DMers Assess Blackout's Impact

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Direct marketers appear to have emerged from last week's massive blackout largely unscathed, as many either were outside the affected areas or experienced minor interruptions. But it is too early to assess the financial impact from delayed mailings, missed sales opportunities, lost telemarketing calls and other fallout from the blackout, which affected 50 million people in the United States and Canada.


"We lost power on Thursday afternoon and had no power until some time in the afternoon on Friday," said Deana Burrett, director of list management at Estee Marketing Group Inc., New Rochelle, NY. "We closed Thursday after it happened and remained closed Friday, so we are just starting to pick everything back up today [Aug. 18]. As for service bureaus, I haven't gotten that far yet, but my assumption is that a lot of things didn't go out. We were all in the same boat, so I don't think anybody will be screaming today."


Mokrynski & Associates Inc., Hackensack, NJ, closed after power went out Aug. 14 but was back in business the next morning, said Dennis Bissig, group vice president of list brokerage, who was in California on business when the blackout hit.


Richard Baumer, president of VentureDirect Worldwide, New York, said his firm was without power Aug. 15.


"In essence, it's nothing more than a lot of delays because all the things that were scheduled for Thursday and Friday were pushed back," he said.


There are orders and e-mails that need to go out, he said, and the company is prioritizing back work based on its time sensitivity.


"Clients are doing the same thing, which is backtracking to Thursday at 4 o'clock," he said. "We got a lot of e-mails from clients saying, 'Don't worry about it, just get it out today.' Everybody here is having a lot of fun telling the horror stories of how they got home or where they slept, but it's nothing worse than that."


DialAmerica Marketing Inc.'s headquarters in Mahwah, NJ, went down only for a few seconds before a backup power generator activated, vice president Noreen Kaminski said. The Mahwah office is the brain center of DialAmerica and provides data for other call centers in the company's network.


Call centers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York were affected by the blackout and were out of operation, she said. Other DialAmerica facilities picked up the slack, and normal operation continued. However, DialAmerica ceased outbound calls to consumers in affected areas and is continuing to be cautious even though power has returned.


"Even when it does come back up, you want to be respectful," Kaminski said. "People are scrambling to get their lives back in order."


Country Curtains, Stockbridge, MA, a cataloger of window treatments and home furnishings, was mildly affected.


"There was some reduction in telephone activity through [Thursday] evening -- I would say maybe 10 percent or so, and it was relatively short-lived," president Lee Williams said. "We didn't lose power. Our call center is here in Stockbridge. Our next catalog drops [this] week -- the autumn 2003 catalog. The outage had no impact on that since we never lost power."


Daniel Litwin, president of Sino Treasures, Armonk, NY, said the blackout had little effect. Sino Treasures is a cataloger and Web merchant of authentic Chinese crafts and apparel.


"All of our systems have backups regarding customer data. Our call center in New Hampshire went down for six hours or so," he said. "Customers probably called back, so I don't think there's a long-term significant impact. We didn't have any catalogs in production at the time."


The company's Web site also went down for that period, Litwin said, "but we don't have the level of volume to track calls or hits on an hour-by-hour basis to precisely measure what we lost there or if there was a spike after the power came back on. Our products are not $10 purchases that are impulse purchases. The average order is $200. They are more likely to try again."


Two of Lillian Vernon's 13 outlet stores -- in Riverhead, NY, and Lake George, NY -- lost power and had to close, spokesman David Hochberg said.


"In terms of phone orders, it definitely had a noticeable impact. And what we did is, with call volume obviously dropping sharply, we let phone reps go home if they chose to," he said. "We asked for volunteers, and some left and some stayed. Our one call center is in Virginia Beach, VA. [It] remained open throughout the blackout."


Peter M. Rice, senior vice president of marketing at Plow & Hearth, Madison, VA, said the company was not harmed by delays in shipments or catalog drops.


"That's not a problem that we've seen," he said. "It's probably happening, but in the scheme of our catalog mailings, it would be a minor percentage of business. There were no mailings that recently got in-home, and it happened just before three big fall mailings for us. I'm sure it's affecting customers, but not to the extent that we've heard from our shippers or customers. "


Roe Polczynski, marketing communications team leader at Northern Safety Co., Utica, NY, said the company had power outages but a building generator kicked in. The company produces a catalog containing safety and industrial supplies.


"It was toward the end of the day, and people were wrapping up. Our Web site and call center were not affected," he said. "Our advertising department, which includes our graphic artists who produce our catalogs and mailers, shut down their computers just to preserve information and to be on the safe side."


At Too Inc., New Albany, OH, which publishes the Limited Too catalog, a spokeswoman said there was no effect because their call center is in Texas. Movies Unlimited Inc., Philadelphia, a cataloger of movies, also experienced little disruption.


"Our power didn't go out," general manager Ed Weiss said. "I'm sure we're missing some orders from [the affected] areas, but our orders have been pretty good over the summer. My anticipation would be when they get their lives back together they'll go back to buying movies."


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