I've finally received a response to the Freedom of Information request I submitted in May (see Where's out super-duper opt-out scheme?). To refresh your memory, I had asked Defra for information about the implementation of the so-called 'responsibility deal' it had agreed with the junk mail industry in November 2011. As part of the agreement the Direct Marketing Association was to launch an
improved single contact preference service for unaddressed mail by April 2012. This didn't happen, and when I asked Defra and the Direct Marketing Association what had caused the delay and when the website was due to be launched they both refused to give me a straight answer. Hence the Freedom of Information request.
The stack of papers I've received is, as per usual, incomplete. Nevertheless, it gives a good insight into what has been happening over the last couple of months. If you don't want to read all the gory details, the main conclusions are as follows:
- A steering group that was supposed to oversee the implementation of the opt-out scheme has never met.
- The opt-out website has been built. The opt-out scheme has been named the Door Drop Preference Service.
- The Direct Marketing Association is refusing to launch the website until Defra has made sure that
other organisations representing industries that produce and distribute other kinds of printed materials to householdsalso commit to the deal.
Now for those gory details...
The steering group that never met
The responsibility deal states that a steering group would be set up to oversee the implementation of the responsibility deal. The Freedom of Information request has learned that to date the steering group hasn't met once.
One of the members of the group is supposed to be WRAP, a non-for-profit company aiming to
work together for a world without waste. I don't know much about the company but I had hoped it would speak up for the environment and recipients of junk mail. Of the parties that were supposed to be on the steering group WRAP appeared to be the only one that might have dared asking one or two critical questions. Sadly, they were never given the opportunity. Even sadder - WRAP never protested against being sidelined.
WRAP is mentioned in the paperwork I've received. In January, Viki Coopin, the company's 'Community Partnerships Project Manager' sent an internal e-mail about PaperKarma. She reckoned the junk mail app is
a great concept and interesting with the work coming up on junk mail. This prompted Rachel Gray, who apparently was supposed to represent WRAP on the steering group, to ask Simon Dawes of the Defra Waste Programme when the steering group would have its first meeting. Simon Dawes replied he was
still waiting for the DMA to arrange the first steering group.
That first steering group was never arranged - and WRAP simply accepted it wouldn't have any say in the setting up of the opt-out scheme. Rachel Gray did chase Simon Dawes three times for more information about the opt-out website but this was only because WRAP wanted to mention the website in an 'ezine'. On 16 March 2012 she finally got an answer from Mr Dawes; he still didn't have
any concrete info but would be having a meeting with the DMA and Royal Mail in April at which they would
present their work to date.
It seems, then, that WRAP was only mentioned in the responsibility deal because it would give the document an air of legitimacy. Unless the information Defra sent me is even more incomplete than I fear it is WRAP has had zero involvement.
The delay (and what to do when the Daily Mail comes calling)
Only on 5 April 2012 did it become clear that the launch of the opt-out website wouldn't happen that month. On that day Mike Lordan, Chief of Operations at the Direct Marketing Association, sent Simon Dawes two drafts of a 'press holding statement' that could be used should anyone ask why the scheme hadn't been launched yet:
One of the measures pledged in the agreement between the DMA and Defra to cut physical waste and carbon emissions produced by the DM industry was the introduction of a new single-contact preference service for householders to opt out of receiving all types of advertising mail. Initially, this website was earmarked to go live in April 2012. The launch of the service has been temporarily delayed because Defra's continuing negotiations with other organisations representing companies that deliver unaddressed printed materials to householders, such as free newspapers. To ensure householders enjoy a fully effective service, it needs full industry backing. It is expected that the website will go live in the summer.
The new single-contact preference service that was due to go live in April has been delayed until the summer due to continuing negotiations with other parties that were committed to, as part of the agreement, yet to being finalised.
Simon Dawes replied to say he liked the
simpler one. I guess he preferred the short version because he didn't agree with the implicit accusation in the longer version; namely that Defra was to blame for the delay. Whatever his thinking was, it's unfortunate he didn't refute the accusation right there and then. For when someone did ask why the scheme hadn't yet been launched shit hit the fan.
