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Millions Would Be Needed For Consumer Campaign

TORONTO – What is the Direct Marketing Association doing to reassure consumers that its members are handling sensitive personal information in an ethical manner? How will the industry defend itself if the public’s rising concern over privacy becomes co-opted as a campaign issue in the 2000 presidential election?

These were two of the questions participants asked during the “How Long Can Data Go Unregulated” session at the DMA’s fall show here this week. But while panel participants Jennifer Barrett, corporate leader for fair information practices and business development at Acxiom Corp., Conway, AR, and DMA vice presidents Pat Faley and Charles Prescott all noted how poignant the inquiries were, they cautioned the audience against expecting any easy solutions.

Later that day, commenting in response to some of the issues raised, DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen didn’t deny that a populist uprising was possible but warned that fighting such a battle “would be a big effort that requires a lot money” and will take a minimum of six months to make something happen.

No doubt marketers have reason to worry. News that lawmakers had reached a preliminary decision to relax Depression-era antitrust laws governing banking, insurance and brokerage companies – H.R. 10 – appears to offer little comfort: A rising tide of outrage at the local level is reflected in the 27 states that have proposed privacy regulations considered hostile to direct mailers, telemarketers and online service.

Barrett suggested that the DMA might consider presenting the Privacy Promise as a model for limited legislation rather than risk a full-blown legal undermining of the industry’s interests at a later date.

Speaking from his office in Chicago, Howard Draft, chairman of DraftWorldwide, told DM News that the DMA couldn’t possibly launch an effective publicity campaign without spending tens of millions of dollars. And Wientzen doubted the

DMA is capable of raising the money needed, claiming it would be fighting a battle that he believed was largely trumped up by sensationalistic media.

Wientzen conceded, however, that “there are things being done by people that shouldn’t be done” and that some non-DMA member businesses were behaving in inappropriate ways. And he hinted that the DMA was not above a teaspoon of humility. “I would grant you that we should be demystifying this process more than we do.”

According to Draft, the DMA needs to adopt more of what its members preach to their clients: integrated marketing communications.

“My take would be to spend limited resources on the DMA itself, but to work more closely with DMA members to come up with some kind of Good Housekeeping seal that really [means something].”

First, the members and the DMA would have to agree on what the issues are, he said. “The DMA should then piggy back with its members. I don’t think they have the money to do it any other way. If an agency launched [an effort for the DMA] the way you do for a new product, you could be talking $15 to $25 million a year for the next three years.”

And Wientzen clearly signaled that the process needs more immediate attention. “I don’t know how much money that is going to be just yet, but we do need to make an effort to do it,” he said. “If we can take the mystery out of the process and have a much better proactive campaign about it, we can be part of the solution rather than always be in the position of having to defend ourselves.”

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