So, just three days after the happy announcement of Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton the witch-hunt began…
Surprisingly, though, the instigator was not one of our more sensationalist tabloid titles but one of our ‘serious’ broadsheets, namely The Times. The story has since been picked up by the Telegraph and The Daily Mail (no surprises there then). Headlines such as “A Mail Order Bride? How the Middleton’s made their millions.”(The Times) or “Is this how the Middletons can afford to pay their part of the Royal Wedding – by selling customers’ personal information for up to £20,000 a time?” (the snappy headline in the Mail) appeared throughout the day.
So, what exactly have the Middleton’s done which is so bad? They have rented their compliant list to the market – along with Debenhams, Tumble Tots, Reader’s Digest, Boden and Vogue to name but a few – funnily enough, none of these brands were mentioned in The Times article or any of the other ones that have appeared.
Party Pieces are compliant, registered with the ICO and as far as I can see simply guilty of making the most of their assets and being successful. And, having the temerity to allow their “middle-class” daughter marry into the Royal Family, of course.
As it says clearly on its website, Party Pieces will only release the names and addresses of its customers if it has been granted permission to do so. Buyers can select the data based on geography, child age and order value – again perfectly within the law and common practice with companies far larger and wealthier than Party Pieces.
Maybe the Middleton’s mistake was to assume that their customers could read and therefore be aware of what they were doing – a fairly safe assumption for an online direct retail business that requires its customers to have a grasp of the English language in order to make a transaction in the first place.
In fairness to The Times, it did indicate in its article that “Party Pieces is registered with the regulator, The Information Commissioner, to trade more than names and addresses of parents”. However, patronising follow up comments such as “although there is no evidence that they currently do so” and “It is understood that Party Pieces believes it acts in full compliance with all legal obligations including the Data Protection Act” infer that something altogether seedier is taking place behind the scenes.
With our economy in the state that it is and DM being worth an estimated £205bn a year in the UK (source: DMA) and the fact that the Middleton’s have acted completely within the law – one would have expected a slightly less sneering and pious journalism from The Times and Telegraph. Legal business enterprise should be encouraged and the continued success of the direct marketing industry championed (not lambasted) by our press.
Most disappointing was the amount of space this non-story was given (front page and two subsequent pages) by The Times, who could have devoted their attention to more pressing issues, such as the escalation of the Korean crisis or even the early appearance of snow…
Dee Toomey is managing director of Scientia Data