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BPA rule change debate heats up Circulators concerned about how telemarketing rule will affect respo

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Many circulators are questioning how much a BPA Worldwide telemarketing rule passed last December will affect their bottom lines and response rates.

Circulators are mainly concerned that the new rule, which requires publishers to record and store all in- and outbound telemarketing calls, will compel purchases of costly equipment necessary to record and store all those calls. Also, circulators said they are worried costumers won't take calls because they don't want to be recorded.

Rich Murphy, BPA's senior VP-auditing, said that recording equipment is getting cheaper and more accessible, and has assured publishers that there will be no change in response rates. Several publishers that already record calls also said there should be no difference in response rates.

However, at least three circulators have done small tests to determine how the new rule will influence response rates, and they've all had negative results.

Hugh Dowling, circulation manager at Associated Business Publications International, tested a list with 2,500 names. Half of the list was recorded, half wasn't. The unrecorded portion had a 35% response rate, while the recorded portion had a 6% response rate.

Barry Green, VP-director of circulation at Hearst Business Media, tested a list of 2,500 names, half of which were recorded and half of which weren't. Usually, he said, he gets 13 calls per hour that requalify for a title. During the test, he got 10. "Now, that doesn't sound like much, but you could look at it and say that it's 20%," he said. "That adds up." Green said he attributes the drop in the rate of requals in this particular test to customer resistance to being recorded.

Greg Brumley, president of BrumleyGroup, a consulting company, cited a circulator's test in a brochure he created and is distributing to circulators called, "How Do You Like BPA's New Voice Recording Plan?" The test produced a 20% drop in responses for the circulator.

Four circulators that either recorded already or were still gearing up to record said they thought the concerns were slightly overstated. "I don't think it will be a big deal at all," said Mark Rosen, circulation director for 15 of Advanstar's titles. "And the thing I actually like about it is that I can request a random number of types of calls--25 acceptances, rejections, hang-ups, whatever--to listen to so I can figure out what's going on with specific types of calls."

Eric Rutter, VP-controlled circulation at Reed Business Information and the chaiman of ABM's circulation committee, agreed the rule shouldn't cause too many worries. "I don't think BPA's new rule requiring publishers to record subscriptions acquired via telemarketing will have any impact on response rates," he said. "Virtually all subscription calls made on our behalf are recorded. Even though our scripts include a sentence stating that the call will be recorded for quality assurance purposes, abandon rates have not increased and response rates have remained steady."

BPA said that the use of telemarketing as a means to requalify and gain new subscribers has grown significantly. As a result, advertisers and media buyers are seeking better ways of validating the authenticity of these calls. One primary reason to record calls is to eliminate the Personal Identifier Question, which establishes customer identity by asking a question such as `What is the color of your mother's eyes?' These personal queries cause concern among customers, who are afraid of identity theft, Green said.

"This is merely a transition issue," BPA's Murphy said. "Publishers have two years to make the transition. We're helping them make it in many ways, and this will not be an issue once the rule goes into effect."

That will happen in January 2008.

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