Publishers Seek Alternatives to Telemarketing

By: Lucia Moses

With hang-ups increasing and state do-not-call lists growing longer, newspapers have long recognized they need to find alternatives to telemarketing. But papers that have been slow to do so will have a tough time after Oct. 1 when a new national registry kicks in, making it easier for people to block unwanted phone solicitors’ calls.

Papers have had months to scrub their call lists in preparation for the Federal Trade Commission’s national do-not-call registry banning unwanted out-of-state calls. Last month, however, the Federal Communications Commission extended the rules to cover in-state calls. Violators will risk fines as much as $11,000 per call.

Newspapers that have enjoyed 12 state exemptions from telemarketing restrictions are out of luck, as the new federal regulations override such exemptions.

“The axe has fallen across the board, as far as I’m concerned,” said Mark Kukiela, circulation director for The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail in Hagerstown, Md. “It’s really looking bad. I can’t see how telemarketing is going to survive in its present form.”

Telemarketing remains the largest source of new subscriptions. Industrywide, phone solicitation generated 39.1% of new orders, according to preliminary data from the Newspaper Association of America.

“I think it’s going to be frustrating because we’re going to have fewer people we can get a hold of,” said David Rounds, vice president for circulation at the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times.

Newspapers will still be permitted to call their current and recent subscribers under an exception allowing businesses to call existing customers. But it’s the public support for the new rules — evidenced by the 23 million Americans who have submitted their names to the do-not-call list in the past couple weeks — that scares some newspaper executives about using that loophole.

“They’re marketing the daylights out of this,” Kukiela said. “You try to give a legal call to a person, and they’re all amped up that they’re not going to get a call.”

Kukiela uses telemarketing only occasionally now, with about 20% of pressure starts coming from phone solicitation. Now, though, he’s asking himself: “Is this something that I even want to mess around with?”

But there’s another good reason for newspapers to cut down on their use of telemarketing: It has the worst retention rate of all the methods the NAA measured.

Some circulators are trying to think of ways to skirt the new regulations, by taking advantage of an exception for non-profit phone solicitation. Most, however, seem resigned to weaning themselves off telemarketing in favor of such methods as kiosks, direct mail, and door crews.

“In some ways, it’s a good thing,” Thomas Pounds, general manager of The Blade in Toledo, Ohio and a circulation veteran, said of the national crackdown on phone solicitation. “You can get better sales other ways.”

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