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PARIS-Europe's direct marketing industry is sailing through the current recession with an optimism that traditional ad agencies lost years ago.

Direct marketers still have considerable legislative and procedural hurdles to clear before becoming a truly pan-European industry But the approximately 2,000 who attended the International Direct Marketing Week convention here seemed to feel there is a lot to be optimistic about.

The 37% growth in 1992, the last year for which figures are available, is in keeping with the 30%-plus increase the industry has averaged in the past five years.

"The European Commission [the legislative body of the European Union] estimates that investment in direct marketing in Europe will exceed traditional advertising expenditures by the year 2000," said Tony Coad, managing director of the U.K.'s NDL International, a London direct marketing and database company, and a board member of the European Direct Marketing Association. "In 1992, total investment in direct marketing within the European Economic Area-the 12 EU countries and [several other nations]-came to over $30 billion. And that's excluding mail-order or catalog activity."

Direct marketing is quickly claiming advertising territory. In 1992, direct marketers accounted for 32% of all European display advertising.

Interactive marketing is still in its infancy here, and only one session during the four-day conference last month was devoted to the topic. Although interest is growing, there are few interactive projects.

Other challenges have higher priority, such as the industry's ability to remain flexible across a continent still divided by practices, languages and laws while developing a pan-European approach.

"The biggest mistake you can make is being too uniform, too universal. The second is being too local," said Pieter van den Busken, president of Pieter van den Busken Advertising, Amsterdam. "The truth lies in the middle. Remaining flexible allows you to reach the most suitable targets, be they local or international minded."

"Given the linguistic, cultural, and regional diversity of Europe, the celebrated idea of a Euro-consumer is Euro-baloney," Mr. Coad said. "Direct marketing's strength lies in addressing these differences and adapting to each consumer."

Vastly varying national legislation on such issues as data protection and differing postal costs have turned direct marketing into a juggling act. But the European Union, formerly the European Community, is drafting overall legislation, and direct marketers are lobbying fiercely to ensure liberal rules.

The next step will be for the European Parliament to consider the new draft later this year. Several other hurdles remain before the legislation could become law, unlikely before yearend.

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