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Direct Marketing Commission - Enforcing Higher Industry Standards

Data & Marketing Commission | Enforcing Higher Industry Standards



The DMA’s New Code of Practice – George Kidd, Chief Commissioner reports 26th August, 2014

As Chair of the Direct Marketing Commission (DMC) I am pleased to announce some revolutionary work in self-regulation in direct marketing.

The Commission enforces the DMA Code of Practice, which applies to over 1000 DMA members and helps to protect consumers and create a climate for innovation and investment. Complaints to the DMC are relatively few in number but they are often an indicator of a problem with wider impact that needs to be addressed. In recent cases our intervention based on one or two direct complaints ended practices that had actually generated over 1,000 complaints to the Telephone Preference Service, the ICO and others.

The DMA Code we inherited was over 170 pages long. It contained extracts from legislation, industry-specific rules and packets of best practice. And it was structured based on a series of sub-sectors of marketing like mobile marketing, direct mail, data collection and telephone centre operations. It proved “more is not better”. It was hard to read, let alone follow. It made little sense for consumers and chunks of it were of little relevance to us as the enforcement arm.

You can view the new DMA Code of Practice here. It is wholly outcomes-based and anchored in the principle that businesses must put customers first. It focuses on four core themes:

Respect for privacy
Being honest and fair
Treating data with care
Taking responsibility to deliver what you promise

The Code rules run to only five pages. The whole document including annexes and glossaries is just twelve. It is simple, clear and strategic in nature. It gives enforcers scope to apply good judgement. It is a framework that is inclusive: spurring businesses to commit, not scaring them off. It is also a framework that should have meaning and relevance across the marketing spectrum for member and non- member companies alike, raising standards to the benefit of consumers.

The Code is not a stand-alone. As part of this exercise the DMA has updated the guidance it gives members on laws, compliance and responsible and effective marketing right across the board. The DMA Guides detail how members can achieve the outcomes set out in the DMA Code.

No Code or piece of legislation is a “cure-all”. There are challenges to address the collection and use of data, with the permissions people give to sharing of information and with preference service schemes that allow us to manage what we receive. We want self-regulation to be a valuable and effective part of the mosaic of consumer empowerment and protection alongside the ICO, Trading Standards, Citizen’s Advice and others who work to educate, inform and protect.

I think it is hugely to the credit of the direct marketing industry that they have invested in this Code, in the legal and other compliance advice they give and in the Commission as an investigative and adjudicatory body. I think the importance of industry setting and giving meaning to standards will matter more and more in a digital world in which state agencies may not have the remit or capacity or processes to deal with every risk and challenge.

I hope you find the Code stimulating. Just having the confidence to use those seven words shows how very different it is!

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New industry code promotes ‘responsibility above and beyond compliance’ 4th August, 2014

Adopting the DMA’s new code of practice will be central to the industry’s efforts to address customer concerns about one-to-one marketing such as data sharing, according to the trade body’s executive director Chris Combemale.

Speaking at the launch of the new DMA Code, which covers all data-driven marketing activity, Combemale said that it will change the industry’s mindset:

“We’ve taken a new approach to self-regulation that recognises the need to focus on principles that go above and beyond compliance with the law. It’s perfectly easy to follow all of the details of regulation and yet fail to meet the expectations of the customer, such as how you use their data.Gonflables Noël

“Our Code centres on five principles to inspire the industry to serve each customer with fairness and respect. Marketing with customers not at them is imperative to fostering trust and achieving commercial success.”

The DMA is now encouraging other businesses to adopt the code, which comes into force in two weeks on Monday 18 August.

According to Combemale failure to do so will come at a cost to UK plc:

“The hero principle of ‘putting your customer first’ demonstrates the evolution of our industry. Each marketer and organisation should see one-to-one marketing as an exchange of value between its business looking to prosper and its customer looking to benefit.

“Data fuels the digital economy, so earning customer trust is a commercial imperative. Brands must make every effort to ensure that they always collect and use consumers’ data in ways that they expect and benefit from.”

The DMA developed the Code after an 18-month consultation process with industry stakeholders, including practitioners as well as government regulators Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The Ministry of Justice and Department of Culture, Media and Sport also provided input.

The DMA Code will be enforced by the industry’s independent watchdog, the DM Commission.

The DMA Code is backed by a series of channel-specific ‘guides’, which cover recommended best practice and compliance with regulations.

More than 1,050 corporate members of the DMA, which includes the industry’s top agencies, adhere to the DMA Code as a condition of membership.

The DMA Code and guides are available via the DMA’s website:

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Reactiv Media fined £50,000 30th July, 2014

The Information Commissioner’s Office has served digital marketing company Reactiv Media Limited with a £50,000 fine after an investigation discovered they had made unsolicited marketing calls to people registered with the Telephone Preference Service.  Reactiv Media was a member of the DMA until April this year and was subject to the industry’s self-regulatory Code of Practice.  The DMC had previously found Reactiv Media in breach of key rules in relation to privacy and telemarketing.  The company, unlike other members of the Association, seemed disinterested in working with us to improve their practice.  In March 2014 we recommended to the DMA that they were removed from membership and we reported our findings on this and other cases to the ICO early June.  The case shows why self and statutory regulation needs to work hand in hand, with the DMC stepping in on this and other cases to push for change and compliance, and with the ICO present to deal strategically with those who sadly seem intent on not playing by the rules – or the law.

