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Direct marketing industry on PR trail after BBC junk mail investigation

7th Jul 2011
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Concern over the impact of Panorama’s ‘Why hate junk mail?’ programme has prompted the Direct Marketing Association to launch a Twitter-based damage limitation campaign and release an ‘advertising mail’ fact sheet.

The moves came as the BBC’s flagship current affairs show explored the role of the Royal Mail in delivering scam mail letters to consumers, which are sent by fraudsters from overseas countries to try and persuade people to part with their money on false promises of winning cash prizes.

Such cons are estimated to cost victims £2.4 billion each year and have prompted one MP to call for a change in the law so that scam mail can be intercepted as it comes into the UK. Once these scam letters have entered the UK postal system, however, Royal Mail has a legal obligation to deliver them. Last year, the organisation delivered 1.7 billion items of junk mail to UK households.

But the Panorama investigation also highlighted that Royal Mail owned a 33% stake in Netherlands-based Spring Global Mail, which handles mail for legitimate businesses but is also being used by fraudsters. The fact that a ‘local look’ service means that letters from abroad can end up carrying the Royal Mail postmark and no trace of their origins has raised particular concerns.

Both the Royal Mail and Spring Global said that they were working closely with the police to stop an estimated six million scam emails entering the system each year. In response to the programme, however, the DMA turned to its PR agency Eulogy to help it counter any potentially negative or unbalanced claims using Twitter, according to PR Week.

Using the Twitter hashtag @panoramamail, members of both the DMA and Eulogy tweeted during the show in a bid to respond to any claims and put a positive spin on the industry. Much of the debate focused on the programme’s ‘misleading’ tack, which failed to distinguish between the illegal practice of scam mail and legal ‘advertising mail’ such as leaflets.

As a result, the DMA has now released a fact sheet to clarify the difference. Figures from Mail Media Centre indicated that advertising sales generates about £16 billion per annum in sales and that 17.7 million people bought something from an advertising catalogue over the last 12 months.

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