The person who asked the dreaded question was me. On 2 May 2012 I had phoned the Direct Marketing Association to find out why the opt-out service hadn't been launched in April and when the website was due to go live. Tristan Garrick, the organisation's PR Manager, had told me I would get a call from Mike Lordan - but despite chasing the Direct Marketing Association (and Defra, and WRAP) I never got an answer.
I've now learned that my query sparked a row between the Direct Marketing Association and Defra. It started with an e-mail from Tristan Garrick to Mike Lordan, Simon Dawes and Sasha Fuller (Defra's Press Officer). Mr Garrick stressed the need
to agree our position on what to say about why the single opt-out preference service website has yet to go live. It appears he wasn't that worried about me asking horrible questions but he did state that I got
some very good contacts in the consumer press - apparently I'm particularly close with the Daily Mail - and that he expected
a journalist to call within the next few days. His proposal was to use the 'press holding statement' the Direct Marketing Association had drafted on 5 April.
As mentioned, Simon Dawes hadn't explicitly objected to the accusation that Defra was to blame for the delay. However, when Sasha Fuller read the statement she did object. The following day, 3 May 2012, she told Tristan Garrick that there was no reason for the Direct Marketing Association not to go ahead with the launch of the opt-out website. The responsibility deal stated that Defra would
commit to engage with other parts of the industry [such as publishers of free newspapers - JB] but not that the opt-out website would only be launched once those 'other parts' had been successfully engaged.
Mike Lordan didn't agree. The same day he replied to Sasha Fuller:
The key players in our Industry [...] do not agree that Defra have done what they committed to in the agreement. The major sticking point is the sentence that says: 'Therefore, Defra will commit to engage with other parts of industry that are delivering unaddressed printed material to householders with a view to improving the environmental performance of those other delivery channels' [emphasis by Mike Lordan - JB]. We do not accept that this has been done in any meaningful way. Without this it would not achieve the first bullet point on the next page of the agreement.
At this point Tristan Garrick proved he's a true PR-man. He intervened and reminded Sasha Fuller of the importance to find a way out. After all, they needed a
satisfactory answer to the question [why the launch of the website has been delayed] when the Daily Mail comes calling.
In her reply, Sasha Fuller objected that the Direct Marketing Association's statement was
very misleading and bluntly suggested that the Direct Marketing Association could tell the Daily Mail that they are committed to delivering the website and that they will do so shortly. Clearly, she implied that the Direct Marketing Association should just get on with it and launch the website. To this Mike Lordan and Tristan Garrick wouldn't commit. On 4 May 2012 they suggested a new statement:
The new user-friendly website that enables householders to opt out of receiving unwanted advertising mail has been developed. Agreement is now being reached with other organisations representing industries that produce and distribute other kinds of printed materials to households to commit them to also support the scheme. Their support will make the opt out service even more effective than was first expected. The website will go live as soon as possible.
It's not difficult to see the compromise. The Direct Marketing Association dropped its claim that the responsibility deal states that the new opt-out scheme would only be launched if and when other industry bodies would also get involved, and they no longer put the blame for delay with Defra. However, at the same time they made the involvement of other industry bodies part of the deal; the statement implies that the website will be launched only if a bunch of other industry representatives join the party (to
make the opt out service even more effective than was first expected). And, the sting in the tail is that the Direct Marketing Association has removed the timetable;
as soon as possible should be translated as 'whenever the unmentioned other organisations are on board' - and that may take a very long time indeed.
Surprisingly, Sasha Fuller accepted the compromise. In effect, Defra has now agreed that the opt-out scheme won't be launched until they've managed to convince other paper wasters to join the opt-out scheme.
It's worth noting that, in January 2012, Simon Dawes met with one of the organisations that apparently should become part of the opt-out scheme: the Professional Publishers Association. In an e-mail to Mike Lordan he said he had
raised the issue of leaflets in magazines and the need to improve targeting at the meeting but that it
wasn't an issue that was on their radar. Furthermore,
they knew [very] little about current industry practice. The only positive outcome of the meeting was that the organisation would
do a bit of digging to see what can be done and hold a meeting in March
to discuss possible ideas.
Mr Lordan's response was:
That's great Simon thanks. I'm sure he meant that.