Full details of the adjudication can be found at and

Please also see our Consumer Alerts page at for further information should you have a complaint.

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DMA expels PPI nuisance caller from membership 11th April, 2014

The DMA has expelled Reactiv Media from its membership after the industry’s watchdog upheld complaints made about the company for making PPI nuisance calls.

The Direct Marketing Commission (DMC) received complaints from consumers registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) about West Yorkshire-based Reactiv Media for unsolicited live calls on PPI mis-selling between April and September 2013. The DMC found failures over consumer consent, the requirement for named third-party permissions and identifying themselves when making calls and concluded that DMA rules banning calls to people registered with the TPS had been broken.

Reactiv Media, whose callers presented themselves as representatives of a ‘consumer helpline’, were warned by the DMC of their obligations as a DMA member, but failed to respond to requests to review and change their processes and continued to generate complaints about their activities.

Julia Porter, chair of the DMA board, commented:

“Putting the customer at the heart of your one-to-one communications is essential to building trust in your brand and trust in the channels you use. Reactiv Media refused our help to ensure they adhere to the law and our code of practice, which is there to protect the consumer and the reputation of the industry. It is for this reason we had to strip the company of its DMA membership.”

George Kidd, chief commissioner of the DMC, added:

“This is an unfortunate outcome. Other telemarketing companies have worked with us and turned past problems around. Those who use companies like Reactiv Media to generate leads share a responsibility. They should not be encouraging firms to bend or break rules that are there to make sure the public’s wishes are respected when it comes to telemarketing.”

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Industry watchdog calls for reforms to marketing data sector 3rd February, 2014

Industry watchdog calls for reforms to marketing data sector

The direct marketing industry’s watchdog, the DM Commission (DMC), has called for “root and branch reforms of the data sector to tackle practices that are playing a role in causing consumer complaints about the direct marketing industry, particularly about nuisance calls and text messages.

Investigations made by the DMC over the past 12 months into consumer complaints about unwanted direct marketing contact have identified common underlying problems regarding the source and use of data as being responsible for the majority of cases.

Some of the worst cases highlighted in the DMC’s annual report published 3rd February 2014 reveal a lack of understanding or, more seriously, a lack of concern, by some about whether they had the necessary arrangements in place to ensure their activities complied with regulations and industry best practice. 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.

According to George Kidd, the DMC’s chief commissioner, the industry must move quickly to address the fundamental problems in the data sector:

“The volume and nature of complaints we investigate show that we need to take a root and branch look at how companies collect, source, sell and test consumer data. Some business make fantastic creative use of data, delivering offers and services that are tuned to our personal needs and preferences. But there are times when other preferences and rights – not to be sent messages and calls which we have not agreed to or have said we do not want – are being ignored as companies pursue short-term gain, most obviously in the personal injury and Payment Protection Insurance fields. It’s not acceptable for businesses in the data business not to be able to explain where their data and the permissions on its use came from or for firms to dupe those they mail and call with mock surveys and research that open the door to sales and marketing calls, texts and emails from total strangers. 

“There is no magic solution to these problems of privacy and the misuse of data, and it will require a concerted effort in the industry to find solutions to the problems. It’s essential that this is guided by the principle of ‘putting the customer first’. Failure to do so will ensure that complaints about our industry will continue to rise and consumer confidence in direct marketing will decline.” 

In September of last year, the DMC’s chief commissioner George Kidd gave evidence at the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into nuisance telephone calls and text messages, where he argued for the need for creating a co-regulatory body to tackle the issue of unwanted contact. Currently, responsibility for telemarketing and mobile marketing is spread between Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The DMC supports these regulators but worries that neither body arguably has the resources, singular focus or the organisational build for dealing with thousands of complaints and engaging with industry to make sure these problems do not recur.

 Rosaleen Hubbard, an independent commissioner of the DMC, commented in the annual report that:

“Unacceptable practices, such as nuisance calls, should not be allowed simply because the plethora of regulators and complaints bodies across the sectors results in consumer confusion. Given the multitude of regulatory frameworks within which direct marketing companies work, formal cooperation with statutory and regulatory bodies from other bodies should be further developed to enable the DMC to most effectively handle consumer complaints.”

The DMC’s annual report can be downloaded from:



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All Party Parliamentary Group backs DMC call for co-regulation 11th November, 2013

All Party Parliamentary Group report backs DMC call for a co-regulatory strive to deal with nuisance calls

The APPG report on nuisance calls was published on 31 October. In it the Group takes a holistic approach, looking at the standards and controls around lead generation, the operation of the Telephone Preference Service, the role phone providers can play in supporting their users and ways in which regulators can do a better job. The call for an accreditation scheme for lead generation firms and the call on Ministers to create a co-regulatory body to support the work of ICO and others are of obvious interest to the industry.

