Participation Gives Industry Political Visibility

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As the summer heat starts rolling in, most of the 1998 state legislative sessions wind will have already rolled out. With only a handful of states still meeting, now is a good time to reflect back on the telemarketing industry's performance this year, in state houses around the country. In my book, it was a good solid year for the industry, yet there is plenty of room for growth and increased participation before the legislatures convene in 1999.


Strengths


The telemarketing industry became a highly visible presence in a number of state legislatures this year. An effective one-two punch of hired lobbyists and company representatives participated in the legislative process to deliver a knockout blow for the industry. The lobbyists, usually a product of the Direct Marketing Association's continued commitment to state issues, used the relationships they have developed over the years to identify key legislators who need to hear the industry's perspective. Building upon those relationships, for the first time, the American Telemarketing Association's State Legislative Task Force organized company representatives to support the lobbyist and put a face on an industry many elected officials do not understand. When coordinated and working together, this combined force was very effective in defeating poorly drafted and/or harmful legislation.


In Florida, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Virginia, and Vermont, the industry was able to present a unified voice, educating legislators and pointing out problems with proposed legislation. As the legislative chart provided in this publication shows, in these states the dual efforts paid huge dividends. These are the kinds of efforts that should be continued if the telemarketing industry is ever to educate legislators, regulators and the public, and once and for all remove the cloud that hangs over the industry's public image.


Areas of Improvement


Like the old real estate rule, there are only three words necessary for an effective state relations program: Participation, Participation, Participation. Several key players in this industry stepped up and led the charge against unnecessary governmental regulation and achieved victory for the entire industry. Yet the entire industry cannot afford to ride piggyback on the efforts of a few large companies. It is just as important for state representatives to hear from a small 25 seat privately held company as it is for them to hear from a company with a 500 seat call center that employs a thousand people in the state. Every seat is a job, and every job is economic growth. It is no coincidence that the first question out of most legislators' mouths is 'How will this impact jobs?' Every job is important and no elected officials wants to be on the record voting for legislation that drives jobs out of their state.


Whether it is testifying at a hearing, contacting local Senators and Representatives urging them to vote against a bill, meeting with local elected officials to discuss the nature of proposed legislation, or my personal favorite, inviting elected officials to the call center for a tour, that little effort has produced and will continue to produce tremendous results for the industry.


At the ATA's legislative conference in Washington, an entire session was presented featuring people who had sought out their elected representatives and the surprising pleasant visits that had followed. One individual after speaking with his state rep has become the leading spokesperson in the state for the industry. When new legislation was being introduced this year, that person received a call from his representative alerting him to the bill's introduction and asking for his thoughts on it.


Another individual who had invited her local legislator for a call center visit, told the story of the legislator's amazement at the professionalism he found at the site. What had been scheduled for a 30 minute meet and greet photo-op turned into a half day town hall meeting as the legislator went from room to room speaking with the employees and watching the inner workings of a professional call center.


These are just a few of the success stories that are out there. And yet all of them are just the tip of the iceberg for this industry, no Titanic pun intended.


The industry is well on its way to embracing these methods crucial to defeating the challenges that threaten it.


<I> C. Tyler Prochnow is an attorney in the Kansas City office of Lathrop & Gage, L.C. <I>
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