller promotions and incentives.

Invitations to what was called the "Shaping the Future of Philately Summit Conference" went out to a broad cross section of about two dozen industry and hobby leaders. Those who accepted the invitation were:
Donald Sundman (Mystic Stamp Co.)
David Failor (USPS)
Michael Laurence (Amos Publishing)
Wilson Hulme (US Classics Society)
Sam Malamud (Inter-Governmental)
Sandra Lane (Sennett Printers)
Jim Creel (Avery Dennison)
Barry Switzer (Ashton Potter)
Irwin Weinberg (Miner Stamp Company)
John Birkinbine (Postal History Foundation)
Richard Nazar (Philatelic writer)
Roger Brody (US Stamp Society)
Wade Saadi (Collectors Club, NY)
Ted Wilson (National Postal Museum)
Janet Klug (APS)
Allen Kane, NPM Director, served as moderator. Mr. Kane also invited a market analyst with whom he worked at the USPS. Her name was Beth Rothschild and she contributed a great deal of marketing expertise to the discussion.

In advance of this meeting, the following mission statement and goals were distributed to every invitee to identify the focus and purpose of the meeting.
Mission Statement
The Shaping the Future of Philately Summit Conference sets as its mission the development of a unified philosophy and a plan of action that will include a business plan, funding options, and personnel resources to promote the benefits of stamp collecting to people of all ages.

  • Widen public awareness of the benefits of stamp collecting.
  • Develop target segments to increase the collector base. Some examples are baby boomers; youth, especially 4th through 7th graders (ages 9 through 12); senior citizens.
  • Create philatelic awareness in children by providing lesson plans for teachers and colorful albums for children that be widely distributed, perhaps through school districts.
  • It was an exciting discussion and I was proud to be representing the American Philatelic Society. I was also proud that so many hobby leaders participated and that we spent several hours diligently working in harmony to achieve the common goal of a better future for philately.

    So what happened? Ms. Rothschild instructed the assemblage on how to construct a model for growth. Michael Laurence contributed the data we used in this model from Linn's Stamp News annual market survey. We identified what triggers the marketplace, such as family interest and encouragement, clubs, an interest in history, a prospect of financial gain, the collecting "gene", interest in culture and cultural activities, attractive or topical stamp designs, peers, scholarship and educational aspects of collecting, and participation at events (such as First Day of Issue ceremonies and stamp shows).

    From that we moved to discussing what we hoped to accomplish. Everyone was in agreement that we wanted to increase the number of collectors and the dollars those collectors spent on pursuing the hobby.

    Is this worth making the effort? That, too, was considered and participants determined that growing the hobby would be beneficial to every group that was represented. It would lead to increased sales, perpetuating the hobby, an increase in association memberships, more educational opportunities, social benefits, better awareness of the US stamp program, and mental and physical health benefits for those who participate.

    The conference attendees identified obstacles that would need to be overcome. Among them were cost, the difficulty of arriving at a group consensus, the possibility of alienating collectors, dealing with bureaucracy and politics, the possibility of a poor cost to benefit ratio, resistance to change, the time involved, and overcoming frustration with slow or lack of progress. Even considering all of these obstacles, those in attendance thought it was worthwhile to proceed with efforts to grow philately.

    What are the goals? From the strategies, we set the following goals:
    1. Increase the number of collectors by 10% within one year.
    2. Increase the growth in dollars spent on philately by 5% within a year.
    We would measure success by reviewing the increases in association memberships, increases in new customers for dealers and the USPS, and through Linn's annual charting.
    We then brainstormed on tactics to increase the number of collectors and the following were suggested:
    • Increase awareness of stamps using a high-profile spokesperson
    • Put stamps in every school curriculum
    • Collaborate with other products/ groups with joint marketing opportunities
    • Make stamp collecting a compelling product and give people a reason to collect
    • Align stamp topics to the marketplace
    • Create a major event around stamp collecting
    Tactics were also discussed about how to increase the dollars spent on stamp collecting. They are:
    • Explain the benefits of collecting
    • Create a compelling product
    • Remove the reasons why people are leaving the hobby (such as no access to all the varieties the USPS issues, poor data on new stamps)
    • Publicize that stamps can provide financial gain
    • Event marketing
    The participants in the Shaping the Future of Philately Summit Meeting selected these three initiatives for further development.
    • A proposal by Irwin Weinberg for the USPS and Smithsonian National Postal Museum to collaborate by taking parts of the NPM collection "on the road" to cities throughout the country, thereby giving stamp collecting, the USPS, and the NPM greater exposure.
    • A proposal by Roger Brody and Wade Saadi to find a high-profile spokesperson for stamp collecting.
    • A proposal by Janet Klug to expand existing "stamps in classrooms" programs into more schools throughout the USA.
    Each of these initiatives is being more fully developed and there will be a second Shaping the Future of Philately Summit Conference in March.

    My very small part in this august group resulted in an unexpected trip to the White House for Don Sundman, Allen Kane, and me in December to meet with domestic policy advisors about how we might move current philatelic youth initiatives into more schools in more states throughout the country. The meeting, arranged by Mr. Kane, was both instructive and encouraging. We received several excellent suggestions and we are following through with them as I write this.

    I don't know where all this will lead, but I am encouraged. I have long felt that philately could accomplish more if we all pulled together instead of pushing each other away. Pooling talent, time, money, and energy to achieve common goals makes sense.

    What do you think? Contact me at P.O. Box 250, Pleasant Plain, OH 45162 or by e-mail at tongajan@aol.com.

    At the time I write this in mid-January, a tsunami of incomprehensible destruction has left a path of devastation throughout Southeast Asia. We who collect stamps feel a connection to all of these nations because they come to life in our stamp albums. I extend my personal sympathy and that of the Society to our members and their loved ones who may have been affected by this tragedy.

    Janet Klug
    March 12, 2005

    Published by permission. ©2005 Janet Klug

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