Don't Do It! Suicide Prevention for the List Industry

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NEW YORK -- Somebody stop the list industry before it does itself in!


With a title like "Suicide Prevention: Let's Not Kill the List Industry," few marketers could resist a panel discussion on privacy at yesterday's Direct Marketing Association List Vision 2005 conference at the Marriott Marquis.


"We list people are afraid," said Harriet Heyman, vice president and senior strategic consultant at Harte-Hanks Direct Marketing and chair of the DMA Ethics Committee. "Our universes are shrinking, consumers are opting out, public data is being threatened -- but if we alleviate consumer fears, ours will go away, too."


This is where the list industry needs to be more proactive, and one professional said it's simply a matter of returning to the roots of the list business.


"We are taking an ultra-conservative approach," said Stacey Girt, senior vice president of MKTG Services, a CBC Innovis company.


Girt said that she has spent the past four to six months working with a compliance officer because MKTG's parent firm is a credit bureau.


"Our CEO saw the ChoicePoint news and said he didn't want to be on the cover of The New York Times," Girt said, referring to the high-profile data breach that began a year of data security breaches becoming public and resulting in tons of proposed state and federal legislation.


The result is what MKTG calls its Process, Procedures and Compliance Plan. Though Girt described the process as "painful," she said it was crucial and outlined the five-step plan.


Step one is training. She recommended that list companies start now and make it ongoing.


Step two is list rental agreements, which she said were necessary in all cases. Girt advocated doing annual agreements that detail the offer, usage terms, DMA compliance language and have a signature.


"They provide a defensible position in a court of law," she said.


Step three is ensuring that purchase orders and clearances are in order. When clearing list orders, Girt said, the list professional needs to be a gatekeeper for the mailer or list owner.


Step four is reviewing the decoys to ensure that mailers are using your lists in the agreed-upon way.


Step five is documentation: "Save everything," Girt said, including purchase orders, samples, decoys, clearances and e-mails.


"This is what we need to do for self-regulation," she said. "This is how we all started in the list industry, and we need to go back to our roots because somewhere along the line some have stopped."


Other panelists agreed, saying that being cautious enough to refuse offers that don't seem quite right is a good business practice.


"Sometimes denying business is the better way to go," said Susan McNamara, vice president at SK&A Information Services.


Her firm specializes in healthcare data, and she told a story about a mailer that her company refused to do business with because of the questionable nature of its offer. Another list firm ended up getting stiffed.


Chicca D'Agostino, president of Focus USA, said that the legality of offers is tricky but urged attendees to "trust your gut" and use what she called the grandmother test. "If it's not an offer that you would want your grandmother or mother or daughter to respond to, then don't approve it."


D'Agostino also cautioned against the overt use of sensitive data. Though mortgage information is publicly available, there is no need for a mailer to flaunt it by revealing just how much they know about consumers in their mail piece.


"Consumers are already afraid that we know too much," she said. "Why do we push it in their faces?"


Heyman concluded the session by encouraging list professionals to file complaints with the DMA if they know of bad actors in their industry, saying that those are the companies that give the industry a bad name.


Kristen Bremner covers list news, insert media, privacy and fundraising for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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