I got an interesting letter from the subscription services department of Hearst Magazines. It opens with:
"Your delinquent account with us has been brought to my attention for collection. "Subscription Suspended for Non-Payment", that's what our records reflect."
The letter then asks me to send them money in an enclosed envelop that requires a stamp. The letter is signed by someone from their "Credit and Collections" department.
I assume the letter relates to Smart Money, a publication that I did not renew when my subscription ran out. The letter has no information on my account such as what magazine, why I am deliquent, when I became deliquent, etc. Also, they did't provide any contact information beyond a post office box in Iowa.
It is common industry practice to use "automatic renewal". In small print on their subscription cards magazines state by subscribing you will be automatically renewed and billed for the magazine until you cancel. Most people don't realize it, but they are signing up forever when they subscribe to a magazine. I actually don't object to this - it cuts down on my paperwork and ensures continuous delivery of the magazines I want.
What I object to is sending a marketing renewal letter that strongly hints that it is part of a collections process. This is clearly meant to intimidate people into renewing magazines they don't want. Simply put, they are using misrepresentations in hopes they can bully people into buying their product. This is unethical marketing.
I've posted on the growing importance of marketing integrity, and how social media, word of mouth, and the Internet will "out" companies that behave in unethical ways. This is a good example of that trend. I may not have the reach of Hearst, but between my blogs, presentations and speeches thousands of people in Smart Money's target demographic will hear this story over the next few months. That is the power of social media and word of mouth, and why business integrity will increasingly matter.
*** I did an update on this topic on April 26th, 2008.***