DMA Issues Mailer Guidelines in Light of Anthrax Scare

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The Direct Marketing Association issued mail-security guidelines to its members yesterday in hopes of offsetting growing public concern over terrorists using the U.S. Postal Service to deliver anthrax-filled envelopes.


DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen said he was taking questions from national news organizations and preparing for television appearances in an effort to ease consumer worries about reports of the potentially deadly anthrax bacteria being sent by mail. Stories of envelopes containing a suspicious powdery substance that possibly carries the anthrax bacteria are eroding consumer trust in the mail, including legitimate direct mail offers, he said.


"We've had a lot of calls and questions from members and the press," Wientzen said. "We're concerned about the amount of misinformation out there. We had sensed a need to put the whole thing in perspective."


The guidelines make several common-sense suggestions, such as refraining from sending mail without return addresses and auditing standard security procedures. The DMA also urges its members to refer press inquiries to its own media specialists.


"We're trying to get the information out that this is not a practical way to spread anthrax," Wientzen said. "In fact, it's practically impossible to use the mail for a broad-scale terrorist campaign."


The USPS changed its earlier report of two confirmed cases of the U.S. mail being used to transmit anthrax to one confirmed case yesterday. However, law enforcement officials have cited more than a dozen possible cases, including yesterday's report that members of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's staff came into contact with the contents of a letter that field-tested positive for anthrax.


Other high-profile targets last week included NBC News' New York headquarters and its anchor Tom Brokaw, as well as the Boca Raton, FL, office of a supermarket tabloid. There, one employee is known to have died of the disease.


The stories do not lend themselves to a good selling environment, Wientzen said. Many mailers are uncertain how the public will react to news reports about anthrax in the mail and have asked the DMA for information.


"Who knows how the public is going to react?" said Art Simpson, executive vice president at EU Services, Rockville, MD. "We hope they understand that most mailers are in control of their operations."


Wientzen predicted that consumer attitudes toward direct mail would normalize if the industry works to counter the rumors set in motion by the anthrax cases. The DMA can assist in the effort by acting as a clearinghouse of information.


"Eventually, we'll see a return to prior views of mail," Wientzen said. "In this instance, it appears that the negativity we're facing is more a function of misinformation and hoaxes. Once people get correct information and more time passes, things will get back to normal."


The DMA's 13-point guidelines for mailer security include:


· Avoid using plain envelopes. Printed envelopes, especially those using color are less likely to appear like the hand-prepared envelopes involved in the incidents so far.


· Use a clear and identifiable return address. Consider including your company logo in the address.


· Consider including a toll-free phone number or URL address on envelopes.


· Use an e-mail or telemarketing campaign in conjunction with a letter drop to notify consumers that mail will be coming.


· Consider delaying business-to-business mailings temporarily because of potential logjams in receiving mailrooms.


· Use the "DMA Member" logo.


· Contact your lettershop and other production services to stress the importance of security.


· Consider performing a security audit throughout your entire operation.


· Evaluate your campaign approach and consider that personalization temporarily is less likely to create increases in response rates.


· If you are involved in production services, know who your customers are.


· Reinforce your existing internal guidelines about forwarding press and consumer calls to appropriate internal channels.


· Educate mailroom employees about identifying and dealing with possible threats.


· Use the DMA as press resource. Forward press calls to 212/768-7277.


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