DMA: Anthrax Fears Yet to Hurt Direct Mail Business

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Direct mail member companies have experienced a "negligible" effect on revenue and business practices resulting from safety concerns about anthrax, according to a study released yesterday by the Direct Marketing Association.

Ninety-two percent of catalogers, direct mail marketers and nonprofits surveyed do not intend to change their mailing plans, according to "Direct Marketing and the Anthrax Challenge: Summary of Observations and Responses." Most report that prospective customers and donors generally view the issue as "very localized" and are not changing their response to mail.

The DMA also said that response rates and revenue from the areas directly affected by anthrax cases -- New York, Washington, Florida and New Jersey -- were not markedly different than those in the rest of the nation.

Direct mailers surveyed reported an overall dissatisfaction with the USPS' crisis management. Many marketers think conflicting public statements and actions by the USPS heightened the overall state of confusion and public concern. Of the more than 50 firms interviewed during the week of Oct. 22, 53 percent said that their greater concern was not consumer panic, but the performance and policies of the USPS.

Other concerns include:

* The effect of delays in delivery related to Washington-area post offices and the effect on cash flow such delays will cause. Also causing concern is the issue of access to markets where service at sorting facilities has been, or could be, suspended.

* The potential harm to consumer willingness to open mail that could result from the Oct. 25 release of the USPS inspector general's guidelines. Some marketers fear the guidelines will cause consumers to be overly wary of "suspicious" mail.

* The potential for additional delivery delays resulting from possible USPS operational changes that emphasize security at the expense of mail-handling efficiency.

* Changing inventory projections caused by slower postal delivery. A drop in response rates may appear to be a falloff in demand when it could result from delivery delays.

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