The Direct Marketing Association is taking a trade mission to the United Kingdom and France in March — a direct challenge to Bill McNutt's International Direct Marketing Consultants, which has run such missions for more than a decade.
McNutt regularly takes a dozen or so DM executives to Europe and Latin America to meet local suppliers and talk to local experts in all DM areas, as well as to U.S. officials stationed there. Now, the DMA has set up a similar program of meetings and briefings.
When McNutt learned of the DMA initiative in the fall, he wrote letters to “a handful of DMA board members” that he expected “my industry association to help and protect my small business, not compete with me.”
He said he had received “a very positive response” from board members. “Some expressed surprise and disappointment at the DMA's action,” he said. IDMC, McNutt said, “is a little David versus the DMA Goliath.”
But, he added, “We have focus, energy, a decade of experience, scores of direct marketing friends around the globe and more than 400 trade mission alumni. … Imitation is the most sincere form of thievery.
“Like Rick said in 'Casablanca,' 'Of all the gin joints in all the towns in [all] the world, she [walks] into mine.' The DMA trip is going to Europe the same week we have been going to Europe for 10 years and attending the same event, the London DM fair. Could this be just a coincidence?”
Charles Prescott, the DMA's international vice president, insisted, “We are not out to damage McNutt's business. If he is better than we are, he'll put us out of business. We understand that McNutt has been successful in the past and wish him every success in the future.
“A large number of our members have approached us to offer them highly focused and concentrated informational trips to overseas markets, and we have elected to do that in connection with a major DM event in one country.”
Both Prescott and McNutt will take their groups to the London International Direct Marketing Show scheduled for March 13-15. McNutt's group will move on to Germany while the DMA mission visits Lille, the center of the French catalog business, and Paris.
“It is not accidental that our mission only crosses his at London, because we had different market pressures on the catalog side drawing us to Lille and Paris,” Prescott said. “It seemed to us that his mission had a different intent.”
McNutt, who first heard of the DMA initiative at last fall's New Orleans DM conference, would have none of it.
“This kind of arrogance on behalf of the American DMA does not win friends for us overseas,” McNutt said.
“It plays to the unfortunate stereotype my clients have to battle when they expand across borders — the stereotype that Americans are bullies who buy what they want, are insensitive to others and will attempt to squash any little guy (like them or me) who gets in their way.”
Prescott said, “We're not buying anything. We've received generous offers of assistance from the DMAs in the UK and France whose memberships appreciate and understand the need for greater international interaction.
“Many of our non-U.S. supplier members have asked me when are we going to start doing this. They're happy to see potential customers come and see them.”
London was the obvious choice because the show is the biggest in Europe and because DIMA, the German event, “has elected to schedule itself over Labor Day weekend, and our own market surveys show that trip would be a hard sell.”
The cost for mission participants is about the same — $5,000 — but services may be different. The DMA has enlisted the U.S. Department of Commerce to help, and the heads of the UK and French DMAs — Colin Lloyd and Bernard Siouffi, respectively — will address the group.
As for competition, Prescott noted that former DMA head Jonah Gitlitz led several DMA trade missions to Europe in the early 1990s.
McNutt charged that Prescott “has picked my brain on more than one occasion” but said he is willing to work with the DMA on trade missions to Asia and other parts of the world where he is not active.