Co-op Mailer, DMA Compile Lists to Trim Offers Sent to the Deceased

Though all direct marketers try to avoid sending offers to deceased consumers, mailers targeting segments of the population likely to have higher numbers of deceased people should use extra caution, one marketing executive warns.

“As a major hub of retirees, Florida is a state where the possibility of reaching a deceased person with a prospecting list is certainly a real concern,” said Derek Sullivan, CEO of Affluent Lifestyle, Boca Raton, FL. The company does a high-end cooperative mailer that reaches 50,000 ultra-affluent consumers in southeast Florida quarterly. It also does solo direct mail nationally.

“With us it's a challenge because the vast majority of our clients are marketing to the affluent, and the ultra affluent are an older crowd and there is a higher percentage of deceased on the files,” he said. Sullivan cited a recent 20,000-piece mailing his company processed in which roughly 6 percent of the names came up as deceased.

Affluent Lifestyle uses a compiled database of 45 million deceased consumers dating back 15 years to scrub the lists before sending a mailer.

“The records are gathered from numerous different sources including but not limited to the Social Security Death Index,” he said. “When a list is run against the database it will generate a report that tells you the probability level that an individual is deceased (i.e., low, medium or high) and states what type of matches were found in the file such as 'an exact name and address match' or 'a near exact match on the name and address,' leaving the decision of whom to mail to up to the list owner.”

Sullivan said he urges mailers to err on the side of caution and that they have heeded his advice.

“When we scrub lists for our clients, we remove all of the potentially deceased regardless of the probability, provided they have authorized us to do so,” he said.

Scrubbing a list of 500,000 or fewer names costs $425 and includes removal of deceased records as well as National Change of Address, Delivery Point Validation, Coding Accuracy Support System and Apartment Append.

Still, Sullivan admitted that no method is 100 percent accurate and that a lag time exists for the deceased names to be added to the database.

To help marketers with this issue, the Direct Marketing Association announced the launch of its Deceased Do-Not-Contact list in July. The DDNC registry is a list of names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of deceased consumers that DMA member companies must honor but is also available to non-member firms.

“It's only been in effect for about six months now, and what we're finding is that we're getting about 15 new registrants every day,” said Pat Kachura, DMA senior vice president of ethics and consumer affairs. “A lot of people say that there already is a list out there in the Social Security list but what we're tending to pick up is the people who never received Social Security.”

As of late December the file was up to about 3,000 names, which became available to marketers for suppression Oct. 1.

“We have 26 subscribers to that list but about half of them are service bureaus so they're getting a broad use,” Kachura said. The list costs $300 for marketers yearly and $500 for service bureaus.

Consumers can register the names of deceased loved ones on the DMA's consumer Web site at There is a $1 credit card verification fee to complete the registration in order to record those entering the names as well as to prevent fraudulent entries. The person registering enters his name, credit card number and ZIP code to complete the transaction.

Mailers who subscribe to the Mail Preference Service automatically get the deceased names, which will be flagged as such. DMA members are required to abide by both lists.

The DMA promoted the registry to about 700 funeral directors initially but Kachura said it still wants to get the word out better to funeral directors, hospitals and care facilities. The association will evaluate the program after one year, she said.

Sullivan said he thinks the DDNC is a step in the right direction.

“At least they're doing something proactive, and I'm sure it will grow over time,” he said. “Imagine if we ended up with a do-not-mail list. There are people in Washington that want to do that, and it would crush us all. I'm all for anything anybody wants to do to clean up their files and make things more relevant.”

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