Vito Fortuna, president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York, said last week that on the advice of an attorney, a full vote of the club’s membership is not needed to become a chapter of the Direct Marketing Association.
The board vote, set for March 26, is being taken despite pleas from several past presidents, including list leader Ralph Stevens and DMA Hall-of-Famer Lee Epstein, not to give up the 62-year-old club’s independent tradition.
“I will do everything in my power not to let the Direct Marketing Club of New York become a DMA chapter,” Epstein told DM News two weeks ago. “I think if it goes with the DMA, it will just be one little piece of their whole organization. I think it’s important for our industry for the club to maintain its independence.”
Epstein added that the DMA is losing membership itself: “The DMA is in trouble right now. I will do whatever I have to do to make sure this does not happen, even if I have to finance it myself.”
Stevens, managing partner of MKTG Services Inc., was similarly vehement in a letter to other past presidents and club members in which he noted, “When we were short of money … we had lunches that made money, outings that made money, educational programs that made money.”
Stevens concluded his letter, which he shared with DM News, with advice and an offer of assistance: “My advice, if you will allow me, is to find the ways and means to make our club a going concern again. If any of you would like to discuss this with me, I would be happily available. But please don’t throw in the towel.”
Fortuna said in a letter to DM News that the board “would be doing our members an injustice by not exploring this opportunity.” He said membership is at 275 paid members, down from 650 a year ago, though renewal efforts have just been started.
“I am not suggesting that we panic, but there is reason for concern,” said Fortuna, a Metro Area direct marketing specialist for the U.S. Postal Service. “Whatever the decision, the club will continue to move forward, and we will be extremely proactive in looking for ways to enhance membership benefits and recruit new members.”
In a separate interview, Fortuna told DM News, “At this time, I do support our club becoming a chapter of the DMA, and the reason why is that I don’t have a valid plan on how we can move forward in this competitive time. How do we differentiate ourselves from everybody else, or are we just another club with a past?”
Board member Tom Brady, senior account executive at One Source Printing & Graphics Inc., New York, said board members have different views, adding that some older members want the club to stay independent. Brady expressed concern about the timetable of the vote and that club members might not be allowed to vote on the issue.
John Von Achen, immediate past president and a current board member, said he currently opposes becoming a DMA chapter.
“I feel that [because of] the financial situation of the country that this club, as well as many other clubs, are feeling the downturn in membership,” he said. “To increase our dues from $110 to $190 is going to put an additional burden on a lot of individuals.”
Von Achen said several board members think the benefits of becoming a DMA chapter outweigh that dues increase, “but I would have to examine exactly what the benefits are and find out if people will take advantage of them for the extra $80 per year.”
Von Achen said that, for example, one can go to the DMA’s Web site and search the job bank without being a member.
“You could also obtain most of their publications without being a member,” he said. “To go to one of their seminars, you do receive a discount, but the seminars could run you $700 or $800.”
At the last meeting, Von Achen said, a committee was formed to field questions about the idea from board members, as well as to contact other DMA chapters to learn about their experiences in terms of contact with the DMA concerning membership and their logic about becoming a chapter.
Though he could not discuss the findings at this point, Von Achen said, “there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Down the road, I feel that our membership will have to have a say in this whole matter. It’s going to be difficult to put a generic statement out there. It’s the board’s responsibility to do due diligence, determine what is best for the membership and then make a recommendation and hopefully go to the members for their final input. I hope that that’s the process that we will take if we get to a vote on the 26th.”
Von Achen was unsure about Fortuna’s statement that the members won’t get to vote on the matter.
“It depends upon the interpretation of the bylaws,” he said. He also hopes board members keep an open mind while the committee issues its report. “I personally would like every board member to state why he feels or she feels we should go forward or not go forward so that there is no misunderstanding about the offer.”
Second vice president Jane Weber said she wants to hear the committee’s report before deciding.
“I know that there has been a tremendous amount of discussion on both sides,” Weber said. “There have been some very, very strong feelings about which way to go on the part of the people who have been in the club for a long time on what they believe the club should be doing and believe very strongly that the club should remain independent. … The main goal is to be a strong direct marketing club and represent everyone.”