List Roundtable What can list professionals do now to prevent
Chicca D'Agostino, president, Focus USA
Given recent developments, it appears unlikely that we will be able to prevent future legislation. The best we can do is try to mitigate it. Apart from data security, another major issue is how we treat consumers via our advertising messages. All of us—brokers, managers and list owners—need to screen advertising offers. Don't rent or broker names unless you have seen the offer. If you feel it invades a consumer's privacy, reveals specific details about a family, is deceptive, or is not in compliance with GLB, FACTA and other laws—try to have the copy corrected … or reject it.
Many times marketers don't realize they may be pushing the envelope too far. But most are responsible and will make copy changes when warranted. For example, a publisher targeting the parents of pre-schoolers, "spoke" to the parent about her pre-schooler. After we suggested a minor copy change to: "If you happen to have a pre-schooler in the family …" the company understood the distinction and made the change.
Some offers, however, are intentionally deceptive, such as advertising a free hotel stay that is only partially free because the offer terms require you to pay full-fare coach, not economy coach, the difference being nearly equal to the cost of the hotel. Much of it is common sense. If it doesn't "feel" right in your gut, the offer should probably be rejected. The complete Direct Marketing Association (DMA) guidelines for screening offers is on its Web site.
Remember: Government officials also are consumers who will be receiving our advertising offers, whether we screen them or not.
Harriet Heyman, vice president, strategic consultant, Harte-Hanks
The low level of consumer trust in the direct marketing business likely has taken a further hit with the media attention on the ChoicePoint story. Marketers and list professionals must take the following steps toward respectability:
1. Assure all current laws, rules and regulations are followed. Read a current copy of the DMA's Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice and make sure your company scrupulously complies.
2. Anyone with knowledge of another marketer's misstep must report such infractions to authorities. Any marketer who violates the DMA's guidelines must be reported to the DMA. This internal housekeeping goes a long way toward increasing respect.
3. Respect the consumer. Consumers deserve to be informed about how and when information is collected about them, how it is used and whether or not it is shared, and provided an opportunity to opt-out. If you respect the consumer, you will not resort to surreptitious data collection, non-existent disclosures, or disclosures that are hard to find, read and execute. Make it easy for consumers to contact you.
4. Only collect consumer information that you need, and don't use the information for any other purpose without proper notice and permission. Keep what you must under tight security. If personal data are especially sensitive in nature, determine appropriate ways to tighten security even further if you must have these data to conduct business.
David Schwartz, president, 21st Century Marketing
There is absolutely nothing that list companies can do to prevent future legislation of the list industry. However, list companies can work together to mitigate the outcome of such legislation. The best way to do this is through the DMA, which has strong representation and visibility in Washington, D.C.. Individual list companies, data providers and data service organizations (with the exception of the few largest) lack the resources to successfully lobby legislators and other bureaucrats.
I'm not advocating that list companies should take a laissez-faire approach to the threat of new legislation—quite the opposite! List professionals need to get engaged. We need to start learning about the issues and contributing our input and our dollars to bolster the lobbying efforts. We may not be able to stop legislation, but we can play a role in shaping it. Legislators have a lot of misconceptions about what we do and how we do it. We need to educate them. In addition, the DMA needs us to clarify and focus its efforts to best protect our overall discipline. Direct marketing is an easy target … particularly when fueled by privacy issues, the Internet and the pervasive and sometimes invasive nature of telemarketing. We need to create more good "buzz" about what we do.