TELEMARKETING: CONTROLLING THE COWBOYS - New European regulations aim to end the worst excesses of unscrupulous telephone marketers, Robert Gray writes
By ROBERT GRAY, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 18 June 1999 12:00AM
The day has been long and stressful. You’re in the bath unwinding, perhaps a with a glass of wine perched on the side and mood music playing in the background. The house is empty and, for the first time in hours, you’re starting to relax ... and the phone rings.
The day has been long and stressful. You’re in the bath unwinding,
perhaps a with a glass of wine perched on the side and mood music
playing in the background. The house is empty and, for the first time in
hours, you’re starting to relax ... and the phone rings.
You leap out of the tub and scurry towards the ringing, dripping as you
go, a towel plastered inelegantly to your wet skin. This might, after
all, be the important personal call you’ve been waiting for. You snatch
up the receiver to hear the dreary tones of Denise from Derek’s Dodgy
Double Glazing trying to flog you replacement windows. You feel you’d
quite like to flog her instead, express your lack of interest in the
transaction and hang up. As you do, you fleetingly think to yourself:
wouldn’t it be nice if they passed a law to stop this sort of thing.
Well, they have. Concern across Europe over telemarketing abuses has led
to a tightening up of the regulations in order to protect consumers.
On 1 May 1999, the provisions of Article 12 of the EU Telecoms Data
Protection Directive came into effect in the UK. These duplicate some
areas of the existing UK legislation, but also bring into force new
For the first time, consumers will be able to opt out of receiving
direct marketing calls by registering with a Telephone Preference
Service (TPS) backed by legislation. Although a TPS run by the Direct
Marketing Association has been in existence in the UK for the past four
years, it only now has statutory backing.
The DMA will continue to operate the TPS, having been officially
appointed by Oftel after a competitive pitch, and will transfer to the
new service the 280,000 numbers it already has registered. Consumers can
opt out from receiving telemarketing calls simply by phoning 0845
0700707 and giving their details.
’It now becomes unlawful to make a direct marketing call to any
individual who has registered with the Telephone Preference Service,’
Colin Fricker, DMA director of government and legal affairs, says. ’The
way you can be sure you are not breaking the law is to check with the
In order to do this, businesses must pay a licence fee. The size of this
fee is determined by the frequency and amount of information required by
each business, and ranges from pounds 100 to pounds 7,500.
Article 12 also reinforces the right of consumers to notify callers that
they do not wish to receive further calls from them - this was already
considered to be ’unlawful processing’ under the terms of the Data
Protection Act 1984.
The DMA supports these regulations, recognising that the alternative to
opt out would be ’opt in’, whereby consumers could only be contacted if
they had previously expressed a willingness to be called by
’The alternative to these regulations is opt in,’ Fricker
’To be perfectly honest, that would be horrible. It would kill the
industry and it would threaten the freedom of communications, which is
essential for democracy.’
The hope among direct marketing practitioners is that the vast majority
of the public can be dissuaded from opting out because of the real
advantages to them of some forms of telemarketing. For example, car
dealers making contact to offer test drives of new models.
There will, unfortunately, always be a handful of cowboy outfits that
act irresponsibly. But the hope is that the regulations now in place
should be sufficient to deal with persistent transgressors. The DMA has
its own code of conduct (see panel) that its members are obliged to
follow. But aside from the EU Directive, there are other sanctions that
can be applied to non-DMA members.
A little known fact is that, under the Telecommunications Act 1984, all
phone users are granted a licence by the DTI. Breaching its terms - in
ways such as making unwanted or vexatious calls - can lead to the
imposition of fines.
The newly effective EU Directive Article 12 also prohibits the faxing of
unsolicited direct marketing material to individuals - a definition that
embraces sole traders and partnerships as well as consumers. Fricker
considers the scope of this definition as being ’draconian’ and warns
marketers they will have to be careful that they do not fax an
Finally, next year will see the implementation of further articles from
the EU Directive, including a change to the present situation whereby
marketers are obliged to inform call recipients when they are taping
their conversation. From then on, marketers will be obliged to ask for
consent to tape a conversation.
There has been talk of curtailing access to the electoral roll for
direct marketers but, even if this happens, it seems unlikely to be
applied to list cleaning, which responsible marketers carry out to
ensure they are not calling deceased persons or relying on other
’Marketing will become subject to tighter controls, most of which we are
quite happy about,’ Fricker says. ’The more respectful you are of a
consumer and his or her personal details, the more likely you are to
develop a good relationship with that consumer.’
That’s a message the cowboys won’t like to hear. Especially if you ring
them to tell them while they are in the bath.
KEY ELEMENTS OF THE DMA CODE OF PRACTICE ON TELEPHONE MARKETING
- DMA members making sales, marketing or service calls must volunteer
the name of the advertiser at the beginning of the call and repeat this
information on request at any point during the conversation.
- The purpose of the call should be clearly stated at the beginning of
the conversation. Call content should be restricted to matters directly
relevant to this purpose.
- If a person is telephoned as the result of a referral by a third
party, they must be informed of this at the beginning of the call, told
the identity of the third party and given an opportunity to ask for the
call to be discontinued.
- There should be no evasion of the truth or misinformation. All
questions are to be answered honestly.
- Sales, marketing or service calls should not be made under the guise
of market research, a practice known as ’sugging’.
- Calls should not be made at unreasonable hours, ie between 9pm and
- Members should remain courteous and efficient throughout, shunning any
high-pressure tactics that could be construed as harassment, and
politely recognising the right of the other party to end the
conversation at any stage.
- All reasonable steps should be taken not to make outbound marketing
calls to minors.
- Members must block from their telephone contact lists those people who
have specifically requested not to be contacted by telephone.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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