Telemarketing Industry Adjusts to No-Call List

Since the government's Do Not Call Registry was created, telemarketers have been thwarted in their efforts to reach out to millions of Americans. For an update on what the impact of the that list has meant for direct marketers, Robert Siegel talks with Jim Conway, vice president of government relations for the Direct Marketing Association.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Joining us in the studio now is Jim Conway who is vice president of government relations of any Direct Marketing Association. Welcome to the program.

JIM CONWAY: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Do we have it right that, first of all, the volume of calls being made direct marketers or the volume of direct marketers must be radically down since the No Call list came.

CONWAY: That's correct. I mean, the thing to understand is that there's 136 million phone numbers on the federal Do Not Call list. That's not 136 people. In my house, we have - My wife and my two daughters, there's four right there. So that has obviously cut down on the amount of calls.

SIEGEL: Huge chunk of the population is off limits to you.

CONWAY: Correct.

SIEGEL: Do you have some handy metric for what's happened in terms of the volume of business or the number of calls or whatever it might be since that list came into effect?

CONWAY: Well, adaptability with any medium is paramount and what we've found is that the customer relationship has grown exponentially in importance. As you might know, the federal law permits folks to call consumers if there's been a transaction in the past 18 months. They call it the established business relationship. So obviously the value of that customer relationship has grown substantially and those are the calls that are made more often than before.

SIEGEL: Are there fewer people employed by the members of your association today than there were before the list took off?

CONWAY: We saw a shakeout. I mean, certainly the smaller companies, there's an affordability issue that you have to pay by area code after the first five are free.

SIEGEL: Could you explain that for a second?

CONWAY: Sure. The federal list, you get five area codes for free. Those are the folks on the Do Not Call in those area codes, but if you want to call more than five, you have to pay by area code and if you want to call throughout the country, it will run about $18,000.

SIEGEL: How is the cost calculated and who's making that calculation?

CONWAY: Well, the Do Not Call List, as administered by the Federal Trade Commission, is based on the area codes. And as I say, there are five that you get for free if you're calling.

SIEGEL: I mean, the list tells you: Here are the numbers you can't call within that area, within those area codes.

CONWAY: That's absolutely correct.

SIEGEL: And you need that list in order to proceed.

CONWAY: You download the list and then you purge the numbers that you can't call and you're left with numbers you can call.

SIEGEL: But does that mean that in effect the federal government, by creating a list of exceptions of people who don't want to be called, is now in the business of selling the phone numbers of people who do want to be called?

CONWAY: I wouldn't say that. Certainly the Federal Trade Commission needs the money to operate the system and for enforcement purposes. We've expressed our concerns to the Federal Trade Commission and to Congress and we will continue to do so.

SIEGEL: Among the exceptions to the Do Not Call List, one was polling. And there were concerns that people were getting calls that sounded somewhere between a poll and a poll that was curiously about a particular product or service that they might be interested in. A poll that was really a concealed, veiled sales device. Is it happening?

CONWAY: It's happening and it's something that we are obviously totally against and we would bring a case within our own association and refer to the Federal Trade Commission.

SIEGEL: Another exemption was for nonprofit fundraising. Is that an area into which the direct marketers have been able to move more effectively?

CONWAY: Well, yes. The Direct Marketing Association, within its umbrella is the Nonprofit Federation and - now remember this is a Congress-passed law and Congress saw the need for charitable organizations to make these calls to donors and prospective donors and that continues as it was.

SIEGEL: Congress also saw the need to continue political calls. Is that an area where people who were trying to sell product a while ago are finding business working for political campaigns today?

CONWAY: Well, they certainly can't sell through a political medium, but I have to tell you that I'm getting more and more calls from consumers who are concerned or bothered, actually, by political calls, especially the types that are prerecorded. They might get, as an election grows near, 10 or 15 in a week - and obviously that can be a nuisance. But no, not to sell product. Absolutely not.

SIEGEL: Have you pointed this out to members of Congress when you represent the Direct Marketing Association?

CONWAY: Very carefully, if at all.

SIEGEL: Mr. Conway, thank you very much for being with us.

SIEGEL: Mr. Conway, who is vice president of government relations for the Direct Marketing Association in Washington DC.

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