The DMC had argued strongly for a co-regulatory arrangement that would allow industry, probably though an enhanced TPS with investigative and adjudicatory powers of the kind delivered by DMC, to take responsibility itself for dealing with non-compliance.

This was not a call to replace the ICO bot for a complementary set-up that dealt with complaints fast and on the necessary scale. Sorting the accidental, reckless and sometimes wilful behaviour and dealing with it in a proportionate way would give the public the assurance action is in hand and send a message to businesses that braking the rules is not a consequence-free option.

Few DMA members appear on the list of firms who are much complained about, but some have. The action taken in some cases to come into full compliance seems to have dramatically reduced complaint levels. The All Party Group shares our belief that effective regulation by the industry and ICO in partnership could drive complaint levels down.

The APPG report has gone to the Culture Department Minister and the DMC has already met his officials to explain our work and our thinking on how co-regulation meets the consumer’s expectation that their wishes will be respected when it comes to marketing calls and gives those who collect and process data and make service and marketing calls a climate in which this valuable work is not stigmatised. This requires a sense of urgency and creativity from our politicians and their agencies and officials.

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Complaints at the DMC 16th October, 2013

There were 106 complaints against DMA members and non-members for the four month period of January to April 2014. Issues raised by consumers and businesses included the following areas of concern: unwanted emails, mailings and telephone calls, privacy & data protection concerns, contractual disputes and claims of unclean data.

There were 25 consumer complaints against DMA members. 2 cases were formally adjudicated upon and 23 were resolved through informal action with the member companies involved.

There were 70 consumer complaints against non-DMA members many of which referred to other trade bodies, such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) and Trading Standards offices.
There were 11 business to business complaints, of which 9 were made against non-DMA member companies and 2 against members.

Those complaints which are resolved informally without the need for any formal action may or may not concern minor breaches of the DM Code of Practice. They will generally concern issues that are do not affect large numbers of consumers, where the possible harm is negligible and where the companies involved demonstrate their willingness to put things right.

However, on occasions we formally remind a company of its obligations to adhere to the Code. This may occur where there are minor breaches, where this fact is accepted by the member company, but where a formal investigation would be disproportionate and where the Secretariat thinks it is right but enough to make sure the company is fully aware of its obligations for the future. The Secretariat must be satisfied that appropriate remedial action has been taken, and that the matter is not serious enough for a formal investigation. These decisions by the Secretariat are based on criteria set by the Commission and are reported to Commissioners to ensure the right balance is being struck.

In one case which was informally resolved, a consumer who had entered a competition complained that she had been notified that she had won a retail voucher, and she had a screenshot which showed that this was seemingly the case. The wording in the initial notification was swiftly followed by the correct notification. However, the wording in the initial notification was unclear and she was in fact the recipient of a runner up prize. The company explained that they rarely offer runner up prizes and the required change to the template wording had been overlooked. They did, however, offer the consumer the winner’s prize and agreed and assured the Commission that future copy would be adjusted and that they would fully test any future changes when offering runner up prizes.

One of the formal adjudications undertaken related to a previous adjudication upheld by the Commission in October 2013 which had described concerns raised by TPS registered consumers in relation to calls about PPI. The Commission had formally reprimanded the company and reminded it of its obligations under the Code, and asked the company to review arrangements and provide a full report of actions taken to achieve compliance together with information on the handling of any future TPS complaints. Despite repeated reminders, this was not forthcoming and the Commission recommended to the DMA that their membership was terminated; this was undertaken.

A second case related to a DMA member where two complaints had been received from TPS registered consumers. The Commission considered whether the company was complying with rules regarding calls to those registered with TPS, whether there were issues in relation to customer service and whether the purpose of the calls were clear. The decisions were based on an analysis of the complaints and a considerable number of complaints to the TPS over the period of a year. Two breaches were upheld in relation to the clarity of their communication when consent is secured on-line, and the importance of ensuring that the purpose of a telephone call, as a form of lead generation, is made clear when contact is then made subsequent to the initial consent. The member worked closely with the Commission during the investigation and undertook a full review of its data journey and how this impacts the consumer. In the light of the assurances given the Commission reprimanded the member and reminded them of its obligations under the Code of Practice.

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DMC gives evidence at All Party Parliament Group Inquiry 16th October, 2013

The DMC welcomed the opportunity to give evidence on 9th October at an inquiry to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nuisance Calls.  This group was recently set up as a cross party group to increase awareness in Parliament of nuisance calls and other forms of unsolicited contact.  The group also aims to promote policies to strengthen the powers of a single regulator whilst also promoting the idea of a single, simple point of contact for individuals wishing to register to protect their privacy.

DMC argued that Government should remove barriers and create incentives for effective self-regulation. We pointed to the fast responsive nature of non-statutory consumer protection bodies like the DMC, ASA and PhonepayPlus. The point was not made as a criticism of statutory bodies like Ofcom and the ICO. These are strategic national regulators with a multitude of duties and powers and responsibilities that are hard-wired in the Acts that created them. They are not suited to managing high volumes of complaints and investigations that require formal and informal outcomes.chong qi gong men We argued that the TPS and DMC or an equivalent working together could achieve a dramatic reduction in complaints through early active interventions. We argued this would address complainant frustrations and end any business sense that non-compliance with rules and regulations is a consequence-free “norm”.

