DMers Slammed in Orlando Sentinel Story

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An Orlando, FL, newspaper covering the Direct Marketing Association's annual convention referred to show goers as "spammers" in a headline yesterday, drawing criticism from conference attendees.


Marketers attending the DMA's 86th Annual Convention & Exhibition at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando said they disagreed with the way they were portrayed in a front-page Orlando Sentinel story. Direct marketers have been on the receiving end of much controversy in the past few weeks, largely due to the well-publicized court battle over the national no-call list.


The story opened by warning readers not to "expect them to stop" -- "them" being "the folks at SnoreFix and The Money Maker Plan, and their marketing brethren" -- because they were making too much money to be "losing sleep over your cold dinner."


It then told readers that they might have noticed a reduction in "daily e-mail clutter or phone rattling" because marketers have been at the DMA convention since Oct. 12. According to the story, marketers were at the show to discuss the no-call list or "ways to get around any office Internet security system that deletes junk e-mail containing the words 'Super Viagra.'"


Continuing, the article said, "Sessions include Grandma and Grandpa Get Wired: How and Why to Market to Seniors on the Internet. And marketers share advice on when it's most convenient for them to inconvenience consumers."


The headline for the story was "Spammers, telemarketers share secrets in Orlando." In describing the convention -- which it said was attended by "15,000 direct marketers," though the DMA does not release attendance figures for its shows -- the article stated, "Think of it as a war council, where they gather to plan better ways to separate you from your money. One marketer bills itself as Hypnosis 360."


That last statement appeared to refer to Hyphos360 Inc., a Clearwater, FL-based database marketing company that exhibited at the show.


However, a Hyphos360 representative said the company specialized in helping marketers send highly targeted communications and that Hyphos360 offers suppression services, including the DMA's no-mail file. The company's name has nothing to do with hypnosis but rather is the Greek word for "web."


"We're the exact opposite of what the story is trying to say," said Vince DeYoung, vice president of sales for Hyphos360. "We're not mailing junk mail, not calling you at dinnertime, not spamming."


Elaine Kramer, managing editor at the Sentinel, said the paper would run a correction if the Hypnosis 360 mentioned in the story was incorrect.


The Sentinel's article was designed to look at what was taking place in the industry given the spotlight thrown on DMers recently because of the federal no-call list, Kramer said.


"I thought our story reflected how the lay person is thinking about direct marketing," she said. "We also explored how the industry is trying to react to the changing environment."


Jon Roska, CEO/chief creative officer of Roska Direct, who ran the "Grandma and Grandpa" session mentioned in the story, said he had not read the article. However, the session included a segment on consumer privacy, he said.


Accompanying the story was a photo of direct marketing agency Wunderman's booth. Lester Wunderman, who founded the agency, is considered the father of direct marketing by the industry. Nancy Maffucci, senior vice president of global communications for Wunderman, said she, too, had not read the story but was aware of the photo.


"I wonder if the reporter knows that direct marketing is heavily used to market his newspaper?" Maffucci said.


Ann Guyer Healy, president/CEO at PCS List & Information Technologies, Peabody, MA, said the story did not accurately convey the show's purpose.


"There's no representation of what we do, why we do it or why we're here," she said. "We don't want to solicit people who will just toss our mail into the trash."


Others at the show said the convention's purpose was not to find new ways to annoy customers but rather to help marketers find ways to communicate with consumers without causing offense.


"The underlying principle of all direct marketing is 'honor thy customer,' and the DMA conference is a way for direct marketers to come together to find better ways to market without creating an adversarial relationship with consumers," said Mark Evans, director of database and marketing services at CBS SportsLine.com, Fort Lauderdale, FL.


Editor-in-chief Tad Clarke and senior editor Kristen Bremner contributed to this report.


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