Volume 45 Number 11
Creative Marketing: Do Not Fax--Dealers, Take Note, Make the Fax Ban Delay Work for You
While judicial rulings, federal legislation and FCC vows related to the “Do Not Call” list grabbed more headlines this year, the FCC’s “No Fax” rule was even more potentially obtrusive to the water treatment industry.
As most of you know, on Aug. 18, through the concerted effort of some 1,400 U.S. associations--including the Water Quality Association--to oppose the proposed ban on unsolicited business faxes, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agreed to put the brakes on the ruling, delaying it until Jan. 1, 2005.
This means water treatment equipment manufacturers, distributors and dealers have about 14 months to send faxes as they have in the past--but only to existing customers and vendors. The FCC stay is good news to industry companies who use faxes to convey promotional and informational messages to customers in the commercial and industrial sectors.
Act fast on relationships
Whether you fax a lot or a little, it’s still a valuable alternative to email, phone or snail mail. It’s also a tool that you’ll lose as of Jan. 1, 2005, unless you have secured prior permission in writing--or a modification is approved by the FCC or Congress. If you act now to solicit permission, you’ll have a marketing edge over competitors who fail to act.
Fax a permission slip
“We value our relationship and would like your permission to continue communicating with you via fax. Please sign and fax back this form, which confirms that permission to fax this specific number: ______.
To encourage customer cooperation, consider offering a $5-10 discount on the customer’s next order if they return the signed form by a specified date. Whether it’s for a filter replacement or solar salt, the discount will be worth it.
At the same time, you might not want to miss an opportunity to update your permanent data files with complete contact information. Include spaces for customers and suppliers to indicate their complete company name, address, contact names and titles, email address and phone numbers (including cell phone and pager numbers).
As of Oct. 1, the FCC says that a customer relationship will expire 18 months after a buyer’s last purchase--or three months after an inquiry by a prospect. In cases where the relationship has officially expired, you’ll have to once again get permission from these people. Otherwise, sending them faxes will be considered “unsolicited advertising.”
What penalties will “No Fax” rule violators face after 2004? The penalties for violating the proposed new regulations are potentially severe. An offending company can be fined $500 per page for each individual violation of this new fax ban, and that fine can be tripled to $1,500 for a willful offense. These fines are per offense so companies with large customer fax lists could well incur substantial financial penalties. Just as important, the regulations provide the opportunity for a vast new array of class action lawsuits filed by enterprising trial lawyers.
So, who can fax who and when? The only people you can fax now, without prior permission, are people with whom you have an existing relationship. Beginning Jan. 1, 2005, you’ll also need permission to fax them.
Earlier this year, the Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration filed a letter with the FCC in support of a stay. The office pointed out the new regulations were issued without proper compliance with the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires agencies to minimize the economic impact of their regulations on small business.
To file comments with the FCC electronically, go to its website (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/ecfs/) and click “submit a filing.” Enter proceeding #02-278, your contact information and comments, then click “send.” You can also call or write to your representative and/or senators to ask their help in blocking these regulations.
About the author
1. Do you routinely use fax machines to transmit information to commercial/industrial (C/I) customers, vendors or dealers?
2. Are you aware of the current and coming FCC restrictions on faxing customers and suppliers?
3. Has your company been sending “permission to fax” forms to existing customers and suppliers?
4. If you do, how well have customers and suppliers responded to your request?
5. Do you oppose future government restrictions on business fax activity?
Here are their responses:
* Tom Leunig, marketing manager, GE Osmonics Household Water Group, Milwaukee: “We are aware of the recent delay in the FCC’s ‘do not fax’ edict and expect we will be sending out ‘permission to fax’ forms to customers and suppliers, though we have not yet sent any. Our business unit is still heavily involved in faxing information to both dealers and OEMs. For example, we send a weekly Dealer Direct Fax to those involved with our World Tour program. We also send regular Lead Time Ledger faxes to OEM accounts to keep them abreast of product delivery schedules. While I’m not aware of any company position on the issue of government restrictions on business faxing, we generally support the WQA’s position.”
* David Farley, president, Sprite Industries, Corona, Calif.: “We know that we now need signed permission from customers to fax them information they need, and are sending out request for permission to fax forms. Although more and more information is being transmitted by email, we still often send out faxes to customers in response to requests for prices. In general, we oppose government restrictions on legitimate business use of any electronic media, whether its phone, fax or email. They tend to interfere with the basic American right of free speech.”
* Melanie Michaud, vice president, Systema-tix Co., Buena Park, Calif.: “Systematix uses business fax to place orders, to send out requests for quotes, and to provide copies of business documents. That said, it’s not a way we generally communicate when we can email information instead. We were not aware of the FCC restrictions on faxing customers, although we have received a few ‘permission’ forms ourselves. It’s something to think about. We are certainly annoyed by unsolicited nuisance faxes and can understand the intention behind anti-fax rules. But, in general, I oppose government intervention in matters that restrict doing business.”
* John Dunn, president, WaterCare Corp., Manitowoc, Wis.: “Fax mailings to our dealer network remain a very important part of our communications with customers. We fax dealers service tips, special promotions, and have a monthly Family Fun Fax that supplements our printed newsletter. We also fax quotes to C/I customers, which we service directly. We have never used broadcast faxing to prospects as a marketing tool, preferring direct mail. I personally was not aware of the proposed FCC fax ban, but can understand why they would resort to this tactic if the intent is to fight unsolicited junk faxes; however, we support the WQA’s efforts to fight the ban as an unnecessarily hurdle to companies trying to communicate with their own customers and suppliers.”