You are here

Interview with Andrew Buffrey, Regional Manager of the Direct Marketing Association

For those of our readers who aren’t acquainted with the work of the DMA, please tell us a bit more about yourselves.

The Direct Marketing Association has been leading the way in direct marketing and helping the industry to do better business since 1992. At the heart of what we do are our members. There are more than 900 of them across the UK, including agencies, list brokers and mailing houses, as well as blue-chip companies such as BT, M&S, Lloyds Banking Group and the AA.

Policy and practice are driven by our 12 Councils, which specialise in areas such as training and development, lobbying and business services. They are supported by our 45-strong Central London administration plus teams in Edinburgh, Bristol and Manchester. We’re also a member of the International Federation of Direct Marketing Associations (FDMA) and the Federation of European Direct and Interactive Marketing (FEDMA).

What does the DMA see as the main challenges for business in the year ahead?

The continuing economic downturn in the UK, instability in Europe and the resulting uncertainty for business, volatile stock markets and a lack of confidence among consumers are by far the biggest challenges. While there a pockets of growth, for many organisations trading conditions remain extremely challenging. When sustained recovery does finally emerge, we are likely to be faced with a severe skills shortage – this is already evident in the direct marketing industry and is certainly on the DMA’s agenda.

After a truly innovative few years social media seems to have plateaued a bit, what or who do you for-see as the key players and trends for 2012 – B2B and B2C?

In terms of direct marketing, B2B and B2C are two very different disciplines and social media is no exception. While we have seen various social media come and go in recent years, my view is that Facebook, LinkedIn and Youtube are here to stay. Facebook will become even more sophisticated in serving the needs of the B2C market while LinkedIn will firmly establish itself as the preferred B2B medium. Youtube will continue to appeal to both markets but while there are many benefits associated with social media, we must also be mindful of its darker side.

In terms of the commercial opportunities associated with social media, I was once given some excellent advice which I often share with DMA members: Basically, you should approach social media in the same way as you would to moving into a village. On the first evening you venture into the local pub, look around you, listen and get a feel for who’s in there with you. The next time you might engage in polite conversation with a few willing participants to find out what makes them tick and make yourself known. Only then can you mention that you’re thinking of selling your car and wondering if anyone might be interested in buying it… simple, but sound advice.

The DMA has been active in raising industry concerns about the EU reforms on data protection. Can you tell us a bit more about this? How will it affect the average business, what can businesses do to ensure they are compliant and what as consumers should we do to ensure we control our own data visibility?

There are two issues concerning data privacy protection that affect businesses; one is already here the other is on the horizon. On 26 May, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) started to enforce the new ePrivacy Directive, or Cookie law as it’s come to be known. There has been considerable concern in the business community because of the effect it would have on their digital marketing and the potential cost attached to updating their digital platforms to comply with the law. The main element of the legislation is that companies now have to get permission from people to serve up cookies on their internet connected devices. However, the law is ambiguous on many points around what does and doesn’t constitute consent, so many companies are confused about what they need to do to comply. The DMA has been supporting its members by providing how-to guides for complying with the law for website owners, and email and mobile marketers.

The second reform of data protection comes in the form of the draft EU Data Privacy Regulation. This has yet to go through the process of becoming law, so we could see its proposed reforms being changed when it’s debated in parliament. However, if it were to come into force tomorrow unchanged, then it would have grave consequences. The Regulation would severely limit the way in which companies can market their goods and services, stifle innovation and cost the UK economy heavily. The DMA has been lobbying the lawmakers to help them understand the negative impact this would have. Of course, we need to respect people’s right to data privacy, but this should not come at a cost to business.

Direct mail vs. email marketing? What are your views?

Can we remove vs. from that question please? It’s no longer about one competing with the other  – integration of media and insight into how consumers want to communicate with you is essential to good direct marketing. There are so many communication channels available now and it can be that however many times you e-mail some individuals they will never respond electronically. But a carefully targeted and well executed direct mail pack could prove to be their preferred response device – and vice versa. Having worked in the direct marketing industry for more than twenty years, I’ve witnessed many trends led by advances in technology. My own personal view is that direct mail will always play its part – whatever ‘new media’ comes and goes.

How does the DMA maximise its use of social media?

We adopt the same principles as I outlined in my answer to question five. The DMA communicates via social media with those individuals who like to use it. We recognise that some members prefer other channels of communication and insight enables us to select accordingly. There is little doubt that social media is becoming an increasingly important and powerful direct marketing tool.  However, business in general is still on a rather steep learning curve which is why the DMA runs a Social Media helpline for its members via the DMA website (

The DMA has a commendable environmental focus. What do you consider the fundamentals of best practice for organisations who have not quite mastered entirely paper-free communications?

The DMA has long been leading the way in improving the performance of the direct marketing industry to minimise its impact on the environment. In 2004 we struck a deal with Defra committing the industry to ensuring more direct mail is recycled rather than going to landfill at the end of its lifecycle. The industry hit its target four years ahead of schedule, with more than 75% of used direct mail being recycled, saving nearly 400,000 tonnes of material from going to landfill.

Last November, the DMA announced another agreement with Defra to build on this achievement. Part of this is the creation of a new environmental industry standard. Like its predecessor PAS 2020, the new standard will set out clearly defined processes for making the production and distribution of direct mail more sustainable. Watch this space.

Buying good data is a common problem for marketers – how do we sort the wheat from the chaff?

The first rule is to always buy data from a DMA member – and the second is that the data you buy is only as good as the brief you give to that member.

How far do you reckon the ‘Olympic effect’ will extend across the UK in terms of business?

In February, DMA West and Wales hosted a wine tasting dinner at Avery’s Wine Cellars in Bristol.  Our guest speaker was former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies MBE and I asked her the same question. We both agreed that 2012 is a huge year for the UK with both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympic Games having a positive effect on the country’s morale and economy. Some argue that it’s all rather London-centric, but history shows that in Britain the whole nation comes together at times of tragedy and celebration. This year is all about celebration and the resulting feel good factor coupled with a surge in tourism can only be beneficial to UK plc.

Corporate conferences – cliquey, shameless excuses for days off work or important part of PR/sales/marketing strategy?

Networking, thought leadership and knowledge sharing. These are just three positive outcomes from attending a well organised and relevant high quality event. Need I say more?

Tell us a joke…..

There are three types of statistician – those who can count and those who cannot…