Letter: Spiegel Editorial Like Mother's Praise: You Look Nice, But...I read with interest Tad Clarke's editorial about Spiegel's revamped Big Book ("Spiegel's Last Gasp," Jan. 26). I was happy that he was "impressed with the new look and several of the added features." He even said that "it seems like the company got a lot of things right." But then he slammed the door by saying that "with $1.5 billion in debt hanging over Spiegel's head, it's probably too late for the bankrupt cataloger." It reminded me of the traditional "mother's praise." You can't say anything positive without qualifying it somehow. "Your hair looks very nice today, dear. Now if you would just do something about your clothes."
Our catalog industry has been through tough times recently, along with the rest of our industry and the economy in general. Attribute it to whatever you'd like -- politics, the "natural cycle," the terrorist attacks or sunspots. It doesn't matter here. What does matter is that all of us who are still privileged to be working in our industry are working harder than ever.
That hard work consists of trying to do things better and more efficiently and trying to sort out the wasteful and ineffective parts of our businesses. We are trying to be more accountable, more measurable and more responsible. We are trying to be more respectful of privacy, more relevant and more dedicated to customer satisfaction. We are trying, and we need to know that somewhere there is an observer who applauds.
The press is a powerful influence over us at all times. It is especially powerful in times of struggle. It's true that Spiegel is a long and valued client here at Direct Media, but even if it weren't I would take exception to the tone of the editorial. When Clarke writes, "if only Spiegel's ad campaign could make it socially acceptable to buy from the catalog again," I think he is acting against the best interest of Spiegel and our industry in general.
Since when in the eyes of the Spiegel customer or prospect is it socially unacceptable to buy from Spiegel? Does the average woman who fits the Spiegel profile know or care that Spiegel has been hit hard by many of the vicissitudes involved in doing business in this economy?
Spiegel may have said that "lower demand and reduced circulation led to a large percent drop in the company's overall catalog and Internet sales last month," but that doesn't necessarily translate into "Most women have already written off Spiegel." It just as conceivably could translate into "Spiegel is doing a good job of putting its house in order before coming out with its new book."
Clarke, as a responsible and influential reporter for our industry, needs to be a little more supportive of his constituents. If Spiegel believes that its new book is a "one-stop-shopping destination," and it has worked hard to make that concept successful, he needs to give it the benefit of the doubt. Comment on the things that it's doing well and leave the criticism for those who continually attack our industry. There are plenty of those around.
Linda Huntoon, Executive vice president, Direct Media Inc., Greenwich, CT
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