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DMC gives evidence at Culture and Media Select Committee Inquiry 16th October, 2013

The DMC welcomed the opportunity to give evidence on 3rd September at a Committee Inquiry into nuisance calls and text messages to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.   In our submission we said:

the Government should continue to remove barriers and build incentives to statutory bodies working together;

that action should be taken to establish a self-regulatory industry based body to deal properly and proportionately with all TPS complaints;

that thought should be given to new ways of educating the public on sharing data and giving authority for data to be passed on;

and that the Government should consider whether a more enlightened interpretation of the Communications Act Section 393 (1) would allow data to be shared with DMC.

We argued that national state regulators were often unable to deal with a market problem in a holistic way: Ofcom powers are limited to silent calls while the ICO can address a privacy PRS issue but not the nature of marketing or, perhaps, the source and adequacy of the data used. The DMA Code addresses fair marketing and contractual performance as well as issues of data sourcing and the privacy agenda. We argued strongly that Government should not just remove barriers to effective self-regulation – most obviously the way in which TPS data can be shared but that it should go further and recognise some enhanced TPS/DMC activity as the established means of dealing with public complaints about these nuisance calls. This was to complement, not replace the unique powers ICO, Ofcom and other public bodies have. We believe this sort of robust response would show complainants that they were listened to and give legitimate businesses the confidence that bad practice was no longer going unanswered.

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SMS Marketing Regulation – UK spammers fined £440k 30th November, 2012

SMS marketing regulations became tougher this week as the UK government’s Information Commissioner shows its teeth, writes Danny Meadows-Klue, Industry Commissioner at the DMC. The ICO unleashed the first of the heavy fines for spammers using text messaging, and across Europe eyes are on the UK as the focus of digital marketing regulation broadens to include texts. Here’s why industry and consumers should all be welcoming the move…

Spam is the scourge of digital channels. It emails, floods social networks and has started to extend into text messaging across Europe. It’s not just consumers who should be smiling after the industry watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) used its powers to levy fines for the first time – industry too should celebrate.

The ICO says it is determined to end the growing trend of unsolicited text messages and these record fines will send a clear signal that the business model of rogue traders who’ve switched from email spams to mobile is not one that will be tolerated.

The action now being taken is welcome, but overdue. Over the last 18 months there has been growing criticism that SMS marketing regulations have not been matched by court action, letting those who sell information without permission prosper, and regulators appearing out of touch with consumer needs.

This week, two men who allegedly sent millions of spam texts have been fined £440k, in a clear warning shot to any opportunist planning to join the current feeding frenzy of PPI claims. Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish have been cited by the regulator as typical of the types of businesses that send SMS to solicit sales leads. Today it’s compensation claims for personal injury and mis-selling of payment protection, but the approach is one that simply migrates to the topic of current consumer interest.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has made a decisive judgement call, saying: “The public have told us that they are distressed and annoyed by the constant bombardment of illegal texts and calls, and we are currently cracking down on the companies responsible, using the full force of the law.”

The fines were made through failures to adhere to the UK’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (2003), for which similar regulations exist in many markets.

Graham added that: “the two individuals we have served penalties on today made a substantial profit from the sale of personal information. They knew they were breaking the law and the trail of evidence uncovered by my office highlights the scale of their operations.”

This particular case is about a Manchester based firm called Tetrus Telecoms, which sent SMS messages on behalf of clients – close to one million texts a day. Their clients were claims management companies looking for compensation cases that would typically be passed to ‘no-win-no-fee’ legal firms.

If you’re in the UK and look through your SMS history, the chances are you’ll recognise the type of content as millions of consumers across the UK seem to have received these: “You may be entitled to…” “To claim reply CLAIM to this message.”

It’s a good example of how a small group can use technology in ways that can have a huge impact on both consumers and the reputation of an industry as a whole. Reportedly the ICO found handwritten notes in their offices suggesting Tetrus had churned through more than 60 sim cards a day to fuel their machines – each card is used until its text message capacity is reached before moving on to the next; a sort of scorched earth approach to mobile channels.

In a statement, one defendant said he intended to challenge the fines and had not been provided with evidence from the ICO to support the allegations, so no doubt this case will deepen as the challenge continues. Similarly the ICO has stated that it is investigating several similar cases, suggesting that this is far from a one-off warning shot. That promise matters. The vast majority of those working in direct marketing respect the law and the DMA Code of Practice. They and the public at large are entitled to expect that action is taken against those that do not.

Whatever the result, the focus of attention on the trade in mobile phone numbers and the ICO’s decision to act decisively should be warmly welcomed. In a digital society, the rights to and control of personal data are among the most precious of all.

Danny Meadows-Klue is President of the Digital Training Academy, and a Commissioner for the Direct Marketing Commission. As a policy advisor he worked on the Regulation of  Investigatory Powers legislation (RIPA), and he has helped create and run digital marketing trade associations including the IAB for ten years.

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Annual Report 2011-2012: Good Data is the Key 5th November, 2012

Last month, a UK consumer registered on the Telephone Preference Service invoiced a company for nuisance cold calls. While most people won’t go to those lengths, this case underlines the importance of good data.

The Direct Marketing Commission (DMC) Annual Report 2011/12, which has just been published, highlights the public’s frustration if their wishes are not respected and stresses the need for good data.

As Chief Commissioner, George Kidd, says: “Good data is key to effective direct marketing. Those who sell, buy, and use data need to be sure that it’s up to date, accurate and protects people’s privacy.

“The growth of digital marketing, where consumers are less aware of how data can be collected, makes this more important than ever.”

“The DMC is an effective self-regulator, says Mr Kidd and could do more to help the industry and the Information Commissioner’s Office stem the tide of complaints over breaches of telemarketing privacy.”

The DMA and the DMC will be working together over the coming year to ensure they help industry members better understand the benefits of complying with the DM Code of Practice and ensure it is applied in a fair and reasonable manner.


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Cold-calling: DMC investigations 2nd July, 2012

The DMC investigates any complaints against DMA members. They give effect to the DMA Code – which exists to set standards across the sector and drive up compliance by member and non-member firms.

A DMC ruling, particularly a ruling that a firm should be removed from DMA membership can have a huge effect on that company’s ability to win and keep business. This can be far more dramatic than any fine. But the DMC sees itself as a part of the compliance world, not the only solution. The DMC brings all of its serious self-regulatory decisions to the attention of the ICO and other statutory regulators offering them every assistance if further action seems necessary.

We believe the DMC could support the TPS in taking a more active role, working with those who may be in breach of TPS rules and bring them up to standard. This happens with self-regulation in advertising, and is seen as a valuable supplement to the rules and laws that exist in statute, but where statutory bodies struggle to take preventative action on any real scale. This requires planning, funding and will-power; but is eminently achievable and would drive down the huge amounts of public frustration seen today.

It would be inappropriate for DMC to comment on cases currently under investigation. Previous adjudications, including two relating to termination and suspension of DMA membership can be found at

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There is value in virtue – do your homework when using data lists 2nd July, 2012

The issue of the supplier/client relationship is a recurring theme in the Commission’s caseload. We regularly receive complaints from businesses who have ordered data from a supplier and found, having undertaken their direct marketing campaign, that the data sold was inaccurate, out of date, or did not match their criteria for a specific target market.

We also see complaints from people unhappy at being contacted by companies for marketing purposes. The contact may have been made ‘in good faith’ by companies who did not make the necessary checks on their suppliers to ensure that the people targeted had either opted in or opted out to receive that marketing contact.

We think it is important everyone involved in supplying and using data should do their homework – ensuring the information they are using is current, accurate,  in line with what was ordered and that the data takes proper account of the preferences of the public – in terms of opting into or out of marketing.

George Kidd, Chief Commissioner says: “Companies should have sufficient mechanisms  in place to test the data provided and validate the source and freshness of the data offered by their suppliers before they then use that data or sell it on to others. If companies do this, they can be confident of the data they trade and of complying with the DMA Code and regulations.

We welcome the attention this issue gets from the DMA and the valuable guidance the DMA makes available to members.

We believe there is “value in virtue”: marketing that reflects people’s preferences, matches people’s expectations and interests and is up to date and accurate is going to achieve higher response and conversation rates.”

Compliance is good for business as well as the soul!!

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Groupon growth – a phenomenon 14th March, 2012

E-mail marketing can be very very effective but we must always reflect the wishes of those to whom we market, and if they want to stop getting messages we should respect that wish.  This is a core element of the DMA Code – subscribed to by many hundreds of UK businesses and we call on Groupon to do more to meet this expectation – and to join this community of responsible marketers.

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How companies can improve their email unsubscribe process 4th January, 2012

Healthy direct marketing depends on our willingness to respect the public’s preferences. If we do not want to find ourselves in an opt-in world the opt-out approach has to work and work well. Hanging on to those who have decided not to stay engaged – and who have said so is not about being resolute but about being irresponsible. We believe it should be as easy to unsubscribe from an e-mail relationship as it was to subscribe in the first place.

We have summarised our expectations of the industry we support through regulation saying they should be responsible, respectful and reliable.  When it comes to e-mail marketing this means ensuring unsubscribe links are easy to find, simple to use and without technical barriers, and fast and effective in stopping the unwanted messages. Responding in this way to consumer wishes is to meet the fair and reasonable standard in the DMA Code of Practice.

We recognise there are situations where people may want to stop e-mails to a particular address rather than opt-out totally from information and offers they value. Markets are totally in their rights testing this and dealing with situations as seems fit. This is not the same as seeking to hang on to prospects that have said clearly that they want to stop receiving e-mails. (George Kidd, DMC Chief Commissioner)

Eight ways to improve your email unsubscribe process (by Guy Hanson, Return Path)

1. Make sure that the unsubscribe link works
A broken unsubscribe process is an instant guarantee for upping the red mist quotient. It also contravenes email marketing law. Make sure that this forms part of the testing process for each and every campaign that you send out.

