DMA chair vows b-to-b inclusion

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The Direct Marketing Association's board of directors recently elected Acxiom Corp. company leader Charles D. Morgan as its 2001 chairman. In October Morgan, 57, will succeed Jonathan Ward, R.R. Donnelly & Sons president and COO, in the position.

Morgan--who in a 1997 nod to new economy culture dropped his CEO title in favor of company leader--has transformed Little Rock-based Acxiom from a 25-person data management shop to a 5,000-employee Internet direct marketing and customer relationship management titan.

In a Q&A with BtoB, he focused on privacy and globalization issues and how he intends to keep the DMA relevant in the Internet age.

BtoB: You have headed up Acxiom since 1975--a very long time. Does this help you in your new DMA role, or are you too entrenched to lead at this time of change?

Morgan: I'm an old fuddy-duddy. I don't want to see change. [Laughs] Actually, I just drove a Nascar race three weeks ago. [Morgan, a longtime racer, placed 18th out of 34 racers on June 23 in a race at Watkins Glen, N.Y., driving at speeds of up to 165 mph.]

In Acxiom's business, you need to stay highly involved in the issues of the day. I've been at my job a long time, but we've grown 30% each year. I don't have time to get stuck in my ways.

BtoB: How will you help the DMA in the b-to-b space?

Morgan: The DMA has had a long history of underserving the b-to-b segment. I was always frustrated in my early years going to DMA events because b-to-b was ignored. But in the last four years they have awakened to the fact that b-to-b was here to stay.

We're trying to be sure we build up investments in the b-to-b arena and provide value we haven't in the past. [Morgan cited the recent creation of a DMA b-to-b segment advisory committee.] We've now got the board and the DMA executive leadership behind this.

BtoB: What are your goals for the DMA?

Morgan: I am going to have a great deal of focus on privacy. That is No. 1. The DMA has got to provide leadership in privacy issues. The [DMA's] `Privacy Promise' has been adopted and caused companies to change the way they see customer and other data. But that's not enough. We've got to seriously evaluate our legislative agenda. If we don't deal with this we'll severely hamper our members' businesses and our whole economy.

The other thing I'll be working on is to keep the DMA an effective and relevant organization. It's difficult for the DMA with its $40 million budget and thousands of members [4,600 in total] to be fast on its feet. I want us to be faster and more effective.

One of the things I bring to the position is that I have a long-standing association with the direct marketing industry itself. During my career, I've been very involved with b-to-b clients, including Citigroup, Allstate Insurance Co. and the American Management Association. The AMA was our first database marketing customer, in 1979. We've also worked with a majority of the largest credit card marketers and telecom companies.

BtoB: The DMA recently voted to allow individuals to join. How important is boosting membership?

Morgan: Just from a practical standpoint it's important. As we deal with critical national issues such as privacy, we need to build constituent and financial support. It's important that the DMA has adequate funding to do these issues justice.

BtoB: How important to you is the DMA's international b-to-b focus?

Morgan: Very. Last year at a DMA function I sat down with big Acxiom customers and DMA members, including leaders from Citigroup, GE Capital and Chase Manhattan Bank Corp. They told me Acxiom and the DMA both needed to put more emphasis on global issues. Their comments made a lasting impression on me. Fortunately, [DMA President and CEO] Bob Wientzen feels the same way I do, that international b-to-b is critical to our future.

And, of course, Acxiom is not just working in the U.S. We've been working with customers, including American Express Co., in Europe for years. Generally speaking, one area [where] you're going to see Internet marketing operating more effectively sooner rather than later is in international b-to-b. Selling across borders to consumers creates a lot of barriers--language and other things. With businesses, it's different. You're dealing with a more sophisticated buyer. B-to-b companies using the Internet outside the U.S. is one of the biggest opportunities we've got.

And in terms of privacy, we should look at the competitive situation in Europe. Credit card rates are higher in Europe than in the U.S. And what is interesting is that credit card fraud in Europe is twice as high as in the U.S. This is because they don't have the same free flow of information that we do. Our free flow of information has a very positive impact on interest rates, mortgage rates and other things. So if we write laws that restrict this free flow of information, we run a risk.

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