DM community reflects on one year of GDPR

By Rhys Handley, Tuesday 28 May 2019

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As the EU’s updated data regulation hits its first anniversary, the direct mail and marketing sector appears to have comfortably bedded into a life under GDPR.

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Direct mail hopes for upticks in volumes in the wake of GDPR were not fully realised

The general data protection regulation was implemented on 25 May 2018 and was the first major shake-up of personal data protection for almost two decades, increasing the rights of individuals to control who holds information on them, what information is held and how it is used, as well as stiffening the penalties for breaches.

While the run-up to its enforcement led to both buyers and producers of marketing undergoing intensive education and preparation to become compliant, there were some expectations that the introduction of GDPR would drive sizeable dips in email marketing and a corresponding boost in direct mail, which falls under the rules of ‘informed consent’.

However, the latest figures from the Advertising Association and WARC in its expenditure report for 2018 showed adspend on direct mail fall by 8.5% compared to 2018.

It is forecast that declines will steady out in the coming year, though the DMA did acquiesce that predicted jumps in direct mail had not come to fruition as the sector might have hoped post-GDPR.

DMA head of insight and PR Tim Bond said: “There was definitely nervousness in the run-up to GDPR and some short-term pain. Figures did not spike for mail in the second half of 2018 as was hoped, but anecdotal evidence indicates that there was a general lull over the summer as brands spent time re-planning their campaigns.

“The amount of data available to brands has gone down and that is a fact, but the quality has certainly improved and forced brands to look at the data they have, the providence of it and how they can actually use it, which improves marketing and engagement.

“So much work went into preparation ahead of May last year and so there was always going to be a post-enforcement lull, but I think that is because it is a principle-based set of rules and when we start seeing judications and case law in the coming months we will start to see those blurred lines become harder and darker.”

For print companies in the direct mail sector, the new landscape has reportedly had a knock-on effect on volumes, custom and brand strategy.

“We were very proactive in giving a lot of seminars and that sort of thing,” said Patrick Headley, chief executive of Go Inspire Group. “We made sure it was known that we were ahead of the curve, but we have obviously seen a decline in mail because some people have run scared from the complexities of GDPR.

“There have been a lot of headwinds affecting direct mail of late, whether it’s GDPR, Brexit or price increases from Royal Mail. It is even impacting the big names like Howard Hunt.

“It is not easy out there now and we have moved more upstream with our service offering and invested in digital which has luckily meant our results have not been affected. On the whole, though, GDPR has tightened controls and made the industry more responsible which is good for the consumer. That is the most important thing.”

Birmingham-based mailer Bakergoodchild prepared itself ahead of time with the appointment of a data protection officer and further work with consultants to build on its ISO 27001 data security accreditation.

According to sales director Adam Stafford, “around 90%” of the company’s output was unaffected after GDPR came into force, though there were detectable shifts in the marketplace.

“It has not been as big an impact as we thought it might be,” he said. “Some of our customers perhaps mail a bit less than they did but others have come onboard to move away from digital due to data and cost restrictions.

“Operationally speaking, it has improved our processes as clients are now more educated and conscious of how they handle their data – and the quality of that data is much improved. We have clawed back the custom we lost over the year.”

He concluded: “The Data Protection Act was no longer fit for purpose, so something new needed to take its place. Short term there was a drop but now I think there will be an ongoing improvement across the market, so I think GDPR is certainly a good thing.”

Overlooking the mailing sector, Strategic Mailing Partnership (SMP) chair Judith Donovan similarly reflected on the eventual benefits that have come through in the wake of the new legislation.

“Before its introduction, it is fair to say there was considerable trepidation about what GDPR would actually mean for the mailing industry,” she said. “However, a year after its inception, this fear-factor has dissipated, leaving little long-term effect.

“The requirements of the legislation have become part and parcel of standard mailing house procedures. Those who were buying data before May last year have largely resumed and our members are generally buoyant about business.

“There is no reason to fear the legislation. It is a necessary evil that has brought about some useful benefits. Those who have come back into the water are reporting significant uplifts in response levels as targeting is now so much cleaner.”

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