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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) mission is advocacy for responsible marketing, something they call “The Power of Direct.” The statement goes on to cover a number of benefits offered to its membership like research, education and networking opportunities to improve their junk mail. If they are really looking for improvement, the DMA should be the leader in finding out just how to get rid of the 98 percent which is junk mail and ends up in the trash.

By the way, the vast consumer population who make junk mail purchases—about 60 million households nationwide—does receive attention from the trade group, but not the kind the DMA’s more than 3,600 members get. It is a trade association paid by these some 3,600 junk mailers to keep the market free from regulation of an ultra secretive industry. So where are the advocates for these 60 million households that buy direct? We are out there, like The Dunning Letter, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Green Dimes, Junkbusters, and more. So why isn’t this enough?

Because Congress, the states and the media look to the DMA to tell them what, if anything, is wrong with junk mail. In my opinion the DMA has never really leveled with the public about the collecting and selling of consumer names and personal data. The DMA’s mail preference list is a joke since only its small membership is required to use it. There are thousands of junk mailers out there that aren’t members, including some major mailers.

A couple of years ago I challenged the DMA president to allow consumers in to the Chicago annual convention to ask list and data brokers just what they were doing with our names and private information. Not even the courtesy of an answer. In checking the DMA’s site, you will find a proliferation of figures including how junk mailers spent $173.2 million plying their trade in 2007, but you won’t find any mention anywhere of the $4 billion that is made annually by the list business from selling your sensitive data.

What this is all leading up to is the fact that the Direct Marketing Assn. has recently announced it will layoff from 18 to 21 workers. And you say…what difference does that make to me? From my 35 years experience in junk mail, it sounds like consumer protection, already inadequate, will suffer even more by the release of a key employee, James F. Conway, vice president and counsel for corporate and social responsibility. Conway was responsible for the DMA’s “Commitment to Consumer Choice (CCC)" program, an initiative requiring that members practice new, higher standards of corporate responsibility.

It would appear that junk mail customers will just have to sit back and take the hand they are dealt, that is until they are willing to stand up to this industry and federal regulators and say they’re tired of this treatment and won’t take it anymore.

Monday, October 27, 2008


What has always bothered me as a past direct marketing consultant and data broker is that junk mail doesn’t have to be…junk mail. There are ways to prevent at least a large portion of that 98 percent that goes in the trash to be eliminated before it happens.

One way is predictive modeling that identifies small geographical areas that are prone to making purchases through the mail. Another is an opt-in list of households that want mail, even screened further by the type wanted like apparel, food, electronics, etc. There is, of course, the do-not-mail list that could be enacted by the Federal Trade Commission, similar to the do-not-call registry that has been tremendously successful; which, by the way, did not put the telemarketing industry out of business as predicted. And now we have several states that are attempting to pass their own do-not-mail laws.

Newsweek did a recent article, “To Postal Workers, No Mail is ‘Junk,’” predicated on the fact that these workers are afraid any limitations on the sending of junk mail will cost them their jobs. Like telemarketing, I feel sure they will survive, although, perhaps, with a somewhat downsized postal system.

What is going on here is an event similar to the petroleum industry fighting alternative sources of energy, with all the subsets of businesses that would also be affected by a downturn. Junk mailings support a number of thriving suppliers that produce products and services needed to mail an advertising offer. Companies like paper mills, computer facilities, lettershops, and of course the list business, to name a few. They, as oil, telemarketing and the postal workers look only at their side of the dilemma.

How about the typical junk mail consumers numbering over 60 million households nationwide? It’s their name, their unique address, and their personal data that is being bantered about in the marketplace with little concern over its security. Don’t they have a right to say how that private information is used, and how much junk mail they want to receive? Of course they do.

With emphasis on profits—and list sales are a goldmine for junk mailers amounting to over $4 billion annually—the consumer rarely gets any consideration from the direct marketing industry or our congressional leaders. If “main street,” which seems to be one of the most popular buzz words in the current presidential campaign, doesn’t react in force and with organized efforts, it probably will never happen.

Most junk mailers refuse to spend the money for predictive modeling; some even still think it’s hocus pocus. The opt-in list was tried twice and failed, and the FTC isn’t likely to start a do-not-mail registry with the lobbying efforts of the Direct Marketing Assn. along with its junk mail membership, as are states not likely to get any similar meaningful legislation enacted. So what is the answer?

The public must demand control over its names and personal data that will allow it to decide what mail it wants to receive. At the same time, the junk mail customer should be paid when his or her name is sold to provide incentive to take on this new responsibility. In the long run this could increase the number of people using direct mail, and even satisfy most of the postal service employees.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Some time ago, I responded to something sent to me by Jillian Coleman because I had a gut feeling about her offer. It is another of those get-rich messages that makes you feel that the only thing you have to do to become rich is to buy her program. Of course, I have been bombarded since then with e-mails that attempt to sell self-help programs—a term we used in the junk mail industry to indicate people looking for the “free lunch—with proposals for everything from real estate to having my own Internet cash machine. After 35 years as a junk mail data broker, methods like this that really work are few and far between. But that is not the point of this post.

On September 13, the day Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast, Coleman was on the Internet contacting supposed suckers like me with a folksy lead-in of four paragraphs about how her family had suffered in the storm. This preceded her pitch in the next paragraph telling readers how she wanted to help her neighbors get low-cost government loans and grants. All you had to do was buy her self-help program for $597 including a HUGE discount of $300, apparently in honor of Ike. She listed her website not once, but three times.

Coleman did say early-on that “part” of every sale was going to organizations assisting in the Ike aftermath. She didn’t say how much or who. Now that is just what a hurricane victim needs, a pricey system to search for loans or grants when many of them couldn’t even find their house. She makes one last pitch before giving her website for the last time. But this is only the beginning.

On September 15, Coleman is back with more of the down-home approach—it works folks, believe me—with another diatribe about Texas’ “Third Coast” and its “miles of beaches and barrier islands, dunes, and sea grass that curve along the Gulf of Mexico.” The pitch starts in this e-mail saying she is donating money, but she wants to do more. And that can happen if you buy in to yet another offer headlined as an Internet cash machine. No, I don’t have the slightest idea what this has to do with hurricanes either. Billed as the “Hurricane Ike Sale for our Neighbors,” it sells for the discounted price of $1,497. There are four links to make your purchase.

There is yet one more pitch on September 17; you’ll note the separation of two days between each e-mail to let the victims, who probably don’t even have a computer left for Internet access, to absorb the gist of this amazing benevolent appeal. I decided to probe further, and came up with some interesting additional information on Coleman and her Austin, Texas company, Live Oak Tree, LLC.

Another of her offers was featured on the Ripoff Report: “Coleman & Associates;” Samuel of Plantation, Florida complains to the online consumer organization in this headline: “Coleman & Associates; Grant Me Stay Away From Coleman & Associates Scam Artists! They Have Refused to Refund My Money 1 Year after I returned their USELESS product!!! Austin Texas.” Apparently Samuel purchased Coleman’s “Ike special,” New American Land Rush, and to say the least, he thought it was “useless” and wanted his money back.

Jillian Coleman may be the most legitimate company in Austin, TX, but at the very least, you have to admit this approach is very tacky and reeks of bad taste. There’s more, however, another follow-up on September 27, and a comparison of how these people come out of the woodwork, from Katrina to Ike. Next time.