Privacy, expansion keys to future

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Since he became president-CEO of The Direct Marketing Association in 1996, H. Robert Wientzen has helped the DMA increase its membership by more than 1,400 companies and broaden its focus beyond the consumer market to include the thriving b-to-b sector.

In a recent interview with BtoB, Wientzen said his organization needs to do more to reach out to nonmember companies so that they follow emerging best practices on privacy, an issue on which he's emerged as an outspoken expert. He also keys in on b-to-b expansion outside the U.S.-specifically in Latin America, where business-to-consumer Internet marketing has taken off and b-to-b is still nascent-and reflects on his legacy to date and where he intends to take the DMA.

BtoB: B-to-b direct marketing is changing quicker than ever. What changes does the DMA have to make to remain of real use?

Wientzen: We have to be much more engaged in segments of commerce that historically we have not seen as being of immediate importance. For example, software sales, or for that matter, the hardware, travel, automobile and electronics component industries.

We also need to find ways to integrate b-to-b multimedia efforts more effectively. We're seeing much more interesting things coming in from the consumer side of the market. We'll see much more in b-to-b as traditional mail and e-mail get focused on the Internet side.

BtoB: Many U.S. b-to-b direct marketers are predicting a global boom, but their success to date is quite limited. What are the biggest roadblocks and what do marketers have to do?

Wientzen: The traditional roadblock is a lack of knowledge of markets outside of the U.S. But the customer base is out there. Right now, internationally, we are dealing with a real complexity with regard to lists and logistics, some of the nitty-gritty of doing business on a global basis.

We're spending more and more time on global issues. We're expanding our efforts on the international front because b-to-b has got to develop a much more aggressive way to
deliver outside the U.S. We have to do a better job of developing business outside our traditional boundaries.

BtoB: In what countries/regions will U.S. direct marketers make the most gains in the coming years?

Wientzen: Certainly South America, with Brazil, Argentina and Mexico leading the way. We'll see some expenditures there, assuming the South American economies continue to improve. And you have to talk about Europe, especially Eastern Europe. We're seeing some early-stage movement there, especially in Poland and the Czech Republic. Right now the Russian economy is so bad, but if it comes back there will be a lot of interest there.

However, the U.K., Germany and Western Europe ... are where most of our members are getting immediate experience. These are not, of course, developing markets. There's a fair amount of competition there already-[but] we are seeing a lot of interest.

China has also been a longtime proposition ... but the opportunities there are still three to five years off.

BtoB: Privacy started out as a hot consumer issue and now has taken center stage in b-to-b. You have said that unless the industry quickly does more to self-regulate, Congress and the state governments will do so for them. What leadership role is the DMA taking here?

Wientzen: We don't see much difference between b-to-b and the consumer side when we talk to folks in Washington on this one. [They] think of b-to-b in the same general context as [business-to-consumer]. We are concerned that there are growing consumer issues that are spilling over into b-to-b.

Also, don't lose sight of the fact that the states are also a concern. ... They are focused much more on it [b-to-b] now than a year ago. This is especially true with e-mail and telephone marketing.

We need to work on ... finding ways to go beyond the DMA to let companies not in our network know how they can follow best practices in terms of privacy.

We are also looking at ways our ``privacy promise'' can be more focused on b-to-b. [The DMA in 1997 made a ``privacy promise'' to consumers that by July 1999 all members would follow specific practices to protect consumer privacy.]

BtoB: You have been chairman and CEO of the DMA since 1996. What is your legacy to date? What more do you hope to accomplish?

Wientzen: The thing that I would point to is that the DMA is now much broader in our inclusion. We have 5,000 members [up from 3,600 when Wientzen took over]. We have reached out to the interactive community and embraced them.

Also, we're raising a lot more money to use in our member advocacy programs, by building up our seminar and conference businesses.

Our single most important objective in the coming years is the b-to-b segment. We want to make the DMA much more reliable to b-to-b marketers. We have a number of projects aimed in that direction. We need to recognize that the b-to-b segment is growing at a more rapid rate than is the consumer segment. The DMA needs to concentrate on this.

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