With just under 1,000 practitioners as members of the DMA, it's hardly surprising that the association will jump to the defence of the industry.
Step forward Alice Beer, the feisty consumer champion and former Watchdog presenter, who is the new face of the DMA's consumer PR campaign.
"The direct marketing industry has a mountain to climb to regain the public's confidence, but the very fact a sustained campaign on this scale is being launched today is a significant first step for the industry," says Beer.
"It is essential for the DM industry to be speaking directly to consumers about the rights and choices they have and making clear its commitment to expose and punish the minority of rogues that are tarnishing the reputation of the entire industry."
Securing the support of Alice Beer for the DMA's biggest PR push to date is something of a coup. "Her credentials around consumer protection are very high, so we had to really spend time explaining that the DMA requires very high standards from its members and has a very effective self-regulatory framework," explains DMA managing director James Kelly.
"If she thought there was any risk to aligning herself with the campaign, she wouldn't have touched it with a barge pole."
Beer agrees with one of the key tenets of the campaign - that "at present, the public is not adequately informed about the direct marketing industry". This is being tackled with the launch last month of a consumer-facing website, www.mydm.co.uk.
This was developed following research, which found that recognition of the DMA was low among consumers and the benefits of DM widely misunderstood.
The website is being heavily promoted and features an 'Ask Alice' section and information on how the public can control the direct marketing material they receive.
It includes information on the various Preference Services, as well as details of the Advertising Standards Authority, the Information Commissioner's Office, premium-rate regulator ICSTIS and the DM Authority.
An engaging element of the website, which aims to bring to life the benefits of direct marketing in all its guises, is the introduction of the DM Family.
The family comprises a grandmother, mother, father, son and daughter, all of whom are shown engaging with direct marketing during the course of the day. Their activity ranges from redeeming points on a loyalty card through to donating to a favourite charity after receiving a mailing and emailing an order to a wine club.
"We're trying to get across the diversity of DM channels out there and how, more often than not, they are received happily and enthusiastically," says Kelly.
The second major plank of the campaign is a new Consumer Charter, which outlines the roles and responsibilities of the DMA and its commitment to consumers (see box). This is available on the mydm.co.uk website and will build consumer confidence.
One of the six goals outlined in the Charter is to investigate bad practice by DMA members and take appropriate action. The DM Authority, which is chaired by former OFCOM director general John Bridgeman, adjudicates on complaints from consumers about the activities of DMA members. "Its profile is increasing and John Bridgeman has the background to help us enforce the high standards demanded of members," says Kelly.
Aside from the consumer-facing campaign, the DMA is busy building bridges with the Government.
Only last month a delegation from the DMA met with the communications director of the Home Office to encourage the use of direct marketing in its communications. "The communications director was predisposed to direct marketing, but it was about giving her the information and ammunition to push that message up the line," says Kelly, adding that, at the moment, some senior politicians are hostile to direct marketing and don't understand the benefits.
But with the help of Alice Beer to engage the public and the consumer PR campaign in full swing, perceptions might well be starting to change.
SIX KEY CONSUMER CHARTER GOALS
- Demonstrate the benefits of direct marketing
- Listen and react to consumer concerns by providing a Code of Practice to maintain and improve industry standards
- Investigate all bad practice by DMA members and take the appropriate action
- Provide additional information on the channels available to consumers to report bad practice
- Provide consumers with the information they need to protect their rights in relation to direct marketing
- Protect the environment and improve the industry's environmental record.