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March 13, 2017 The impact of GDPR on the PR industry

Robert Bownes, director of communications at data science and intelligence marketing company, Profusion

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a series of new rules governing marketing data. In particular, the need for ‘explicit consent’ from the recipient of a marketing message, and for this consent to be ‘verifiable’ – i.e. the company doing the marketing must have clear records showing the provenance of the data.

GDPR, which takes full effect in May 2018, covers both B2B and B2C communications and what constitutes a marketing message has room for interpretation. It is also already on the statute books in the UK – so if you’re thinking that Brexit makes it a moot point, you’re sadly mistaken.

If you’re a PR agency or in-house team that relies on unsolicited emails to journalists to secure coverage or interviews, you could have a big problem. By big, I mean a fine for breaching GDPR of 4% of global revenue or €20 million, whichever amount is bigger.

Put it this way, if you contact a journalist for the first time via email with a press release about your new product, the content of that email could constitute ‘marketing’ rather than a ‘service’ or information email.
The journalist could demand to know where you got their contact information from and proof that they consented to receiving marketing material from you. At that point, if you can’t prove that they clearly opted-in to being contacted and provide the history behind how you collected their information, you could be in a pickle.

PR and marketing departments will also need to make all data ‘portable’. Which basically means if someone asks for a copy of all the data you hold on them, you’ll have to provide it. Also, at any point you can request for your data to be destroyed. So if the journalist is particularly prickly (what are the chances?), they could demand you destroy his data and never contact him again. If, in a year or so, a new wide-eyed account executive at your company decided to take the initiative and drop this journalist (that mysteriously doesn’t appear on any media lists) an email you could be in an even bigger pickle.

Now this may all sound doom and gloom. However, like I said, the line between PR and marketing is far from clear. Ultimately, in practice, there could be a lot more wiggle room for PR messages. For many organisations, a record of correspondence with a journalist could also constitute consent to receive further messages. Finally, liability could fall on media database companies. However, while there is ambiguity and risk, many PR companies will do well to invest in data management technology – something they should be doing anyway – to store, manage and harmonise their information on clients and journalists.

Undoubtedly, GDPR represents a bigger challenge for marketers, and will make a lot of traditional marketing methods impractical. This in turn could create more opportunities for PR firms by making it a more straight-forward, risk-free communications channel.

What do you think? Continue the #CommsChat with Robert Bownes on Twitter.

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