2. Make the unsubscribe link highly visible
It’s no good burying it in the email footer in a 6 point font in the hope that your disengaged subscribers won’t see it. People want to see it, and if they can’t, they are going to hit their spam complaint button instead. Put the unsubscribe link in the email header instead. This may sound counter-intuitive, but my personal experience is that if the opt out mechanism is more visible spam complaints reduce materially as a direct consequence.

3. Don’t set up your unsubscribe link as an image
The recipient that wants to unsubscribe has typically got to a point where they are disengaged with your email programme. That means that they are not that likely to be enabling the images that have been disabled by default. They are therefore not that likely to find the unsubscribe link, if it has been set up as an image! Make it a text-based link, so that it will always be seen.

4. Don’t assume disengagement – ask the question
In fairness, there is also a flip-side to the disengagement coin. It may be that the reason that I am going through the process is simply that I have a new email address. I don’t necessarily want to leave the programme, but I do want to stop it sending emails to my old address. Make this easy for me by asking the question – “Are you unsubscribing because you have a new email address? If so, would you like to tell us what it is so that you can continue receiving our great offers?”

5. Make the unsubscribe process simple
However, don’t try to cover all the bases and then end up with a process that is unnecessarily difficult to use. I don’t want to have to go and update my preferences. I definitely don’t want to have to log in to an account that I have in all likelihood forgotten the login details for. In fact, in the US Can-Spam specifically legislates against requiring a user name and password to unsubscribe, so it becomes a matter of law – not just best practice. If the process is going to be that hard, then it’s going to be much simpler for me to junk you instead. Rather make the unsubscribe process as simple as possible – ideally one click should do the trick.

6. Action the unsubscribe immediately
Once I’ve actually hit the button, don’t go and sour the mood by telling me that it may take up to 28 days for my request to be actioned. Most email broadcasting platforms are capable of applying an unsubscribe request in real time, and there’s certainly no excuse for not being able to achieve this within 24 hours. Consumers know this – if they are still receiving emails seven days later from a programme that they’ve already unsubscribed from, they’re going to resort to the nuclear option instead!

7. Pre-empt unsubscribe problems
It is also a good idea to explain to your subscribers that there may be valid reasons to explain why unsubscribing from the email won’t work.
For example, that you originally registered using a different address, but which your exchange server is still auto-forwarding to you. Or that the registration was made using a generic email address (“sales@”, “info@”, etc) for which you form part of a distribution list.

8. Avoid follow-up emails
Finally, I’ve seen several programmes which have sent a follow-up email to confirm the unsubscribe request. Some might argue that this is a nice CRM touch.

However, to me it smells more like an attempt to second-guess the subscriber – along the lines of “we know that you’ve told us that you want to leave our email programme, but we’re sure that you didn’t really mean it!” While confirmation emails are generally regarded as a good thing in email marketing, I’d argue that this case represents a valid exception to the rule!


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DMA expels marketing data list seller 24th October, 2011

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has expelled from its membership a marketing data list seller trading in the UK as Data Providers UK and B2B Data Lists Group (Data Providers UK), both trading pass4sure A2180-271 names of Infomonitor Global LLC, a US corporation.

The sanction by the DMA Board follows the Direct Marketing Commission (DMC) upholding four complaints of breaches of the  Direct Marketing Code of Practice (4th edition) (DM Code), the self-regulatory pass4sure 920-548 code of practice that DMA members must abide by.

See here for further details.

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New EU law on cookies 23rd March, 2011

The EU’s new Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive law came into force on 26 May 2011.  It  requires websites to gain consent from computer users before using tracking technologies (or cookies).   A cookie is a small file of letters and numbers downloaded on to a device when the user accesses certain websites.  Cookies allow a website to recognise a user’s machine.

Cookies might be used, for example, to remember your preferences on a website, to record what you have put in your shopping basket before you check out, to count the number of people looking at a website or to look at how users navigate the site. The Regulations also apply to similar technologies for storing information. This could include, for example, Locally Stored Objects (commonly referred to as “Flash Cookies”).

The ICO will use the information it gets from consumer complaints to obtain business intelligence about how well organisations are moving towards compliance with the regulations. Website owners have up to 12 months to comply with the new cookies legislation.  Any enforcement action will be in line with the existing ICO enforcement strategy, which means that action will be focused on areas where there is harm or risk to individual’s privacy.  The ICO is therefore likely to be more concerned about the intrusive use of personal information collected through the use of a cookie as opposed to the actual use of a cookie.

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DMC welcomes the DMA and industry’s continued focus on data security 23rd February, 2011

Speaking following the February meeting of the Commission, George Kidd, Chief Commissioner, strongly welcomed the major DMA conference planned in March on data protection. He said:

“Direct marketing, by definition, relies on the data needed to target marketing and other messages – and also to respect the preferences of those who do not want to receive various forms of marketing. But data is not just an asset of value to businesses. It is the accumulation of information about individuals, businesses and other bodies. The sensitivity of much of the personal information stored is obvious, and this is as true of some information held by companies as it is of information held by Government.

