DNC Launch Nears With Little Publicity

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With the launch of the national telemarketing no-call list just days away, the Federal Trade Commission appears to have done little to publicize that consumers will be able to register for the list July 1.


The agency will do no paid advertising for the list, FTC spokeswoman Cathy MacFarlane said, as such advertising would be "inappropriate."


"This is a choice consumers can make," she said. "We're not selling anything or trying to convince them of anything."


As of late last week, the FTC had yet to publish the toll-free number that consumers will be able to call to register for the list, nor had it given the address of the Web site to register online.


The FTC's main publicity channel for the no-call list has been press releases and a multitude of stories in the consumer press, but none of those has provided exact information about how to register.


Agency officials plan to brief the media before the launch of the registry and will hold a news conference to announce the toll-free number and Web address to be used for signup, MacFarlane said. Dates for those events have not been set.


The FTC's actions appear to be in line with a statement made more than a year ago by FTC marketing practices division director Eileen Harrington. Harrington told telemarketers gathered in April 2002 for the American Teleservices Association's annual legislative conference in Washington that the agency would not mount an advertising campaign for the list.


At the time, Harrington said the FTC was "agnostic" about whether consumers should register.


The ATA's strategy had been to urge the FTC to give a balanced view if it decided to launch an aggressive publicity campaign, said Bill Miklas, a member of the ATA board of directors. Ads for the no-call list should reflect that registering will block unwanted calls but also calls from companies with which consumers may wish to communicate.


"Our hope is, if there is any type of advertising done on it, it would be done to educate the consumer fully," he said.


The ATA made its request about a year ago, Miklas said. The FTC has not responded, but the agency also appears to have limited its publicity efforts to communicating through the news media, he said.


In the shadow of the no-call list launch, the Federal Communications Commission is quietly preparing to unleash changes to its own telemarketing rules. These changes, which stem from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, could affect the industry as much as the FTC's telemarketing rule changes did.


FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball said the agency wants to schedule the issue for discussion at the commission's next meeting June 26. The commission's attention may have been elsewhere recently given intense debate among board members over changes to the FCC's rules governing the ownership of media outlets.


The FTC assured members of Congress, who approved funding for the national no-call list in January, that the two agencies would work together to adopt compatible rules. However, Miklas speculated that the suggestion that the FCC would change its rules to simply fall in behind the FTC's lead could have ruffled feathers at the FCC.


As the list's launch nears, another concern is whether the no-call registration system is prepared for the volume of calls and Web hits it is likely to get in the days immediately after the start of registration. States that have begun no-call list programs -- including California, which launched a Web site to pre-register consumers for the national no-call list -- have a history of jammed lines and mishaps in the early stages of the registration process.


A spokesman for AT&T Government Solutions, the private vendor the FTC hired to launch and maintain the national registry, said it was unclear exactly how many consumers would sign up. But AT&T built the list infrastructure to handle more than 60 million users and arranged for enough bandwidth to handle any traffic surges on the first day of registration, he said.


Not everyone in the nation will be able to register at once. Online registration begins nationally July 1, and telephone registration for consumers west of the Mississippi River, including Minnesota and Louisiana, begins the same day. Phone registration for the eastern United States begins a week later.


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