Privacy Promise No Longer Optional

By Harvey, Mary | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, September 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Privacy Promise No Longer Optional


Harvey, Mary, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


Mary Harvey editor of Circulation Extra, can be reached at many harvey@intertec.com.

Hoping to prevent further regulatory action, the DMA is requiring that members adhere to strict privacy guidelines.

In an era of free and easy information exchange, public concern that Big Brother may indeed be watching seems greater than ever. And with hundreds of privacy protection bills pending at state and federal levels, maintaining public trust has hit the top of every direct marketer's priority list.

In an effort to bolster waning consumer confidence and fend off further regulatory action, the 4,500-member, New York-based Direct Marketing Association launched its "Privacy Promise to American Consumers" on July 1. Adherence to the guidelines is not optional.

The policy, which the DMA began developing in October 1997, requires members who market directly to consumers or are suppliers to consumer marketers--some 2,100 member companies--to provide customers with notice of how information might be shared and offer them the chance to "opt out" of such information exchanges. (See box for full requirements.)

To monitor members' compliance, the DMA says it will conduct peer reviews, use "secret shoppers" to test practices, and randomly interview a "sizable number" of its member companies each year. Members who fall short will risk public censure and/or expulsion by the DMA Board of Directors.

"This is the time to really bend over backwards for the customer and not try to exploit all the gray areas of existing regulations," says Ed Fones, vice president, general manager of Men's Health. The title's publisher, Rodale, has long been in compliance with the DMA's various privacy guidelines, notes Fones. Customers are given the opportunity to be removed from solicitation lists on all bills and renewal mailings.

"I can't see any reason why any publisher would be resistant to [the Privacy Promise]," adds Peter Armour, senior vice president of consumer marketing at Conde Nast Publications, which is also in compliance. "It's a very reasonable thing to do."

But publisher enthusiasm is not universal. "I think people are embracing this reluctantly," says Bob Cohn, vice president, consumer marketing director of Times Mirror Magazines. Some publishers, he says, are concerned that while an increase in uninterested customers opting out should result in higher response rates, having fewer names could hurt list rental revenues.

As of July 1, the DMA says, 99 percent of its members were in compliance with the new rules--fewer than 20 member companies had failed to meet the new standards. …

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