|Photo: Lisa Fain|
|Half a year later, cost is a greater concern than toxicity.
Despite public fears about the potential for widespread bioterrorism, most in the $582 billion direct mail industry predicted the public concerns would be short lived.
Nearly six months later, those optimists appear to have been correct. The initial threat that caused the U.S. Postal Service to send out 145 million anthrax warning post cards to households across the country is over.
The Direct Marketing Association, which revised fourth-quarter expenditures and sales downward after the attacks on the World Trade Center, did not further reduce estimates after the anthrax scare; DMA President H. Robert Wientzen anticipated the bioterrorism threat would subside within a week or two and not have a long-term negative effect on the industry.
"I guess I could feel a little smug about that view, because indeed that has turned out to be the case," Mr. Wientzen said.
Sales expected to rise
Marketers spent $46.5 billion on direct
David Sable, president of Wunderman, New York, a unit of WPP Group's Young & Rubicam, has seen no changes in clients' direct-marketing programs, nor did he expect any. "It didn't really affect our business. My mailbox is still full."
Devon Direct Euro RSCG, anticipating the anthrax threat could linger and concerned that some corporations were shutting down mail-room operations, scrambled to launch a non-proprietary Web site to help recipients check the legitimacy of packages. But the Havas Advertising-owned agency shut down the site -- whatsmailing.org -- as quickly as it built it, because authorities revealed the possibility of spreading anthrax through the air and via postal sorting machines.
But six months later, Devon, like most agencies, has not witnessed any fallout.
"My clients are continuing to move forward on all fronts," said Ron Greene, president-CEO of Devon.
Rising postal rates
What has led to cutbacks is rising postal rates. The lingering threat of terrorism has required the already-struggling U.S. Postal Service to shell out money to increase manpower and security, concerning already cost-conscious direct marketers.
Rising rates have made direct mail cost-prohibitive for some smaller companies. Mail volume is down 5%, according to Mr. Wientzen.