DMA will be releasing new DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practices in early 2014, as part of the ongoing process for maintaining a healthy and trusted self-regulated marketplace for data-driven marketing.   The Guidelines go beyond what is “legal” to what is “right” – how responsible data-driven marketers should act, and capture all marketing channels online/offline.  They serve as the basis for the public trust that DMA manages with consumers and policy makers, and they are also what DMA enforces as part of our compliance work.  We list non-compliant companies (members and nonmembers) each year in our Annual Compliance Report and on our website, and of course, report offenders to the proper authorities.  DMA handles tens of thousands of consumer complaints a year, and manages the service for consumers who want to stop direct mail.

The Guideline updates this year are impressive and cover some very key areas of data-driven marketing.  We asked DMA General Counsel and SVP of Compliance Xenia (Senny) Boone about the upcoming release.

 Q1. Why do the Guidelines need updating?

Senny:  The Guidelines are comprehensive, but we are trying to update them to meet the areas of innovation in modern marketing.  The Guidelines are not static, dusty requirements. They are dynamic and enable marketers to connect with customers in responsible and responsive ways.  Changes to the Guidelines are driven by market innovation,  legal changes (e.g.: this coming year we have changes to children’s privacy laws (COPPA), telemarketing (TCPA- robocalls, cell phones & texting) mobile application transparency, and health information privacy under HIPAA),  member interest, and consumer feedback and complaint trends.  Overall, we are guided by what is the right thing to do, the best ethical standard.  That has been our lengthy history, and we remain focused on being responsive and responsible to the public.

Q2.   What are the areas of growth for the Guidelines this year?

Senny:   The key areas are in email marketing and data security. Our Ethics Policy Committee of members (appointed by the Board) spent time analyzing these areas and brought in outside membership guidance.  One thing that is very refreshing, is that we brought the email and data management membership communities (through the DMA’s Email Experience Council) in to offer thought leadership.

  • The email guidelines had not been updated in several years, and with so many changes in that area, particularly around inbox deliverability and sender reputation, we thought it was time to update the DMA position on things like permission, append and list quality.
  • Data security is about data stewardship.  The current Guidelines Article 37 is currently too narrow and covers only steps to be taken in the event of a breach.  We felt it did not cover the risks and opportunity around using consumer data across integrated channels.  We added in stewardship and governance in the areas of collecting, using, retaining and protecting the information, advance planning, what happens when there is a data breach, who is responsible and how to be accountable.

Q3.  How many people are involved?

Senny:  There are about 16 members of the Ethics Policy Committee that draft language and react to drafts, together shaping the final language.  We also use smaller subcommittees of members for each key area as needed to gain specific insight. There are a lot of meetings and some very heated discussions.  We also go to the full membership and get feedback to provide back to the full Committee for its consideration.

Our compliance network of members is most involved.  This is the Compliance Officer that we hope every member will designate.   It could be anyone in your marketing organization who is interested or responsible for privacy compliance, or the privacy officer, but also the marketing operations people.  Usually, this is the team manager or higher, who has control and authority over marketing practices.   Compliance Officers are recognized by DMA and get to comment on upcoming Rules.   Anyone interested in being the Compliance Officer for your company can apply with DMA.

 Q4.  What are the next steps before release?

Senny:    We are going to the DMA Board of Directors for approval at its next meeting.  Going forward, we plan to do an Annual edition of the Guidelines to make it easier for members to maintain their compliance.

In addition to the Guidelines themselves, we complement them with a number of Best Practices documents, which are not enforced, but are highly recommended.   Think of it in three layers – what is legal, what is right (the Ethical Guidelines, which are enforced by DMA) and what is best (the recommended practices).  The Best Practices document is where practitioners can really get involved and help DMA cover the “how” – for example, if the Guidelines say you have to provide notice, how do you best do to meet the requirements and optimize your ROI and customer satisfaction?  We are building out these best practices documents now and welcome member participation.  If you are interested, just email Lisa Shosteck.

Q5. Why are Guidelines so important?  Can’t we just follow the law and be done with it?

Senny:  The law can be quite limited in addressing actual consumer needs and issues. We strive to do the right thing by consumers regardless of whether it is first a legal premise. Guidelines crafted by marketing practitioners are essential to self-regulation to give marketers the guidance on how to solve tough problems quickly and easily to meet legitimate public concerns about marketing practices with respect and trust.  We often get member inquiries about “how to do it right, and how do others solve this?” Based on my experience in working with marketers over the past decade, you can be certain the marketing community is smart, interested in the consumer’s concerns, and provides effective solutions without a legal cudgel needed.

In fact, DMA was established with these kinds of principles nearly 100 years ago. It’s foundational to our purpose and what makes us unique among marketing associations.   I recently found a 1953 letter from  C.B. Larrabee, President and Publisher of the Printers Ink Publishing Company in New York City.  He said, “The greatest value of a code is not in the code itself.  It is rather in the desire of a group of leaders in an industry to set themselves on record as being in back of certain business principles.”  The first set of Ethical Guidelines (that we can find) was published in 1954 and based on that kind of thinking.  It’s still true today.

Those early Ethical Guidelines from 1954 stated, “You can then comprehend the injustice rendered all advertising in even those isolated cases where direct marketing is Objectionable, Offensive, or Misleading. And what is even worse, your customers and the Public lose their confidence in advertising as a whole and the entire structure of the economy is undermined.”

That is why we have Guidelines and enforce them. It’s a matter of public and consumer trust – and directly tied to the success of our marketing endeavors.


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