DMD Speaker SaysTelemarketing Will Survive, Grow Under New Rules

NEW YORK — The telemarketing industry can survive and even thrive under new federal rules that limit outbound calling, but only if it learns to adapt and be cautious about compliance, a speaker at the DMD New York Conference & Expo said yesterday.

Questions about the future of outbound telemarketing abound as the Federal Trade Commission prepares to implement the national no-call registry, which telemarketers expect will cost them potential customers. But telemarketers will find a way to go on if they factor compliance with new rules into their management infrastructure and look for ways to minimize risks, said Robert Kobek, president/CEO of Mobius Vendor Partners, Indianapolis, who spoke at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here.

Paying for compliance, such as call blocking and list scrubbing, is a necessary expense to mitigate risk, just like insurance, Kobek said. Telemarketers should refrain from calling when they are unsure, given the “gray areas” in regulations.

Learning to live with the new limitations may lead telemarketers to develop higher-quality, less-intrusive outbound call practices, he said.

“You can manage to it,” Kobek said of the new rules. “It's not death.”

Other speakers at the session at which Kobek gave his presentation — Thomas Cohn, senior assistant regional director for the FTC's Northeast region; and Joseph Sanscrainte, general counsel for Call Compliance Inc. and a DM News columnist — heard audience questions about the FTC's new rules.

Cohn expressed confidence that enforcement of the no-call registry would begin in October, despite pending lawsuits by the Direct Marketing Association and the American Teleservices Association to halt the list's implementation. But he acknowledged that the FTC's stated goal of bringing existing state no-call lists into line with the FTC list had yet to be accomplished.

“We're in a state of flux,” he said. “Harmonization is going to take awhile.”

Sanscrainte urged telemarketers to get information about new rules and invest now in compliance technology and training for employees. To illustrate the alternative, he showed the audience a cartoon picture of an ostrich with its head in the sand.

Audience questions made it apparent that confusion in the industry remains over how the FTC's new rules — which affect predictive-dialer use, caller ID and a host of other issues besides do-not-call — will apply to specific business situations. Cohn said the FTC will target obvious violations of the rules at first but that it could exercise its own judgment when pursuing situations in which the rules are not completely clear.

“The law is the law. Having said that, we have a lot of prosecutorial discretion,” Cohn said. “We can pick and choose who we go after.”

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