Wientzen Sees 'Toughest Year' Ending With Turnaround

ORLANDO, FL — Politics, the economy and technology were the key topics addressed by H. Robert Wientzen, president/CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, here yesterday during the opening general session of the DMA's 86th Annual Conference & Exhibition.

“I think I can state that this past year has been the toughest year that our association has ever faced politically and in the media,” Wientzen said. He covered a laundry list of political issues facing the direct marketing community.

First up was the U.S. Postal Service, for which Wientzen went live via satellite for an interview with Thomas R. Carper, D-DE, the key Democrat on the Senate's Governmental Affairs Committee on postal matters.

Carper said that there was 80 percent to 90 percent convergence between the presidential postal commission, which submitted its recommendations in July, and the postal reform legislation he proposed. The legislation has a good chance to pass in the next session, he said.

Other hot-button political issues Wientzen discussed included protecting privacy, preserving telemarketing and combating spam. “Do the right thing” was his mantra for these issues, though he stressed that the DMA does not advocate opt-in mandates.

With more than 50 privacy bills in Congress this year alone and the passage of a tough opt-in law regarding financial data in California, Wientzen urged direct marketers to stay aware of the privacy debate and to address all sources of potential privacy concerns within their businesses.

As for telemarketing, Wientzen said that though the DMA does not think the government should run the national do-not-call registry, telemarketers should abide by it.

On spam, he mentioned the DMA's partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to identify and prosecute spammers. Though Wientzen predicted that none of the 11 anti-spam bills introduced would pass this year, he said that the DMA supports the Burns-Wyden “CAN-SPAM Act,” which includes its e-mail marketing guidelines.

Wientzen also touched on the fight against remote sales tax collection and the use of environmentally friendly business practices.

Next came a topic that has plagued direct marketers for the past few years — the economy.

“We're in the third year of a soft economy that has not been kind to marketers,” he said.

But he said signs were encouraging for the fourth quarter of this year. He also said that despite the economy, sales were up for DMers overall. He attributed much of that growth to the Web and other nontraditional direct marketing methods. The DMA predicted that Web sales would rise 20.5 percent over the next five years.

In the realm of technology, Wientzen urged marketers to be aware of innovations that may help them market in the near future. He cited Wi-Fi, text messaging and even direct response broadcast media as things to keep an eye on.

Wientzen left attendees with a simple message for ethical marketing: “Honor they customer.”

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