Greco bullish on prospects for b-to-b

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John A. Greco Jr. has been president-CEO of the Direct Marketing Association since July 2004. The association, which comprises both direct and interactive marketers, has been through several changes since Greco succeeded H. Robert Wientzen, who retired after eight years at the helm of the DMA.

Under Greco's watch, the DMA announced last year it would launch a marketing campaign and branding initiative designed to define the direct marketing industry.

Greco recently spoke with BtoB about the DMA's marketing plans, as well as pressing issues affecting b-to-b direct marketers. Those include postal reform, data privacy, rumblings about the creation of a do-not-mail list, and spending and sales predictions for b-to-b direct marketing.

BtoB: In February 2005, you said b-to-b direct marketing "is definitely on the ascendancy." Is that still true?

Greco: Yes. We see b-to-b advertising expenditures going from $77.4 billion in 2005 to $81.9 billion by the end of 2006. That's a 5.7% growth in expenditures.

Sales are growing at an even faster rate. Sales were $783.4 billion in 2005, and in 2006, we're forecasting $838.0 billion, a 7.0% increase. In addition to that, employment is growing. We went from 4.2 million in 2005 to 4.3 million in '06. That's a healthy 2.1% increase. That also says you don't necessarily have to grow employment at the same rate [as sales]. It's robust ROI. We're bullish about b-to-b.

BtoB: What trends do you see in b-to-b?

Greco: One thing I see is the continued trend to market through multiple channels and pull them together. That's the area where most people are paying more attention. It's the reason we're pulling that all together in everything we do. That includes making sure our programming content for shows focused on the b-to-b market is very much multichannel in flavor.

BtoB: Can you give us an update on the marketing campaign with the Wunderman agency that you announced last June?

Greco: We've decided that what we want to do is take a more targeted, relevant approach. We will be served better by a grassroots effort. The three constituents that are important are the business community, members and prospective members. We're working on things to reach out to each of those constituencies.

We created some very clear talking points for ourselves, with Burson-Marsteller, regarding regulatory and legislative issues. We've made sure we're all on the same page.

We've decided that [an ad campaign] is not the right way to communicate our message. This is not the kind of thing that lends itself well to a "Got Milk?" campaign. People don't think about direct marketing that way. They think in terms of the experience they're having. We have to make sure they are having good experiences. The way we conduct ourselves will be the best marketing and PR campaign we could ever have.

Wunderman said, "We really think you'd be making a mistake if you target the business community with the branding message." Sending something out to that community is not the smart thing to do. We hope to, over time, build something that our members are comfortable incorporating into the message they're delivering to clients.

We branded last October to our "Relevance, responsibility, results" [tagline]. We've been trying to carry through the clarity of that branding through all our channels. We're relevant in terms of marketing materials we deliver; responsible in terms of e-mail authentication standards, for instance; and we believe the combination of being relevant and acting responsibly will always lead to better results for us and for the recipient.

BtoB: You've talked about the DMA adopting best industry practices itself. How are you practicing the art of direct marketing at the DMA?

Greco: We try to lead by example. We use authenticated e-mail. We made certain we were one of the first adhering to e-mail authentication, and helped our members to do that as well. We moved a step further, and our board has now endorsed that it is a requirement for our members.

BtoB: What specific initiatives is the DMA undertaking on behalf of b-to-b marketers this year?

Greco: We're working very closely with the [DMA] B-to-B Council, which now boasts 126 members. We're talking about networking, education, advocacy, research and market intelligence initiatives.

Right at the top of the list, "do-not-mail" is critical. We want to make sure the state bills allow businesses to continue to mail.

In terms of the fax law—the California fax law in particular—we continue to believe very strongly that federal legislation has the authority to regulate fax messages, but that rests with federal government, not state. I can't think of anything we could be doing that's more important to the business community than those issues.

I'd like to see us work with the b-to-b community on something that would help businesses as people change jobs. We want to help with the list management process, or at least the mailroom process, so that they are not getting mail for people who no longer work there. It's a problem the b-to-b community is facing, and I'd like to figure out how to help them.

We're also working hard to see that legislation on data protection does not limit businesses' ability to work with marketing data. There's a big difference between identity theft data, and marketing and purchasing habit data. We have to continue to make sure we keep those two very separate.

We've had a significant win this year for the business community with the passage of postal reform legislation in the Senate. It allows direct mail to remain an effective part of the mix. We're urging quick action by the conference committee of the House and Senate to make sure that gets to the president's desk as soon as possible for signing.

BtoB: In terms of legislation, what do you see as the biggest challenge right now?

Greco: Several states, and in particular Missouri, allow businesses to be included on do-not-mail lists. We're hearing about it bubbling up in a few states. We have an extremely strong story to tell as to why there should not ever be a do-not-mail list. People already have a number of ways to remove themselves from mailing lists.

BtoB: A year ago, you unveiled the DMA strategic plan, built on the central goals of "complete transparency and relationship-building." Can you give examples of how you've accomplished that?

Greco: Many examples over the past year fall into things we've been doing in the electronic space in terms of policy work on e-mail authentication, as well as the policy we recently passed about spyware and adware. We're very transparent about it and would hope there'd be a far greater degree of trust on the receiving end.

We've also been reaching out to the legislative and regulatory community. We have very good relationships with the FTC and the FCC. We're being received very well in telling our story to individuals in the Senate and House, discussing with them the power of direct marketing. The fact that it drives 10% of the GDP clearly gives us an open, constructive dialogue with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Commerce. The more open we've been on what we try to accomplish, the more successful we've been.

Understanding the difference between marketing data and identity theft data is another example. In the past, with a little less trust and transparency, we might not have been as clear in that distinction. We may have been defensive about that.

The USPS conducted a study of consumer attitudes and behavior toward mail.

The survey said that while 56% of respondents wished for somewhat less advertising, 40% said they don't mind receiving it and wouldn't mind getting more if it's relevant. The same survey said 82% read some or all of the advertising mail received.

What's important here is that the do-not-mail issue is starting as a consumer issue in the states; but a state like Missouri tacks on businesses, and the consumer issue becomes a b-to-b issue. So it's important for b-to-b marketers to pay attention. It's an interesting area here where, while there are bills afoot that would initiate activity in the states, when we get in there and are able to tell our story, we believe that we've been effective in seeing none of those bills are passed. We've been able to at the very least prevent those bills from actually becoming laws.

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