With or without the law that covers this, and the strong new sanctions the ICO now has, it is clear that all involved have a duty to take proper care of the data they have, ensuring it is secure as well as accurate. The small number of complaints we have seen recently mostly relate to the accuracy of data and mechanisms for refreshing it and making revisions. But we have also been involved in cases where there has been a worry that information was being delivered in an unencrypted form in which it could have been read, used or sold on by anyone.

A recent case at the DMC involved a concern that unencrypted lists had been sent by e-mail. It is clear that the ease and economy with which huge volumes of data can be mailed in an instant or carried on a tiny key, smart-phone or notebook raises new challenges over how we protect this data. There is not a lot of point in elaborate on-site physical, electronic and staff security if a huge volume of highly sensitive data can fall out of pocket or get left in a train or cab or e-mailed to the wrong person or even a total stranger with a single click.

In the cases seen so far we have been satisfied that no harm has resulted, and we know the industry is alert to this risk. Alongside Code rules, compliance advice and guidance material, the DMA DataSeal scheme and events such as the March Data Conference exist to keep standards high and data secure.  We warmly welcome the attention given to this by the direct marketing industry and the DMA. As the body responsible for dealing with public complaints over these and other direct marketing matters we too have data security as a top priority.”

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Direct Marketing Commission acts to increase transparency and performance 13th January, 2011

Chief Commissioner George Kidd believes that transparency and accountability, two of the key Better Regulation principles, must be clearly reflected in the way the Commission works.  In addition to early publication of minutes of Commission meetings the Commission has produced a series of key performance indicators which look at its aims and expectations in relation  to customer responsiveness, customer satisfaction, case-handling and key complaints data.  Future reports to industry, public and other stakeholders on the work of the Commission will include information on performance against these indicators.

Please click here for further information about our key perormance indicators and to view published minutes of DMC Board meetings.

Details on our adjudications can be found here.

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George Kidd Named as Chief Commissioner of DMC 15th July, 2010

George Kidd has been appointed Chief Commissioner of the direct marketing industry’s independent self-regulatory body, the Direct Marketing Commission.

Mr Kidd succeeds Matti Alderson, who stood down from the DMC’s chairmanship after serving a HP0-S35 three-year term. Mr Kidd, whose appointment takes immediate effect, now heads up a team of five commissioners comprising independent members Michelle Peters and Martyn Percy, and industry representatives Danny Meadows-Klue and David Coupe.

Standing independent of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the DMC upholds the DMA’s HP0-S36 Code of Practice. It investigates complaints of inappropriate and unethical direct marketing practice from members of the public, businesses and from the marketing industry itself. All disciplines of direct marketing practice – including direct mail, email, SMS, interactive television, mail order, telephone, catalogue and online – fall within the DMC’s remit.

Prior to his appointment, Mr Kidd served as an independent member of the DMC board for two years. For eight years, Mr Kidd was chief executive of PhonepayPlus, the Ofcom regulatory body for the £1 billion phone-pay content market. Mr Kidd is a member of the regulatory Council for Licensed Conveyancers. Previously, he served as a director in the Cabinet Office’s Economic & Domestic Secretariat with responsibility for regulatory policy and practices.

Commenting on his new role, Mr Kidd said:

“Direct marketing is now an everyday part of our lives, so I’m proud to lead the DMC and uphold the industry’s professional standards. The role of the DMC is vital in the industry’s efforts to secure the public’s confidence in the genuine value of direct marketing.”

Welcoming Mr Kidd, David Metcalfe, chair of the Direct Marketing Association, said:

“I congratulate George on his appointment as chief commissioner of the DMC. He brings to the job a wealth of experience maintaining industry self-regulation and knowledge of direct marketing. I’m confident that George will do an exceptional job in upholding the high professional standards that define the direct marketing industry. I would also like to thank Matti Alderson for her achievements in successfully remodelling the DMC during her tenure as chairman.”

14th July 2010

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Emails outside the EU 16th June, 2010

Receiving unwanted emails from a company outside the European Union is a common problem for people in the UK, but regrettably one that is outside the jurisdiction of the Direct Marketing Commission as we can only focus on companies in the UK who create these types of communication.  When people trade with UK companies they have the protection of UK law and the self-regulatory frameworks our industry imposes.  However, if people take part in discussions with companies who are based abroad then different rules apply.

Across Europe there are similar types of laws and self regulatory groups in each country, so if the company you notified us was in Europe but outside the UK we would refer you to the right organisation. 

Here are some tips on how you can safeguard your data:

  •  Consider who you give your email address to, and the permissions that you give to be contacted.
  •  Remember that there is little protection when you buy or trade with companies outside the EU.
  •  Here in the UK, companies who are members of the DMA also agree to an additional industry Code of Practice that goes beyond the minimal legal requirements – look out for the DMA member's logo on their website and in their sales literature as a way of knowing you have the additional guarantee.
  •  When you are on the internet, remember to be streetwise about the organisations you interact with.  If you do encounter problems with UK based companies then there is a great deal of consumer protection in place.  You can use our website to see which organisations are the right ones to contact, and we will be pleased to help with issues related to direct mail, personal telephone calls, emails and other forms of direct marketing communication.
  •  Find out more about how we can help on our complaints page on this site.

