November 2003: Volume 45, Number 11
Do Not Fax--Dealers, Take Note, Make the Fax Ban Delay Work for You
by David H. Martin
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
The Federal Trade Communications (FTC) ruled that effective Aug. 25, marketers must still obtain permission in writing prior to sending marketing or advertising-related faxes to potential new customers and even suppliers. Notices of new price lists and product changes aren’t immune. You must solicit signed permission to send a fax with any business information. This is true even if you receive a fax, email or phone request for such information. You’ll need prior permission to send any commercial faxes--from the occasional quote, product or price information--to broadcast fax campaigns.
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
You need to do it now because once the fax ban goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2005, you will no longer be able to use the fax to get permission to fax that person or business as a potential customer. Keep your request simple and straightforward:
“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: ______.
John Smith, President
Acme Water Treatment
123 N. Main St.
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.”
Can you seek permission from multiple people at the same company? In a word, yes. But you need to get permission for each specific fax line you intend to use. You can ask customers or suppliers for their permission to continue faxing on the current fax line. Or, you may ask the company for permission to use multiple or all available fax lines.
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.
Ironically, the FCC has long maintained that unsolicited faxing is illegal, in spite of the general impression the new fax ban will make it illegal for the first time. What about someone you meet at a trade show that asks for product or pricing information be faxed to him? It’s a gray area but also a good rule of thumb that, if they initiated the request, they’re unlikely to complain when you fax them. Still worried? Ask them to fax a signed request. It’s also a good reason to ask them to fill out a contact information form at whatever event that was the point of contact. Be sure it’s signed and dated.
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.
If you feel the pending “No Fax” rule is unfair to businesses and would like to join forces with the 1,400 trade associations opposing the rule still scheduled to go into effect in 2005, you might want to file a comment opposing the regulations directly with the FCC.
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
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, email: email@example.com or website: www.lenzimartin.com
WC&P asked several industry businesses five questions about the impending FCC “No Fax” rule and how it might affect their ability to conduct business:
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.”