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DMA's Woolley has Experience where it Matters Most

By Ken Magill

1/15/13

Judging by her professional experience, Linda Woolley is an excellent choice for president and CEO of the Direct Marketing Association.

The DMA took the word “acting” out of her title last week and made official a position she has operated in unofficially since May.

In elevating Woolley to CEO, the DMA has someone at the helm who has vast experience where direct marketing’s biggest threats materialize on seemingly a daily basis: Washington.

This is certainly not to diminish the work of Jerry Cerasale, the DMA’s senior vice president of government affairs, or Rachel Nyswander Thomas, the DMA’s vice president of government affairs.

But more firepower, experience and intellect in defense of data-driven marketing in the land of endless legislative stupidity can’t hurt.

From 1983 to 1995 Woolley was a lobbyist and director of public affairs for mega-conglomerate ITT Corp.

In the years immediately preceding her hiring by the DMA, Woolley ran LegisLaw, a public affairs and government relations consulting firm that she founded in 1999. LegisLaw specialized in lobbying, particularly in the tax and trade areas. Woolley's clients included Fortune 500 companies and trade associations from industries such as transportation, manufacturing, chemicals, healthcare, energy, building materials, banking and defense.

So Woolley’s got chops in the city where marketing needs them most.

But understand one thing: She is in a battle she can’t possibly win decisively. The best she can do is help hold the line.

Consider an excerpt of a cover story I wrote headlined “Can This Woman Save Direct Marketing?” on Woolley for the October, 2008 issue of Direct magazine:

“Woolley was hired in August to fill the Direct Marketing Association's newly created position of executive vice president for government affairs. Operating out of the DMA's Washington office, Woolley is spearheading the government affairs team at a time when direct marketing is perhaps more threatened by legislative overkill than ever before.

“Emboldened by the National Do Not Call Registry's spectacular success, anti-marketing and environmental activists are attacking direct mail on multiple fronts with unprecedented vigor. Last year alone the DMA worked to head off more than a dozen state do-not-mail bills.

“And the press certainly isn't helping matters. Anti-marketing groups such as Catalog Choice, ForestEthics, 41Pounds.org and GreenDimes are the subjects of a seemingly never-ending stream of fawning, lopsided consumer media coverage.

“Negative press coupled with general public ignorance of how much the U.S. economy depends on direct marketing results in some of the cheapest political points currently available. For many politicians, being anti-DM is as reflexive as being pro-babies and pro-puppies.

“Then there's privacy and the Internet. This summer the U.S. Senate held hearings to determine whether online behavioral advertising should be restricted. Last fall a group of nine privacy and so-called civil liberties groups lobbied the Federal Trade Commission to implement a national ‘do-not-track’ list in an effort to kill behaviorally targeted Internet advertising.

“And the issues don't end there. Last year the DMA kept tabs on 33 bills in the House and Senate. The legislative environment has become so treacherous for direct marketing that the DMA created a new executive VP position to focus solely on government issues.

“Enter Woolley.”

Granted, the do-not-mail movement has lost steam, but that passage could easily be updated to fit the current anti-marketing climate in Washington. And it will probably be just as easily updated in 2016—a depressing thought.

It’s difficult to envision a future where anti-advertising forces aren’t arrayed in Washington and given far more credibility in the consumer press than they deserve. The anti-marketing actors may change, but their goal won’t.

But just because a battle isn’t winnable doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fought. Though forcing privacy zealots to live in the world their wishes would create is pleasant to consider.

But unfortunately, the rest of us would have to live in that world with them. So the DMA is left to hold the line against them.

It’s comforting to know the DMA’s newest president has the proper experience where it matters most.

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