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Information Commissioner warns political parties over data privacy 8th March, 2010

(Marketing Week 4 March 2010)

Political parties could face fines and lost votes if they do not follow data privacy rules when planning direct and digital marketing campaigns in the run up to the general election, according to the information commissioner.

Speaking at the Direct Marketing Association’s annual data protection conference today (4 March), information commissioner Christopher Graham (pictured) says political parties that breach the rules will not only damage their reputation but could be penalised financially.

Graham, a former director general of the Advertising Standards Authority, adds the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will be issuing political parties and candidates guidance on the rules governing direct marketing channels such as direct mail, SMS text, emails, telemarketing and automated phone calls.

“I strongly urge the parties to adhere to the ICO guidance especially as their collective track record to date has been disappointing.

“We have taken enforcement action to uphold the law in the past and, with stronger powers available to me in just a matter of weeks, I intend to make sure that everybody stays in line,” he says.

Political parties are subject to the same data privacy rules and punitive sanctions as the marketing industry when using direct marketing to promote their parties to voters.

The Labour, Conservative and Liberal Parties have and will be using direct marketing extensively, particularly in marginal constituencies, in the run up to the May poll.

Graham’s warnings follow a recent ICO ruling against the Labour Party for breaching rules on unsolicited telephone calls. Labour was ordered to stop making automated direct marketing calls without consent after almost half a million recorded messages from Coronation Street actress Liz Dawn were left encouraging people to vote.

The ICO has also taken action against the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP for invading people’s privacy in the past.

Responding to Graham’s comments, Robert Keitch, chief of membership and brand at the DMA, says political parties should learn from those companies that have received negative media coverage, lost customers and damaged their brands as a result of data privacy breaches.

“Political parties can expect the same treatment if they fail to respect data privacy rules when they promote themselves to voters through direct marketing,” he says.

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CC me? Think again.. 3rd March, 2010

The Direct Marketing Commission is always at the forefront of hearing what’s happening in the industry, good and bad.

One of the downsides of being ‘in the know’ is that whenever friends have a bad experience HP0-Y32 on the web, they tend to get in touch so when we leave the office … we don’t leave the office.

Direct marketing is growing at a huge rate because it can, and a lot of the output we see extols the power and potential of talking direct to consumers. But not all of those ‘potential customers’ either like or understand what they’re seeing and hearing.

One example. In the last few months we’ve seen small firms jumping on the email bandwagon who are making one terrible and consistent mistake.

Let me introduce you to the ‘open cc’ email.

This is the rather unexpected and unpleasant way to have your own email address publically shared with a few hundred strangers, all under the guise of a promotional mailing from a brand that, at least until a few moments ago, you probably trusted.

Sound familiar? I hope not, but it may be. And it’s becoming increasingly familiar as more and more small businesses unleash their managers onto the internet to practice what they think is digital marketing. Make no mistake: there’s nothing that turns customers against brands faster than abuses of personal data.

The managers of SMEs need to wake up to the importance of customer data, treating HP0-Y37 it with the respect and privacy it deserves. If permission is granted by consumers to use their data then it’s granted for a specific use. If permission has been given for something to be shared then that’s fine too.

But if ill -trained marketers are merrily spamming their customers in some misguided notion that this will boost sales, then they need to understand they’re putting their customers and careers in danger.

Having the tools to be a direct marketer doesn’t make you one.

Email is an intimate and precious channel. Use it wisely and respect the permissions of those who invited you to contact them.

Ask first.

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Government consultation paper on penalties for silent calls 9th February, 2010

The Government has sought views on its plans to raise the current maximum penalty for silent and abandoned calls from the current limit of £ 50,000 to £ 250,000, £500,000, £1 million or £2 million. The consultation paper follows commitments in the Digital Britain Report and the Consumer White Paper to increase the penalties for organisations making excessive silent calls.
Stephen Timms, Minister for Digital Britain, said: “We want to send a clear message to those companies that are persistently abusing these automated calling systems that this will not be tolerated and there is a price to pay.”

Ofcom chairman, Colette Bowe, commented: “Ofcom needs stronger powers to take action against companies causing consumer harm and we welcome Government’s proposals to increase the maximum financial penalty.”

The consultation closed on 25 January and we are now awaiting the Government's response.

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Behavioural Advertising 28th January, 2010

What is Behavioural Advertising?

Online behavioural advertising (also known as interest-based advertising) is a way of serving advertisements on the websites you visit and making them more relevant to you and your interests. Shared interests are grouped together based upon previous web browsing activity and web users are then served advertising which matches their shared interests. In this way, advertising can be made as relevant and useful as possible.

How Does it Work?

Imagine you are planning a holiday to Rome. You visit a website’s section on Rome and view a few articles about places to stay and visit. On a future visit online, while reading an article about your favourite football team, you see an advertisement for a 2-for-1 dinner in Rome or an offer for discounted car hire in Rome. You receive these specially tailored adverts because you, and other people like you, have shown an interest in Rome. This can enhance your web experience by making the most of the technology only available on the internet – helping reduce the number of ads that aren’t of interest to you.

Please see for further information.

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