ANTHRAX SCARE FADES FOR DIRECT MAILERS

Agencies More Concerned With Rate Hikes Than Toxic Organisms

By Published on .

Most Popular
CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Although it spread through the mails to ultimately infect eleven and kill five, the anthrax terror
Photo: Lisa Fain
Half a year later, cost is a greater concern than toxicity.
attack of late September has not had a lasting impact on the direct mail business.

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.

Optimism prevails
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

Six Months Later:
An Age Age Special Report

TASTE FOR LUXURY SURVIVES TERRORIST ATTACKS
Affluent Consumers Have Changed Buying Rationale Rather Than Habits
RETURN TO A NEW NORMAL: CONSUMERS SIX MONTHS LATER
Recession Impacts Personal Lives More Than Sept. 11
AMERICA NOW: CONCERNED BUT NOT COWED
Study Finds More Togetherness But No Dramatic Behavioral Shifts
Commentary by Rance Crain:
THE LEGACY OF 9/11: CLOSER BONDS, STRONGER NATION
Not Quite What Bin Laden Had in Mind
Commentary by Bob Garfield:
SEPT. 11 AS EVOLVING HISTORICAL ICON
No One Owns it, No One Can Guarantee Its Purity

mail last year, and the DMA expects expenditures to increase 5.6% to $49.1 billion in 2002. Sales generated from direct mail are expected to rise to $636.7 billion this year, up 9.4%.

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.

In this article: