Update: ’60 Minutes’ Piece Targets DMers

TORONTO – A news crew from CBS’ “60 Minutes” taped footage from the exhibit floor at the Direct Marketing Association’s fall conference here this week for a segment on information-gathering and consumer privacy concerns. Though vendors let them film shots of their booths, many refused to talk on camera.

The footage was largely background for the piece – long shots of booths and crowds of people walking around the floor. Officials from “60 Minutes” would not say when the segment will air, and no on-air personalities were on hand despite rumors of conference attendees seeing Mike Wallace and Lesley Stahl.

Producer Rome Hartman and associate producer Elizabeth Weinreb showed their displeasure at being the center of a news story themselves. They refused to talk specifics about the story, saying only that it will be about how marketers gather and store information on consumers.

“We don’t like to be the news, we like to make the news,” Hartman said.

Weinreb asked a DM News photographer not to take pictures because the camera’s flash was interfering with the taping. When asked if they would arrange for something afterward, Weinreb answered, “No,” and walked away.

Neither seemed to grasp the nuances of direct marketing and how companies use consumer information. The two met with one vendor for an off-the-record conversation that lasted an hour to get a better understanding of the industry.

Among the exhibitors visited were many of the large data warehousers – Acxiom, infoUSA, KnowledgeBase Marketing and Experian – but most of them had already refused to be interviewed at the show. Acxiom spokesman Dale Ingram said his company didn’t agree to an interview request but sent a letter outlining what it does and how its services are used in direct marketing. Experian and infoUSA officials said they also refused to be interviewed for the segment.

Exhibitors were coached on what to say in a fax the DMA sent out the week before explaining that “60 Minutes” would be on hand and included pointers on what to say if approached by a news crew:

• Consumers benefit when marketers rent and exchange lists because they receive helpful direct marketing offers as a result.

• Consumers must have confidence that the information they provide online marketers, such as contact and credit information, is secure. Without it, the growth of online commerce will not reach its maximum potential. Consumers will turn elsewhere.

Michael Hail, CEO of KnowledgeBase, Houston, said he was asked about his company’s products, but the producers were most interested in online privacy and whether Web-based products would allow more people access to more information. Hail said that he told them the products help companies internally share information and that just because the information is online, it doesn’t make it more accessible to the general public. He also told them that all of the data his company works with is opt-in and accessible only through secure passwords.

“They spent a lot of time just asking questions about the industry and how it really works,” he said.

Recent changes to the Driver Privacy Protection Act will have a devastating effect on the DM industry, said Hail, who expects Vice President Al Gore to make privacy a key campaign point in the presidential election.

Richard Hochhauser, president/CEO of Harte-Hanks Direct Marketing, New York, briefed members of his staff to make sure they were ready when speaking about the company’s products – or privacy in general – should they be approached.

Jack H. Lee, vice president of marketing at Donnelley Marketing, Stamford, CT, said that “60 Minutes” approached him, and he was willing to show them his company’s products, but they never returned.

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