If the industry wasn't being charged with bombarding consumers with junk mail, while creating an environmental hazard at the same time, it was being castigated for silent calls and for fueling personal debt with irresponsible credit-card offers.
The industry was left to defend itself against these perceptions and the more honest commentators have admitted that DM's defence was found wanting. Something does need to be done, as Marketing Direct is detecting the first signs of client backlash against direct mail. Peter Ammundsen, marketing director at Vernons, says in this month's Special Report on list buying, that his company will be "dramatically cutting back" on cold mail in 2007 because of the negative press coverage of the channel.
There was talk of an industry-wide initiative to create a more effective PR mechanic as this issue went to press. More about this will no doubt emerge. But as we put together our review of 2006 (pages 10-11) we couldn't help notice the contrast between the industry's overall public image and the fact that DM agencies were more than holding their own in business, pitching and winning briefs that are ever more integrated. True, agency profits are suffering as a result of having to pay inflated salaries for the necessary digital skills (news, page 4), but signs are this investment will pay off.
If we could influence next year's script at all, it would be to infuse some US-style enthusiasm into UK DM. Self-effacement is all very well, but it's not something that American direct marketers indulged in for long, after their PR problems with telemarketing in 2005. UK delegates to this year's DMA US convention were overwhelmed by the positive mood of the event and a feeling that DM's time had come (page 35). Such optimism can be self-fulfilling, so let's make it a new year resolution on this side of the pond.
With all the junk mail headlines in mind, Marketing Direct is 'doing its bit for industry PR by encouraging creative thinking. The magazine has partnered with printing technology company HP and digital printer Lorien Unique to create a competition to design the March 2007 cover involving the creative use of digital personalisation. For more details and rules, visit www.unique-hpcover.com. The competition is free to enter and is definitely worth the effort: the cover has a promotional value of £25,000-worth of advertising. To win would be a great start to 2007 for any agency.