Editorial: Groundhog Day

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There was a feeling of deja vu all around the DMA's fall show in San Francisco last week. Don't get me wrong, the show was an unqualified success. Exhibitors were pleased with traffic on the floor, and everyone was interested in getting down to business. All in all, a great improvement over last year's show in Chicago, which was dragged down by 9/11, anthrax and the economic slowdown. But many of this year's keynote addresses and events seemed like they were replays. DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen touched on the biggest threats facing the direct marketing industry: postal woes, spam, privacy, telemarketing and the remote collection of sales tax. Though spam is relatively new to this list, the other problems have been around for quite some time.

Meanwhile, postmaster general John E. Potter touted initiatives he has been talking about for months now: how he's transforming the postal service and how rates will not go up until "well into 2004." Did he manage to give a more exact date there? No. And during the question-and-answer period, the audience seemed more interested in getting Potter's opinion on who will win the World Series and why dogs bite mail carriers. This sense of deja vu also carried over onto the exhibit floor as a crew from "60 Minutes" was back (remember Toronto 1999?) to tape footage for a piece on privacy. Even protesters popped up again to complain about postal mail and the waste of paper. Oh, well. People were happy to hear Lou Dobbs say the economy is turning around and he expects the stock market to be up 15 percent a year from now.


Nice to see that the DMA understands the danger that spam represents to its membership with last week's announcement that it will pursue legislation to help stop spam. Response rates to e-mail campaigns are dropping as consumers -- overwhelmed with porn, low-mortgage rates, Viagra and other you-can't-miss-out-on-this offers -- have found the only answer is to hit the delete key and not open anything. Add in that ISP filters stop legitimate messages as well. Though the DMA's new "State of Postal & E-Mail Marketing" study found that marketers are turning to e-mail as an alternative to postal mail, it could change back if the proliferation of spam isn't stopped soon. Who's ready to hear some specifics?


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