New trade body: bark but no bite

The facts: The Direct Marketing Commission
(DMC), a self-regulatory body for the UK direct marketing
industry, launched in September to tackle complaints across all
disciplines of direct marketing including direct mail, email,
SMS, interactive television, telemarketing and online.

The DMC’s predecessor, the Direct Marketing Authority, was set up
in 1993 by members of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and
investigated complaints against member companies only. The Direct
Marketing Commission is in essence a new iteration of the Direct
Marketing Authority, though it is a separate limited company and
structurally independent from the DMA.

The DMC and its directorate can now pursue complaints made
against both DMA members and nonmembers. Whilst abiding by the
DMA’s DM Code of Practice is mandatory only for DMA members and
can result in suspension or expulsion from the organisation for
members that fail to comply, under the DMC’s jurisdiction,
companies that do not belong to the DMA can now be held
accountable as well. Companies found in breach of the rules will
be asked to sign a formal undertaking to comply with the code;
they will be publicly named and shamed on the DMC’s website and
exposed in the media; and if all else fails they will be referred
to law enforcement bodies such as the Office of Fair Trading, the
Trading Standards Authority or the Information Commissioner’s
Office, which have the power to issue legal proceedings. As a
result, the DMC contends that it is better able to resolve
consumer complaints and uphold companies to industry standards
than the Direct Marketing Authority was.

The buzz: John Hinchcliffe, marketing director
at multititle mailer N Brown said he welcomes any moves that
promote best practice in direct marketing. “It’s good to
have a body that looks outside the DMA,” he said, adding
that he hoped the DMC could take extra steps to “weed out
the rogues” in direct marketing.

But one direct merchant who spoke to
Catalogue/e-business on condition of anonymity was
confused about what the DMC is actually able to do: “If no
legislation has been put in place, I can’t see what power it
really has.”

Martin Harvey, managing director at Marshalls Garden Catalogues
and a board member of trade association The Catalogue Exchange,
agreed. “Visit the DMC’s website and you would easily be
forgiven for thinking that this new regulatory authority was
created by Royal Charter,” Harvey said. “But no, the
commission, which operates from the DMA’s address, appears to
have as its objective to police the DMA’s Direct Marketing Code
of Practice. In fact, its staff too appear to have cut their
teeth at the DMA. For me, the DMC is at best a subsidiary and an
unnecessary addition to policing direct marketing.”

What this means to you: Probably not that much.
DMA members-and nonmembers-are now answerable to a different
organisation, but the vast majority of reputable direct marketing
businesses already adhere to industry standards. And because the
DMC lacks the ability to levy fines or issue legal proceedings,
it isn’t threatening enough to scare straight the rogue
businesses that have knowingly been breaching regulations.

The DMC could arguably boost consumer confidence in the direct
marketing sector, however. A spokesperson for the DMC told
Catalogue/e-business that a consumer-facing PR campaign
was in the pipeline.

“Because negative publicity is one of the most effective
sanctions for organisations that breach the code of
practice-fines tend to written off as a business expense-the DMC
will be publicising its investigations and naming the offending
parties on an ongoing basis,” the spokesperson said. Press
coverage will, therefore, be “not simply a secondary activity
but an integral aspect of the DMC’s work”. And if consumers
believe that an organisation is keeping an eye out for and
warning them of unethical traders, perhaps they’ll have more
faith in the thousands of firms that toe the line.



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