NEW ORLEANS — With news about a national no-call registry and other federal regulations expected to break within a few weeks, the mood among telemarketers here at the American Teleservices Association's 19th Annual Conference and Exhibition is laden with anticipation, industry insiders said.
“Nervous would be one word I would use to describe it,” said Bill Miklas, vice president of Sitel, Omaha, NE, and outgoing ATA chairman.
ATA officials said that proposed federal regulations have generated unprecedented interest in this year's show, held at the New Orleans Marriott. The conference has 20 corporate sponsors this year and has drawn media outlets as diverse as the Washington Post and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, as well as local network news.
The unwelcome interest of federal regulators has mobilized the ATA membership, association officials said. Trade group leadership is having more success recruiting members for volunteer and lobbying efforts on behalf of the industry.
“There's folks before that we had to seek out to generate activity,” Miklas said. “Now, they're coming to us and saying, 'What can we do?'”
The industry has had difficulty making its constituency aware of the danger posed by upcoming federal rules, such as the national do-not-call list proposed by the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission, some showgoers said. But many expressed confidence that the industry had survived regulation in the past and would weather the storm again.
“Too many people in the industry are unaware,” said telemarketing veteran Jon Hamilton, president of JHA Telemanagement. “But among the people in the know, many seem to be concerned but surprisingly upbeat.”
Heightened interest in the ATA's activities couldn't come at a better time for the association, which is preparing for a legal battle with federal regulators over the national DNC list. That battle is expected to cost more than $1 million, Miklas said.
However, the association already has found at least 20 companies interested in donating to its war chest and thinks as many as 30 more can be persuaded to support the effort.
Regulation isn't the only worry for telemarketers. Most have experienced difficulty maintaining revenue in the slumping economy that followed Sept. 11, 2001. However, the mood among telemarketers again was confidence that economic difficulty had come before, and telemarketing had survived.
“Ten years ago, we sat in a conference in Florida, and the question was whether the Internet would put telemarketing out of business,” said Stephanie Spade, president and chief operating officer of SHS Marketing Group, Langhorne, PA. “Of course, the answer is, not at all.”