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Direct Marketing Commission - Enforcing Higher Industry Standards

The DMA’s New Code of Practice – George Kidd, Chief Commissioner reports

26th August, 2014 at 12:51pm

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!