Who's Next at the DMA?

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The Direct Marketing Association's board of directors meets this week to decide who will replace H. Robert Wientzen as president/CEO. He is expected to hand over the reins to his successor July 1. The talk at last month's DM Days New York conference was that the list is down to two candidates, both from outside the DMA staff.

Wientzen hasn't had an easy tenure. The marketing world is vastly different than when he took charge in 1996, and he has worked tirelessly to defend the industry through a time of growing government regulation and consumer backlash. Still, I can think of several contingents that won't miss him: ones in the interactive area, a few telemarketers and those who say he has sought growth over other membership concerns. Though Wientzen should get credit for pushing the DMA into the interactive world, he was scorned in several circles last summer after gutting e-mail guidelines that would have made spamming tougher. However, he deserves something for his work with the FBI and Operation Slam Spam, which even got recognition at a Senate hearing last month for its work in tracking top spammers.

Telemarketers just want Wientzen's successor to pay more attention to them. Many were ticked off after last fall's brouhaha over the national no-call registry and the DMA's decision not to join the American Teleservices Association in its appeal of the court ruling upholding the list. But the sentiment at last week's telemarketing conference in Palm Beach, FL, was that most are ready to move on.

Finally, there are the people who wonder what Wientzen has accomplished. As already mentioned, we now have a national no-call list. In 1996, only Florida and Nebraska had state-run lists. Though privacy issues were around long before he took over, consumers' concerns are bigger than ever. Meanwhile, postal reform still hasn't been passed, though it seems really close this year.

So, who will the board choose and what qualities should this man -- or woman -- have? Let's take it for granted that the person will be knowledgeable about direct and interactive marketing. However, I think some fresh blood is needed over a lifetime DMer. I've also heard several people say that the person should be more warm and fuzzy and not so distant. The industry obviously has an image problem that needs to be fixed soon.

The new CEO won't be able to solve all the problems in a day, so, heck, let's give him or her a week.

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