Direct marketers are feeling pressured on old as well as new fronts.
"Privacy and postal are at the top of our concerns," said Linda Woolley, exec VP-Washington operations at the Direct Marketing Association.
A few days before the DMA's March conference in Washington, the Obama administration issued its final report on consumer privacy. The Federal Trade Commission's "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change" proposed a number of protection practices and said the advertising industry has been slow to police itself.
Among the trade group's major worries is a recommendation to let consumers block direct marketers from tracking their movement on the internet. The FTC report also called for legislation to give consumers access to personal data held by brokers and allow them to correct inaccurate information.
Ms. Woolley and her team are pushing back against the "Do Not Track" recommendations. Direct marketers want "to be as focused as possible, because resources are tight right now," she said.
The Digital Advertising Alliance icon affixed to many online ads alerts consumers that they can turn off behaviorally targeted ads, Ms. Woolley noted. But the FTC says that 's not enough, because while consumers can stop solicitations based on tracking, the data continues to be collected.
The privacy report's message is clear: If direct marketers don't adopt guidelines such as Do Not Track voluntarily, the FTC will press Congress to make them law. Direct marketers oppose "overarching" regulation, Ms. Woolley said, adding that the industry's attempts to police itself are working.
Another looming threat is the U.S. Postal Service's plan to raise mailing rates to help it avoid insolvency. It argues that drastic steps must be taken, as it has struggled with declining mail volume. It lost more than $9 billion last year.
The Postal Service also wants to reduce deliveries from six days to five days a week, and to shut 233 processing plants and about 2,000 small postal facilities.
While opposed to the higher rates and service cuts, direct marketers support the Postal Service's attempts to rid itself of "excess space" to save money, Ms. Woolley said.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is promoting a postal-reform bill that may prevent a rate increase. The Republican-led House has a different plan. But it's not clear that Congress will be able to agree on a solution to stave off a crisis.
"August is when they think they can't make payroll," Ms. Woolley said. "That's pretty dramatic."
Another problem on the horizon for direct mailers: the European Union's consideration of a privacy directive that would ban all tracking on the internet unless a consumer chooses to "opt in."
"That's pretty horrible," Ms. Woolley said.
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