When Do YOU Want to Receive Telemarketer's Calls?

Like many of you, I've been following the controversy and court cases surrounding the US Federal Trade Commission's creation of a Do Not call List. This list, for those of you not attuned to the issue, enabled consumers to provide phone numbers that became "off limits" to telemarketers, with a $11,000 fine assessed for each offense. I should think that many of you are like me and that you signed up your home phone number immediately.

I should think that at least half of you reading this are in the direct response business, and I'm sort of hoping that you who are on the side of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), or, please, members of it, will respond to this column.

As far as I'm concerned, the DMA is not only losing this issue, they may be on their way to losing whatever credibility they have left in Washington and among other marketing organizations.

DMA lawyers had won a stay of sorts earlier this week, since a judge in Oklahoma essentially put a halt to the execution of the Do Not Call list by saying essentially, that Congress had not given full authority to the FTC to enact such a regulation. Congress, being Congress, looked at the 50 MILLION phone numbers that were submitted to the list and said, rather categorically (Senate vote: 95-0, House vote: 412-8) that whether or not they HAD granted this power to the FTC, they grant it as of now. President Bush, whose signature matters not with this kind of majority, says he'll sign this Bill. (Good idea)



Here comes the part that this column is about. The DMA has not gotten behind the Do Not Call Registry.

What? You cry? Why SHOULD they? After all, isn't the registry going to cost the industry millions or even billions of dollars?

Well, folks, it may. It probably won't. But, it may. If your trade association does come up with some way to work with the Feds, and make such a registry work for consumers, then perhaps telemarketing won't get run over by this train, which happens to have left the station a long time ago. Do Not Call will only cost the telemarketing industry perhaps 1/20th of its annual revenue, by some impartial models.

But, here's why it probably won't, and why the entire direct marketing industry had better wake up and deal with this now. 50 MILLION Americans have their phone numbers on this list. These are not people who respond well to telemarketing. These are people who do not buy on the phone, or online. These are people who, by and large, would rather not be answering telemarketers' calls at all. If telemarketers ever were sincere about filtering their lists, these are the people whose names would be deleted anyway.

These people have opted-out, capiche?

105 million people voted in the Presidential election in 2000. Almost half that many figured out how to get their phone numbers in the FTC's Do Not Call list, even though many are elderly or have no Web access, and others have never submitted their data to any such database. People called friends to discuss it and asked kids to do it online for them. The FTC's Web servers were swamped, remember?

Should the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and not the FTC administer this, as some industry lawyers have claimed in their stalling tactics? Since money is made across state lines in the transaction, nope. It's the domain of the FTC. But, who cares? 50 MILLION people!

The DMA's response?

"We're concerned about consumers who think we want to make calls when they don't want to receive them," said Bob Wientzen, chief executive of the association. The industry group has said for some time that it wants to "work with government" to find an acceptable solution. But, judicial stalling tactics make it seem like the opposite is true.

Note to Mr. Wientzen: Either find a creative way to get behind some version of this, or be run over by this train, which carries 50 Million Americans who don't want to receive telemarketers' calls at all. That means, not during dinner, early in the morning, or any other time. These are not your members' target consumers. The Do Not Call List, if the DMA gets behind it or some version of it, could become the Federal Government's way of scrubbing your databases at taxpayers' expense. If you let the FTC manage this alone, it will be a giant headache for your industry. If you fail to actually WORK with the FTC instead of making it harder on them and positioning your industry as obstructionist, this will become much more difficult for all involved, especially your members.

Any of you who have read this column before know how much I hate it when telemarketers call. I would love nothing more than to see this industry just go away. But, seeing this issue being handled so badly makes me think differently for now, since I'm an old Inside-the-Beltway public affairs consultant myself. A lot of people who do what I used to do in DC will be getting rich on these guys in the coming months. Sharks always feed on the distressed.

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