DMA: Telemarketing Still Tops, but Problems Loom

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TAMPA, FL -- Telemarketing remains king of the direct marketing media, but news on the legislative and public opinion fronts has not been good for the industry this year, Direct Marketing Association senior vice president Michael Faulkner said yesterday.


Legislators continue to capitalize on a poor public perception of telemarketers and support legislation that could constrict and even eradicate the industry, Faulkner said, speaking at the DMA Telephone Marketing Conference.


However, the DMA projects that telemarketing will generate $668.7 billion in sales this year, up more than $50 billion from last year, Faulkner said. Telemarketing sales are expected to approach $1 trillion in 2005.


New technologies such as Web telephony are changing the industry and making "call center" a defunct term as telemarketers convert to full-service contact and customer-interaction centers, Faulkner said. Telemarketing will continue to grow, albeit with some adjustments, and will be the top sales channel into the future, he said.


"Think of the logic behind it," Faulkner said. "When a business transaction is taking place, people simply prefer dealing with another human being."


The future of telemarketing may be even more secure than that of direct mail, which must bear the ever-growing burden of postal rate increases, Faulkner said. However, forces attempting to stifle the industry are marshaling.


State lawmakers continue to press for predictive-dialer bans, and state do-not-call lists enjoy nearly universal public support, Faulkner said. Even friends of the industry in public positions run for cover when DNC list laws are proposed.


The DMA's Telephone Preference Service do-not-call list has grown to 4 million, up 1 million from this time last year. Telemarketers should consider resources expended to establish a better voice for the industry in the press and government as money well spent, Faulkner said.


"Things are not going well in this arena right now," he said. "We have some big, daunting challenges."


As an example, Faulkner pointed to Texas state Rep. Burt Solomons, sponsor of the recently passed DNC list law there, who was quoted as saying that if it were up to him, telemarketers would be shot. Faulkner said he was appalled by the statement.


"I couldn't believe that someone in a public position would say something like that," Faulkner said. "If Solomons wants to shoot people, he can start right here."


Faulkner spoke in place of DMA president H. Robert Wientzen, who had been scheduled to deliver the state-of-the-industry speech given by Faulkner. A DMA spokesperson said Wientzen had a scheduling conflict and could not attend.


Faulkner's speech was interrupted intermittently by the automatic alarm system at the Saddlebrook Resort, where the conference took place. A loud horn sounded through the middle of the speech, followed by a warning from a prerecorded voice over the resort's public address system that a fire had been reported.


The alarm made some attendees of Faulkner's speech uneasy, but DMA officials assured the crowd that the alarm was false.


"I don't know if we should evacuate, stay here or burn to death," Faulkner joked at one point.


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