Three-Year Effort Turns DMA Into Notable Force Up, Down Capitol Hill

As the old adage goes, it isn't necessarily what you know, it's who you know, and the Direct Marketing Association is trying to know a great deal of people on Capitol Hill.

As part of a three-year effort to improve its lobbying presence and impact in national and state legislative corridors, the DMA has refined its political savvy with a kinder, gentler approach to networking. Since 1995, the association has stepped up its efforts through its political action committee (PAC), Direct Voice; the implementation of meet-and-greet days with state politicians; and by assisting in private fundraisers for notable politicians.

In the past few years, Direct Voice has upped its fundraising efforts to $225,000, has introduced a relationship-building opportunity between state lawmakers and their direct marketing business constituents with DMA State Days and has tried its hand as a pseudo-agent helping to target direct marketing executives as attendees at private fundraisers. One such event was held last week on behalf of Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) at a private residence on New York's Upper East Side.

“We're very pleased with the progress we've made,” said Jennifer Barrett, vice chairwoman of Direct Voice and a group leader of new business development at Acxiom, Conway, AR. “It opens doors and makes sure that people on Capitol Hill know the issues we are dealing with. We've gotten good feedback from members and lawmakers. It has helped us build some new friends and strengthen ties from relationships we've had in the past.”

Barrett is one among 17 people who sit on the advisory board, which was created in 1995 to oversee Direct Voice.

Like the industry it represents, the DMA heeds the basics of direct marketing in its fundraising efforts — identifying, targeting, soliciting, measuring. But while direct marketers follow the model to reach customers, the DMA does so to reach key lawmakers and their potential influence in certain direct marketing legislation.

“A huge issue for us right now is the sales and use tax that is forcing the collection of taxes across state lines,” said Mark Micali, vice president of government affairs for the DMA. “State governors want to force [direct marketing] companies that don't have a presence in a certain state to collect taxes on sales in that state.”

The Senate Finance Committee and House Judiciary Committee are reviewing measures on the issue.

But issues change and so do agendas, and in an effort to ensure balanced allocation of contributions, the Direct Voice advisory board oversees PAC donations, which for the DMA are issued only to federal-level senators and representatives.

“They make the key recommendation as to whom the PAC should contribute, but there is no magic to it,” Micali said. “The profile of the people they approve for contributions are in great areas of sensitivity for the direct marketing issue.”

Although much of the workings of Washington remain extremely partisan, the DMA aims to be bipartisan.

“On federal bills, we look at who are friends of the industry and where they stand,” said Connie Heatley, senior vice president of public relations and communications at the DMA. “This is not a partisan kind of giving. We look at where we need to move the needle a little bit.”

For 1997 and 1998, the DMA expects to move the needle to the tune of $225,000. In 1997, Direct Voice donated $100,000 in increments of $250, $500, $1,000 and $2,000 to 90 different PACs — and by the end of this year expects to raise and donate another $125,000. Before 1995, Direct Voice raised an average of $25,000 throughout a two-year cycle.

The money is allocated by the Direct Voice advisory board, which convenes three to four times annually to review lists of people to whom it should contribute. Potential targets are generated by individual board members as well as DMA staff, Micali said. The donations usually target a two-year congressional election cycle.

Once key politicians are identified, DMA staffers embark on the solicitation process, which typically includes four mailings annually to DMA members to pay for the PAC. But unlike most direct marketing solicitations to consumers, the DMA must receive authorization to solicit companies. As part of federal regulations, companies can authorize only one trade association for contributions.

“Firms who authorize the PAC provide a list of executives within their firms to solicit,” Micali said. “The authorization is one more hoop you have to jump through that is time-consuming, but under federal election laws only one trade association may be authorized for contributions.”

A merger last year of Direct Voice with the Advertising Mail Marketing Association PAC helped expand solicitation opportunities because about 90 percent of AMMA members also are DMA members, Micali said.

Last year, 150 companies representing about 750 executives authorized a solicitation, but on average only five executives per company anted up, a dismal response compared with industry standards. Nonetheless, the level of contributions helped the DMA achieve its fundraising goals. And if a company contributes in the first mailing, the DMA avoids soliciting it later in the year.

But PAC contributions are not the only means of voicing a presence in politics — private fundraisers also are in vogue when it comes to direct marketing issues. Although completely separate from PAC activities, private fundraisers are just that, so much so that a press request to attend the D'Amato event was denied. Nonetheless, the affairs are small, drawing about 20 people willing to pay $500 as an individual or $1,000 as part of a PAC for an hourlong opportunity to rub elbows with D'Amato.

Those fundraisers, however, are ad-hoc and only arise when an individual steps forward to host an event, according to Micali. For the D'Amato event, Jack Rosenfeld, a former DMA chairman, and his wife, Lana, hosted 20 direct marketing executives. D'Amato was targeted as a friend of the industry and as a senator for a state that employs 1.4 million in direct marketing-related jobs.

Solicitations for attendees for those affairs do not require authorization, and the DMA helps provide names for potential attendees through business contacts and PAC contributions.

“That is much more art than science,” Micali said about targeting attendees for the private fundraisers.

The group will assist with another reception in June for Sen. Judd Gregg, (R-NH). The DMA chose to support Gregg because of his state's high direct marketing employment per capita.

The DMA also has expanded its efforts with state lawmakers through DM State Days, which are designed as relationship-building opportunities between direct marketers and state lawmakers. Since 1995, the association has arranged 25 State Days.

“We target a particular state and set up interviews for as many representatives and senators as we can get and as many members as we can,” Heatley said. “It is an opportunity to get businesses to come in and educate lawmakers.”

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