01 April 1999

THE CO-OPTION OF A SENIOR Royal Mail executive to the board of the DMA has set the cat among the pigeons. Mark Bowler, director of media and home shopping at the Royal Mail, stands accused of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, much to the chagrin of many mailing house members for whom the DMA collectively negotiates postal rates and pre-sortation commissions with a RM team of which Bowler is the head.

When this or related issues arise at DMA board meetings, Bowler declares his interest and withdraws - a situation mailing house members regard as unsatisfactory, and leading to calls for his abdication. Enquired Peter Phillips, chairman of the Mailing House Council, in a letter to DMA chair Judith Donovan: 'How can the DMA maintain an effective negotiating position with a Royal Mail representative on the Board?' Donovan’ responded: 'There is constitutionally no reason why he can’t be on the board'. The issue is complicated in that the Royal Mail wears two hats - as a major client in its own right and a key monopoly supplier to DMA members. The problem was resolved in time-honoured fashion at a DMA board meeting on 23 March - by devolving it to a working party 'to consider the constitutional implications of media owners on the board'.

The disquiet is not confined to mailing houses. John Watson, chair of the UK’s largest dm agency WWAV Rapp Collins is equally concerned: 'There could not be a more inappropriate time for the Royal Mail to be represented on the DMA board', he argues. 'Its relationship with the dm industry is uneasy. It’s not sure whether it wants to be a media owner - in which case it should work with the industry - or whether it wants to get into competition with parts of the industry. It can’t do both.' [Old dm hands recall a not dissimilar situation twenty-five years ago which led to a mass walkout of mailing houses from the original British Direct Marketing Association which, they argued, had failed to protect their interests. This gave birth to the Direct Mail Producers Association - ironically, one of the four founder members of the present DMA.]