Editorial: The Slow Road to Recovery

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I came across a sure sign that the economic slowdown is not over: My office mailbox sat empty one day last week. No press releases. No mailers. No magazines. No mail to former employees who no longer work here.

No, it wasn't a postal holiday. Yes, other DM News staffers received mail that day. Two obvious conclusions quickly came to mind. One, companies are sending less mail. The U.S. Postal Service has said several times that mail volume is down since Sept. 11. Two, I'm getting more e-mail. (Aren't we all?) But that is another story.

For companies mailing less, I bring up a warning from a mailer we talked to during last fall's anthrax scare. "Let's say I cut my mail, and there's been no impact on response. I'm taking first-time buyers out of my business who have a five- or 10-year impact on the profitability of my business," said Michael Sullivan, vice president of marketing at cataloger Chiswick. "If I don't mail anyone, I don't get any buyers. If I mail everyone and get a 10 percent decrease in response, maybe I don't get as good a return on investment, but at least I've got something going back in the pool." Let's hope you mailers are putting something back in the pool.

Ready for some good news? No matter what the government or anyone else does, DM is here to stay. In fact, it either is already the dominant marketing approach or it will be soon. So said the panelists at last week's New York University breakfast dialogue. Plus, the time to grow your business is during a downturn "because your competitor might blink," said American Express' John Hayes. "But it all comes down to accountability. With direct marketing, we know what the return will be."

Deikel and Fingerhut: Together Again?

You know, if anyone can make Fingerhut work, it's Ted Deikel. "I don't know if I can be successful, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to try," the son-in-law of founder Manny Fingerhut told The Associated Press last week about trying to buy back the company. The hot bet is that Deikel, who ran Fingerhut off and on from 1974 until its sale to Federated Department Stores in 1999, will be in on buying it back. Expect a much lower price than what Federated paid: $500 million vs. $1.7 billion.

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