For me, that point was four years ago. Until 2006, I’d spent three decades working as an agency- and client-side marketer. While I enjoyed my line of work, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at a new challenge, which is how I found myself joining the Direct Marketing Association.
My first day at the DMA was extraordinary. It was a day of media training run by a former Sky News reporter who made Jeremy Paxman seem like a soft touch. Media training – for those of you that have never had to endure this particular brand of sadistic humiliation – is learning the art of dealing with hostile journalist interviews.
Now, with the cushion of hindsight, I see that I couldn’t have had any better training for my role as the spokesman for the DMA. Royal Mail strikes, “junk mail”, consumer data losses, silent calls… the national media loves to focus on the negatives of our industry.
As the largest professional body to represent the interests of the direct marketing industry, it’s the DMA’s job to make sure the media presents both sides of the story. Which is why I found myself sat on BBC TV breakfast show sofas and gracing Sky News reports explaining to the nation why direct marketing isn’t actually the bogeyman.
While this all may have a slight odour of spin, I’m pleased to say that we have made significant progress in ensuring the direct marketing industry continues to develop through refining best practice. When I started, the environment barely registered as the final bullet point on the DMA’s crammed agenda. However, through some perseverance and with the support of the DMA Board, I paved the way for the creation of PAS 2020, the first environmental performance standard for the direct marketing industry.
Four years on, there is now greater awareness and understanding among companies of the importance of sustainable commercial practices. Recently we saw three organisations – COI, Sun Life Direct and Williams Lea – successfully pilot the PAS 2020 scheme and become the first to achieve certification.
The PAS 2020 scheme has also set a model of the DMA working with BSi and other key stakeholders to develop credible standards of best practice that stand up to robust scrutiny. Most recently, we’ve launched DataSeal, a BSi-backed information security standard designed specifically for companies that handle consumer data for marketing purposes. This will help to minimise data misuses, losses and breaches by organisations.
Both PAS 2020 and DataSeal will ensure that the direct marketing industry has the tools it requires to meet its responsibilities to the environment and in handling data. Doing so will help to convince the public and government that perhaps direct marketers aren’t the devil incarnate when the industry yet again falls under the media spotlight.
But it won’t be me you’ll see next time sitting on the BBC TV breakfast show sofa defending the industry. I’ve decided that now is the right time for me to turn my hand to some new challenges. After four years, I’m stepping down from the DMA, handing on the microphone and letting someone else do the talking. I’d like to think I’ve left them with a few of the answers they’ll need.