Greco: Consumer Trust Key for DM's Future

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NEW YORK -- John A. Greco Jr., the Direct Marketing Association's new president/CEO, said the industry needs to heed the lessons of the national no-call list and rebuild consumer trust to head off privacy concerns.


Greco talked with DM News after representing direct marketing Monday night at the "Night of the Media Heavyweights," a forum arranged by media-effectiveness researcher Dynamic Logic.


Greco said DMers needed to make marketing messages more targeted while respecting consumer privacy. He said his recent "listening tour" of meeting with marketers since he took over the DMA on Aug. 16 convinced him of the need to begin an industry dialogue on the subject.


"We have to establish customer trust," he said.


The forum included representatives from seven other media: broadcast television, cable, Internet, magazines, newspapers, outdoor advertising and radio. During the discussion, part of the audience was polled on which medium faced the biggest challenges. Direct marketing fared well, with just nine of the 191 voters choosing DM as most at risk. Network television was tabbed as the medium with the most perils, followed by newspapers.


Unlike the media on the panel, DM is not really a medium, since it uses various means to drive direct sales, Greco noted. He said better targeting based on consumer preferences and profiles offered more efficiency and relevance for all media.


"The better we target -- and we live this every day -- the more we punch the button of privacy issues," he said. "The only way we can do that is to expand trust."


Greco showed a willingness to defend the industry. In response to a question by forum moderator David Verklin, CEO of Carat Americas, about the 64 million phone numbers registered on the no-call list, Greco noted that the DMA supported the list and had operated its own before the federal no-call registry. The DMA's no-call list has 8 million consumers registered.


"I prefer to talk about the 66 million" consumers who made a purchase in response to a commercial telemarketing call in 2002, he said, to a smattering of applause.


Greco, who served as president/CEO of the Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association from 2000 to 2003, took the helm of the DMA from H. Robert Wientzen. His appointment came after a rough year for the industry, following bruising fights over the no-call list and spam legislation. Greco has spent the past six weeks meeting with dozens of members to develop a strategy for the trade organization, which represents 5,100 corporate, affiliate and chapter members.


After the forum, Greco told DM News that though much of the DMA's focus would remain on postal reform and Internet sales taxes, he sees a chance to improve the industry's image with regulators and the public.


"I want education rather than regulation," he said.


Greco said the no-call list could have been avoided had the DMA been more aggressive in promoting its own no-call list as a viable self-regulation solution. This experience should inform the industry in heading off calls for similar registries for mail and e-mail, he said.


"We need to demonstrate we are capable of self-regulation," he said.


The list industry is sure to be a thorny issue for the DMA. The Federal Trade Commission recently settled with three list companies over their involvement in a telemarketing advanced-fee credit scheme. Greco said the DMA is "engaging the list community" to determine whether new industry guidelines are needed. He also expressed concern over further FTC enforcement action and the potential for increased regulation of list practices.


"This is a slippery slope," he said. "Where do you draw the line?"


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