Live from DMDNY: Political Bedfellows

New York–Direct marketing generates $165 billion a year in revenue in New York State. So having Gov. George Pataki kick off DM Days New York on Tuesday morning with a proclamation declaring June 26-July 2 Direct Marketing Week in the Empire State made a certain sense. Arguably less obvious was the connection between DM Days New York and the Tuesday keynote speaker: Donald Evans, U.S. secretary of commerce from 2001 to 2005. Evans touched upon the disconnect by opening his speech with a rhetorical question: Why would you ask me, a retired oil man, for advice when I should be asking you for advice?

Drawing on his experience working with the George Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, Evans said that the marketing methods used were similar to those of traditional direct marketing campaigns. In the 2004 presidential campaign, officials gathered information such as where voters attend church or school and how they live, rather how they whether they were going to vote. With that information, campaign officials could predict how individuals would vote, said Evans.

The cornerstone of Evans’s presentation, however, was the effect of free markets on the worldwide economy. In 1975, he said, there were only 35 free-market countries in the world; now there are 135. Corresponding with that, during the 20th century, countries were connected by airline terminals. During the 21st century, nations are connected by computer terminals, enabling the further spread of direct marketing.

In the face of such opportunity, two issues are of especial concern to direct marketers, in Evans’s opinion. The first, he said, is corporate governance and what he considers the heavy-handed implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. While increased corporate fraud has lowered consumer confidence in corporations, he said, laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley have put a damper on the entreprenurial spirit. “We can not create an environment where the feeling is that if you fail, people are going to put you in jail,” said Evans.

The second critical issue involves the protection of customer privacy. And with $641 billion spent through credit cards annually in the United States, accounting for 13% of the economy, Evans said, direct marketers need to protect the legitimate use of information gathered through these transactions.