Byline: Robert Sharoff

CHICAGO — Aiming to allay concerns over the appearance of anthrax in some U.S. mail, the Direct Marketing Association said Tuesday that its members were taking steps to insure customers’ safety and to convey that the likelihood of a large-scale anthrax attack via commercial mail is slim.
“The postal system processes 680 million pieces of mail a day, 208 billion pieces a year,” said Robert Wientzen, the DMA’s president and chief executive officer. “While everyone in the industry is concerned about the problem, at this point, anthrax has only been detected in five pieces of mail. In addition, commercial mail has not been involved in the anthrax scare.
“The anthrax letters were hand-prepared, single pieces of mail, addressed to singled-out individuals,” Wientzen added in remarks to attendees of the DMA’s 84th Annual Conference and Exposition, which concludes here today at McCormick Place. “The 94 billion pieces of direct mail sent out each year are processed through equipment that is monitored extremely carefully. It is very unlikely there would be a broad dispersion of anthrax.”
In light of concerns over the matter, however, direct marketers are taking steps to reassure customers, such as prominently displaying contact information; making their logos more prevalent on packages; intensely screening new employees, and enhancing security procedures in company mailrooms, Wientzen related. Among those taking these kinds of measures are The J. Jill Group; Eddie Bauer’s Newport News unit; Lands’ End and Fingerhut.
Amid several sanguine forecasts for Internet business this holiday, another note of caution rang out from the DMA, whose full-year sales projections for the sector have plunged $42 billion, or 2.4 percent, since Sept. 11. In all, America’s direct marketers are expected to realize sales of $1.9 trillion for 2001, and spend $196 billion on advertising to get there. Wientzen sees Internet sales produced by direct marketers tallying $34 billion this year.

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