Member Asks:
Will the "Do Not Call" Legislation Affect My Copywriting Career If the Law Turns to Target Direct Mail?

As you probably know, legislation was recently passed that allows consumers to add their names to a "do not call"list to avoid being called by telemarketers – and now there's a group that is trying to get snail-mail solicitations (junk mail) stopped as well.

Gail Williams, one of our students, voiced the concern of many in a recent e-mail to us. "Naturally, that has me a little worried,"she wrote. "What would that mean for us direct-mail advertising copywriters? Would that end careers, mine possibly before it even gets started?"

We asked John Forde for his take on the situation, and here's what he had to say …

"I've certainly heard about the 'do not call' list legislation. I've also heard a lot about the anti-spam movement. I've yet to hear anything about the proposed ban on direct-mail marketing, though I don't doubt it's been a proposal that's floated around for a long time.

"First, I don't think Gail or any other copywriters need to worry. Not only are the skills one learns in this profession transferable to all kinds of writing roles (public relations writing, most common types of journalism, even fiction if you're good at seeing the parallels between persuasion in a sale vs. persuasion in story-telling).

"But the notion that copywriting itself will go away forever is just, well, antithetical to the way just about everything around us works. You only need to pick up a box in a supermarket, thumb through a newspaper, turn on late-night television, or flip on the radio … everything you see or hear or read that involves a string of words that close with an offer was, at some point, mulled over by a copywriter.

"As for specifics, personally I'm not a fan of telemarketing either. I wouldn't begrudge its existence. But I've put my name on 'no call' lists in the past and I'd do it again. (Though I'm sure those lists existed long before any legislation was in place, I wonder … is this just political pandering before the coming election?)

"Spam, too, annoys me. But even here, I think you're going to have opportunities. Because the annoying spam (unsolicited porn ads, etc.) is different from the legitimate uses (offers of products to opt-in lists). As more and more people move online, they're going to demand access to the things they care about … including commercial products. There are many people behind a better approach to spam, including the DMA and Bill Gates.

"Technology will eventually figure out how to tell the difference between the junk and legitimate online marketing. And those legit marketers will also need copywriting services.

"And, last but not least, what about the future of classic direct mail? Is it about to be banned? One can never underestimate the bungling of legislators. In an extreme world, it's possible. But not at all likely.

"U.S. Postal Service revenues and mail volumes have been falling since 9/11 and the anthrax scares. The only class of mail that's on the rise is that which includes bulk mailing, of which the majority is – you guessed it – direct mail. Lobbyists from the USPS alone would probably shut down any all-out ban on direct mail.

"But even then …

"To get rid of direct mail – one of the most predictably successful and frequently used ways for businesses to reach customers both inside and outside of the U.S. and one of the advertising industries that continues to grow while others falter – would be crippling to a large majority of the companies in this country.

"Catalogs, renewal letters, offers from your bank, your credit card, even your gym … fund-raising letters, political action letters, brochures for colleges, vacation offers, and insurance companies …

"It's more or less here to stay.

"If I'm wrong … well … how's your Mandarin Chinese? The direct-mail industry in China is seeing 10% response rates. And the industry overall is growing 20% year after year!

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Published: July 21, 2003

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