EDITORIAL: Telemarketing's Mission: Impossible or Difficult?

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There's a new animated series on MTV that debuted a few weeks ago: "Spy Groove," with its two secret agents, Agent #1 and Agent #2 (yes, that's it for their names), stopping the diabolical Mr. Fish from blowing up Miami's South Beach. Or thwarting the schemes of Contessa, who seeks world domination in the fashion industry by kidnapping all of the supermodels.

Michael Gans and Richard Register, two of the show's creators, made some training videos for telemarketing reps a while back that won a training industry award. The one that tested most strongly featured MTV's newest spy duo. "Basically, we were teaching telephone marketers how to be less annoying, so we were trying to make it better on the regular person," Gans told USA Today in a story previewing the show.

Being less annoying is something the telemarketing industry definitely needs right now. Even DMA President/CEO H. Robert Wientzen admitted as much at last month's 16th Annual Telephone Marketing Conference and discussed two of the biggest issues facing telemarketers: predictive dialers and do-not-call lists. Hardly an issue of DM News goes by without something negative being said about the teleservices industry, usually in the form of legislation wending its way through Congress or at the state level. (For example, the California Senate Judiciary Committee said this week that it will look at a bill that makes it impossible for telemarketers to use predictive dialers in that state unless there is a prior relationship.)

What will marketers do when they can't call anyone because the entire country has opted in to an I'd-rather-watch-paint-dry-than-talk-to-a-telemarketer list? The DMA's own study found that more than half of consumers said telemarketing calls are "always intrusive" and "never offered opportunities." Meanwhile, its Telephone Preference Service now has 3.1 million phone numbers of consumers who don't want telemarketing calls, up from 1.5 million three years ago. One solution is for companies to turn their marketing efforts around and stop cold, outbound calling and, instead, get consumers to call them or visit their Web sites.

Giving the telemarketing industry a new image: Now that's a mighty big mission even for the boys at "Spy Groove."

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