Catalogers debate the value of mail preference services at ACMA forum

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Cataloger Crate & Barrel's John Seebeck, direct marketing business director, said industry self-regulation is the best approach to the potential threat of do-not-mail legislation during the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA) forum in Washington, DC on June 26.

"A national do not mail registry is the last thing any of us want," he said.

Seebeck was joined by representatives from Gardener's Supply Company, US Postal Service, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and nonprofit opt-out service Catalog Choice.

Do-not-mail legislation is one of the leading threats to the USPS's business, said Marie Therese Dominguez, VP of government relations and public policy for the USPS.

"Catalogers are at the heat of the battle," said Seebeck. Consumers are annoyed—and part of that is being driven by financial and nonprofit mailings, he said. "I'm not saying we're perfect," Seebeck added. But the issue is not just about environmental concerns, it's about consumers' need to control their mailboxes, he added.

The legislation is being pushed by consumer's environmental concerns, as well as general annoyance with the amount of direct mail received, added Jerry Cerasale, SVP of Government Affairs for the DMA. For that reason, it's important for marketers to listen to their customers regarding their mail preferences, he said.

The DMA, which has provided a mail preference service for more than 35 years, does not want to be a middleman, Cerasale said. It's better if the customer and mailer communicate with each other directly, he added.

Catalog Choice, which launched in October of 2007 and has steadily grown in consumer popularity, doesn't want to violate the direct merchant and customer relationship, said Chuck Teller, executive director of Catalog Choice. "We had to take on the responsibility of this communication because people weren't doing it," he said.

Gardener's Supply Company has always used and supported the DMA's mail preference service, said Jim Feinson, president and CEO of the company. It has also chosen to support Catalog Choice, but no other third party mail preference services, he said. Feinson admitted that the company hadn't always done a very good job listening or talking to its customers, but was now trying to be more responsive.

Cerasale said the real environmental impact of catalogs needs to be evaluated—and compared to other activities. Everything has an environmental footprint, he said. "The Internet has always received a free pass."

The mail industry has already been hit hard with last year's rate increase, in addition to the current economic climate and the rising cost of paper. These factors have made Crate & Barrel a better marketer, Seebeck said. The company has cut circulation and the page count of its catalogs, and changed its contact strategies, he added.

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