DMC is right that marketing data needs reform

Lead generation and the sale of data lists are a murky area that needs clearing up quickly. The alternative is a terminal loss of trust in direct marketing.

Michael Barnett

The Direct Marketing Commission (DMC), which enforces the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) code of practice, has called for “root and branch” reform of the marketing data sector, to ensure that legitimate marketers can restore the confidence of consumers and business customers. This comes as the industry awaits a government action plan for stopping nuisance telemarketing, whose publication has already been delayed several times.

While the DMC’s annual report identified a similar number of complaints about direct marketing in 2013 to those received in 2012, the body has strengthened its stance against rogue operators after a year when direct marketers have endured intense criticism, thanks to multiple parliamentary enquiries and media campaigns against nuisance calls and texts. At the bottom of this, the DMC says, is a new determination to make sure auditing of data lists is ingrained in the minds of every practitioner.

“In particular, the cases reveal common failures in companies to be able to cite the provenance of consumer data, whether the data has been ‘cleansed’, or if it’s been tested for accuracy and the necessary permissions,” the DMC’s report says.

The law already requires that all telephone marketers must check their call lists against the Telephone Preference Service, which records the details of consumers who opt out of telephone marketing. The government is likely to bring in more enforcement measures soon, such as lowering the burden of evidence that regulators need to prosecute offending companies.

The DMC’s report and its subsequent press release don’t lay out exactly how changes to the data industry should be implemented – presumably this will be guided in large part by what the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recommends when minister Ed Vaizey finally releases his findings. The DMC does, however, single out “mock surveys and ‘research’ that open the door to sales and marketing calls, texts and emails from total strangers” as targets for reform.

But what’s certain is that the intent is right. Whatever the DCMS suggests as its solutions to nuisance calls, marketers need to take a proactive interest in cleaning up their supply chain, ostracising those data suppliers and call centres that show no scruples or regard for consumers’ privacy.

The DMA obviously has its own role to play in this, one that, to its credit, it has signalled that it is keen to carry out effectively throughout the nuisance calls debate. Where DMA members are concerned, “we have shown with recent adjudications on data and privacy complaints that our intervention can reduce the complaints about a company by 75 per cent or more”, the DMC report says.

That should be reason enough for legitimate operators to welcome the DMA’s efforts. But it will have a lot more work on its hands this year if it is serious about cleaning up marketing data from top to bottom. 

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