Chairman: Interesting Times for ATA

LAS VEGAS — Citing a Chinese proverb that states “May you live in interesting times,” outgoing American Teleleservices Association chairman Tim Searcy said yesterday to attendees of the ATA's 18th Annual Convention & Exhibition that 2001 has been perhaps too interesting.

This year has brought a host of challenges to the industry, including new regulations and a call to assist in disaster-relief efforts for victims of last month's terrorist attacks.

But the industry and the ATA responded vigorously with efforts to educate the public and lawmakers about teleservices issues, Searcy said. Industry members showed how vital teleservices can be when they responded to requests for volunteers to provide inbound call support for fundraising efforts in the aftermath of the attacks.

Even celebrities such as Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise found themselves face to face with basic teleservices issues like hold times when they manned phones for the “America: A Tribute To Heroes” telethon. The telethon was televised on 35 stations and raised more than $150 million for the United Way's September 11th Fund.

“For one brief moment, everyone in America wanted to be in one place,” Searcy said of the telethon.

Searcy praised ATA members who participated in a short-lived outbound calling effort to urge consumers to donate to the Red Cross. The effort was canceled when it became apparent that consumer suspicions about scams related to the disaster proved too much of a hindrance.

The public rarely hears about such positive news about the teleservices industry, Searcy said.

“We do that at all times, tirelessly and without gratitude,” Searcy said. “What recognition we do receive is in the form of regulation.”

Nevertheless, the ATA itself continued to grow throughout 2001, Searcy said. Membership has increased to 2,400, and 450 people and 40 exhibitors have registered to appear at this year's annual conference.

New regional chapters continue to grow in the United States, and an international chapter has been founded in Brussels, Belgium, Searcy said. The ATA also founded a political action committee and is seeking donations.

“This is first and foremost a grass-roots organization,” Searcy said. “We do our best work when we work at the state level and in the local markets.”

Searcy is making his last appearance as ATA chairman at this year's annual conference. ATA board member Bill Miklas, the board's communications director, has been elected to take his place for the year 2001-2002.

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