Losing in the Court of Public Opinion
As an industry, we have been spending a good deal of time discussing the legality of the Federal Trade Commission's National Do-Not-Call Registry, and the case for and against protection of commercial speech.
But I think we're missing a bigger point: Millions of Americans signed up to stop receiving telemarketing calls. This includes many people who do direct marketing for a living. And while it was important for the American Teleservices Association and the Direct Marketing Association to sue to prevent the do-not-call list from taking root in its current form (the associations have concerns about the commission's ability to administer the list, including the lack of control over people who register phone numbers that aren't their own), the resulting two-week delay of the list's implementation only served to further outrage consumers.
Tapping into constituents' outrage is a pretty convenient way for politicians to prove they are serving the public's needs. As Contributing Editor Donna Loyle points out in this month's cover story ("Do's and Don'ts in the Privacy Era," on page 30), privacy legislation is a no-brainer issue for members of Congress.
And really, what have we done to help senators and representatives find a new cause to rally around? I recently talked to telemarketing consultant Jon Hamilton for an article in Target Marketing's sister publication Inside Direct Mail. Hamilton, who has helped set up telemarketing operations for leading companies such as The Hartford and Colonial Penn Insurance Company, made it crystal clear that telemarketing was put on the endangered species list because a number of marketing companies turned a viable communication tool into a volume-based commodity. Simply put, many of us treated customers and prospects as numbers in a spreadsheet. Now, the strength in those numbers is telemarketing's downfall.
The only way to turn the tide on government regulation is to do a better job of finding out our customers' and prospects' contact preferences and then respecting them. As we've found in the past, not all people love direct marketing all of the time, but as long as the majority doesn't hate it all of the time, customers can see the value of our marketing process.