News Crews Descend on Fall Show as Anthrax Fears Grow

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CHICAGO -- Major news organizations taped footage from the Direct Marketing Association's fall show yesterday just as federal officials began "intensively investigating" the possibility that private homes are being targeted for anthrax-tainted mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service.


At least two cases of anthrax have been reported by people unrelated to the media or postal system: a 61-year-old hospital worker in New York and a 51-year-old woman who lives near a Hamilton Township, NJ, mail-processing center where traces of anthrax have been found.


The DMA and several large catalogers held a news conference yesterday to explain mailers' concerns and why they think catalogs and other direct mail are safe. On the exhibit floor, several news crews took shots of the USPS booth. However, Danny Lopez, manager of event marketing at the USPS, said none of his sales staff talked with any reporters.


"We're salespeople. We're not the experts, and we don't pretend to be. That's another department's job," Lopez said, referring to postal inspectors and other officials who attended the show to explain the USPS' situation.


From an exhibitor's point of view, Lopez said he was very pleased with the show.


"We were expecting some slowdown, considering what has been going on," he said. "Traffic was really busy [Monday] and even this morning, but things slowed down this afternoon."


Other vendors expressed similar sentiments as the number of people walking around was down noticeably from Monday.


"Traffic's not as great, but it's still good," said Ronald Balut, a sales representative at Mail-Well Envelope, Englewood, CO. "We've had a number of inquiries, and anthrax has not been uppermost in people's minds."


Mail-Well used the show to tout several products to combat the anthrax scare, including a translucent envelope and one that has a see-through strip at the bottom covered with plastic film.


"Its original purpose was to show a barcode inside," Balut said. "We've had it for years."


E-mail is another alternative to regular mail, but at this point, companies still seem to "just be talking about it as an alternative," said Michael G. Holmes, president of Easymail Interactive, Cincinnati.


"Today's slower, but we're still happy," he said. "[Monday] was really good. Internally, we have several clients here, and we're hearing good things. Lots of leads have come in, and they have been very strong."


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