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Security tightened in wake of anthrax attacks

Bulk mailers alert, but not losing customers

Is bulk mail destined to become a thing of the past because of the anthrax threat?

There are reports that some companies have scaled back or dropped bulk mail marketing programs as a result of concerns that potential customers are now more likely to throw away bulk mail or any mail that doesn’t come from an individual they know.

Reportedly some businesses have decided instead to focus on more e-mail marketing, which won’t delight computer users who already find spam e-mail an increasingly annoying waste of time.

John Levine, Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, said he suspects people will hitchhike on the anthrax threat by saying, “For your convenience, we will spam you.”

Bulk mailings generated an estimated $528 billion in sales last year. The Direct Marketing Association has estimated the anthrax scare will cost bulk mailers $1 to $2 billion in lost sales. But direct mail companies in Mississippi report they have seen no impact on their business as a result of the anthrax threat.

Ken Weldon, owner of Sort N Save in Jackson, points out that thus far the tainted letters have targeted individuals, not businesses. So it is unlikely that someone would slip into a bulk mail facility and insert anthrax into a large number of envelopes. But to make sure that doesn’t happen, businesses like Sort N Save have instituted extra security precautions.

“We have tightened up on security,” Weldon said. “We have improved security here at the office and have raised awareness. By the same token the flow of mail is about the same. It has not stopped the mail at all. It just causes us to be more aware.”

Precautions include being careful with identification of the mail that is picked up, and the customers it is received from. New customers are checked out to make sure they are reputable and have been in business for a while. They probably have used direct mail services in the past and are just changing their mailing service company.

Weldon said they don’t have walk in business and that helps. Instead, Sort N Save picks up bulk mail from customers’ offices.

“I think the bigger problem would come in for the pack and mail type business rather than us,” Weldon said. “That is where they receive packages to be mailed out or FedEx out. I’m sure they would probably need to gear up to be able to scan those packages easier. But as far as a mailing house like ours, at this time we don’t have a problem. But we are more aware there is a possibility that problems could happen.”

Dan Brady, president, Postage Savers Inc., Jackson, also reports no change in their business. He said most of their customers are local businesses primarily mailing locally. While not discounting risks, Brady said customers don’t seem concerned and he feels like the U.S. Postal Service is doing a good job trying to deal with the situation.

“I feel like everyone, especially people in the Postal Service, is doing whatever can be done to protect the consumers and the postal workers,” Brady said. “It just isn’t a good situation. We are getting e-mails from the Postal Service about things to watch for and things that could be done. What we’re doing is just being alert. I don’t have any feel for when it will end. We just don’t know.”

Brady said direct mail is still one of the best and least expensive ways to reach customers. He predicts that if direct mail has fallen off in some areas of the country, it will gradually come back as the situation gets under control.

“It is a good medium,” Brady said. “It fits in well with all the other types of advertising out there.”

Gene Smith, CEO of First American Printing and Direct Mail in Ocean Springs, said the type of professional mail they send out shouldn’t be of concern to recipients.

“Ours is known mail, personalized pieces that people are often expecting,” he said. “All our mail is of a professional quality that’s laser or ink jet printed. Officials have emphasized that recipients should be suspicious of envelopes with unknown hand writing.”

Smith said they have had no cancellations from direct mail customers due to the current bio terrorism anthrax scare nor any perception of direct mail being less effective.

“Our clients are concerned but we have not experienced any cancelled orders or delays,” said. “Actually we are anticipating a slight increase in business because of our fund raising clients and the gaming industry. At the same time, we are sensitive to the tragedy of these attacks.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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