FTC Official: Telemarketers' Fears Don't Ring True

PALM BEACH, FL — The Federal Trade Commission official leading efforts to create a national do-not-call list and other restrictions said that dire predictions about the effect of regulation on telemarketers are not convincing.

Speaking yesterday at the DMA Teleservices Conference 2002 held here at The Breakers hotel, Eileen Harrington, FTC associate director for marketing practices, said that telemarketers also made bleak predictions years ago about the effect that disclosure requirements would have on sales.

She noted that many industry representatives, including some from the Direct Marketing Association, said at the time that having to give disclosures during every solicitation call would kill outbound telemarketing.

“We did require it,” said Harrington, referring to the disclosure rules. Then, turning to DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen, who had just finished giving a speech on skyrocketing sales numbers for outbound telemarketing, she said: “We're pleased to see the numbers are up, Bob.”

Not everyone in the industry is reassured. DMA senior vice president of government affairs Jerry Cerasale, giving his own talk later that day, said that in the case of the disclosure requirements, telemarketers were never prohibited from calling people. With a national DNC list, as many as 40 million to 60 million people are expected to register, he said. Many of those would be top-tier prospects, and their loss would damage the industry.

“Some marketers will be able to survive,” Cerasale said. “But the response won't be as great.”

Harrington said she also disagreed with statements from the DMA and other telemarketing supporters that a small segment of rogue companies that don't practice good telemarketing is giving the industry as a whole a black eye. Many household-name businesses and Fortune 500 companies are guilty of transgressions such as abandoned calls and solicitations to cell phones.

“It's across the board,” she said. “Consumers are telling us that, too.”

Nevertheless, Harrington told the audience that the FTC is not trying to kill outbound telemarketing, as is often rumored in the industry.

“We're not interested in prohibiting direct marketing,” she said. “We're interested in your industry thriving and flourishing.”

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