Magazine article Marketing

Direct Mail Defends Its Corner

Magazine article Marketing

Direct Mail Defends Its Corner

Article excerpt


These are anxious times for the direct marketing industry. Business has boomed, as more and more clients have seen the advantages of accurately targeting their customers. But at the same time, pressures for regulation and legislation are growing which could, given the most extreme outcome, undermine the boom's many benefits.

Early next month (October 10-12), the British Direct Marketing Association is staging its annual three-day conference and exhibition at Olympia II, in London. A first-morning session addresses the issue. It is titled "Legislation: will we be outlawed?" The speakers - data protection registrar Eric Howe and director-general of fair trading Sir Gordon Borrie - are probably better qualified to answer this question than anyone else.

This goes beyond Field Marshal Montgomery keeping a picture of Rommel in his tent. It's more like inviting divorce lawyers to the wedding feast, or Ghengis Khan to a pacifist rally. Neither Howe nor Borrie is noted for their enthusiasm for direct marketing. However, what they have to say, on the record and in public, could be of great significance. They will be looking at the moral and legal responsibilities of firms, consumers' rights, UK and European data protection and Green issues.

The Green question may have faded since environment minister Chris Patten dropped his ill-considered plan to tax the "waste" involved in direct mail (Marketing, August 30). But data protection, and particularly the European Commission's draft directive published in July, is a hot issue.

"The European directive would be a major blow if it went through unaltered," says Judith Donovan, founder of one of the UK's top ten direct marketing agencies Bradford-based Judith Donovan Associates. "Not being able to mail our own customers without prior permission is one proposal that I see as a restriction on trade. It could close the industry down. Other proposals could lead to us becoming undiscriminating and untargeted again.

"I understand there is some very effective work going on across national borders to have the directive changed.

And there is absolutely no point in pussy-footing around. We may only get one chance to put our point of view."

Alan Bigg, chairman of another leading agency, Brann Direct Marketing, claims the directive is not aimed at what he calls direct marketing's main thrust today - companies developing databases of all their customers, to whom they can talk regularly in a caring and informed way. …

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