Direct mail sector confronts its critics - CrisisManagement

Campaign: Launch of Client: The Direct Marketing Association PR team: Hotwire PR Timescale: July-November 2005 Budget: Undisclosed

In 2004 junk mail was crowned as the nation's biggest consumer gripe by the BBC's current affairs programme Brassed Off Britain. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) was the direct mail industry's lone representative on the programme and felt that it, and its members had been unfairly portrayed.

Last year the trade body's in-house PR team tendered for an agency to develop a consumer PR campaign to restore the reputation of the association and the image of the direct mail industry at large.


To reverse the public's misconceptions about the 'junk' image of direct mail. To reassure people that the DMA does not solely exist to support the interests of its members but also campaigns to protect consumers' rights.


Hotwire PR was awarded the brief after a competitive pitch in July 2005, and decided that a long-term approach was needed to change public opinion. It proposed raising public awareness of what direct mail is and why some individuals receive more of it than others.

Hotwire suggested setting up a website, called, where consumers could find out more about direct mail in the form of FAQs and industry information.

It also proposed that the website should be the vehicle for the launch of the DMA's first 'Consumer Charter' - this would spell out the group's duty to consumers, with advice on how they could control the amount of direct mail they receive.

Because previous attempts at changing the DMA's image had received a lukewarm reception from the press, Hotwire knew that a well-known and respected media figure was vital to the campaign. It achieved a major coup when it managed to sign ex-Watchdog presenter Alice Beer who, while on the BBC's flagship consumer rights show, had criticised the direct mail industry on a number of occasions.

Beer, who was keen to promote her image as a champion of consumer rights, recognised the worthiness of the DMA's cause.

To capitalise on her TV celebrity status, Hotwire decided to focus only on broadcast media and launched the website on 15 November 2005. Beer was made available for radio interviews and appearances on TV shows.


Radio coverage was extensive, with numerous slots on BBC stations. These included Radio Five Live and its stations in Scotland, Devon, Dorset, Shropshire, Essex, Wales and Humberside. Radio 4's You and Yours also covered the DMA's campaign.

Beer was interviewed twice on BBC Breakfast, and follow-up reports were repeated on lunchtime and evening news bulletins and News 24. Only one newspaper, the Daily Express, gave coverage to the website.


On the day of its launch, received 23,000 hits, according to the DMA. The website now averages around 1,800 hits a day.

'Ask Alice' - a section of the website where visitors can email questions - received 200 queries on the first day. The format is due to be repeated in magazines My Weekly and Essentials, in which Beer will answer readers' questions about direct mail.


ADRIAN BRADY, managing director of Eulogy!, works for some direct marketing agencies.

The task for Hotwire was a difficult one. While direct marketing has had some success in terms of achieving positive PR, there is no doubt that for many years there has been a steady flow of negative stories.

The approach anticipated the likely reaction of press and public. Using the services of Alice Beer meant some of the sting was taken out of the situation, as any frosty reception from broadcast journalists could be dealt with by using Beer as 'one of their own'.

It's probably unfair to judge Hotwire on whether the objective of reversing the public's misconceptions about 'junk' mail was achieved. No one can expect an agency to turn the tide of public opinion in just one campaign.

However, there's no doubt that excellent broadcast coverage coupled with an impressive number of website hits can only help the positioning of the Direct Marketing Association.

The biggest challenge facing the DMA and the whole direct marketing industry is the communication of ongoing and consistent messages to business and consumer audiences.

Without continued funding and a medium to long-term commitment to this programme, all of Hotwire's work is in danger of being enveloped by the traditional antipathy towards direct mail.

Creativity: 4 Delivery: 5


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