Editorial: A Different Show

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For obvious reasons, the Direct Marketing Association's fall conference will be quite different this year.

Specifically, security will be tighter, especially with former President Bush giving the keynote address Oct. 29. Though I've carped before about what famous people have to say on direct marketing besides the throwaway line, "My wife is one of your biggest fans; she buys from all the catalogs," this will be the show's can't-miss event. What will Bush say about direct marketing? I don't care. What will he say about the country and the situation we face? I care a lot.

Many session speakers are rewriting their speeches to address marketing challenges -- challenges that change by the minute -- in this new climate. At this point, I have no idea how many people will attend the show. In between rumors that the DMA would cancel it altogether last week came others that some exhibitors had dropped out at the last minute. Want my guess? See me on Sunday.

Amid all this, the anthrax threat has gripped our nation and set the very lifeblood of this industry in its crosshairs. The attacks forced mailers, agencies and lettershops to immediately alter the way they do business. Some postponed their mailings or added cover letters in hopes of salvaging the efforts. Others turned to postcards and e-mail.

Nissan scrapped the rest of a mail drop touting its Altima model because of the nature of the piece while product mailing scares hit Procter and Gamble and Publishers Clearing House. Agencies said clients didn't want to halt their efforts, even in the business-to-business world.

Others predicted far-reaching changes overall.

"The era of a mail piece in a simple white envelope with no logo on it is gone," Mailnet Service's Thomas J. Herrmann said at last week's fall National Postal Forum in Denver.

The DMA also cautioned against that as it issued a set of guidelines to help marketers allay public fears.

One thing's for sure: This overreaction will tax a postal system that was already in financial trouble.

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