Marketing and PR and the General Data Protection Regulation

EU citizens

My main character in Attenzi – a social business story, the CEO Eli Appel, has this to say over lunch with his chairman:

Good business is about cooperative and interdependent relationships, always has been, yet the humanity was lost when organizations scaled way up during the 20th Century. We want to make those relationships more human again, but the answer can’t be to scale it all back down. We have to scale something else up.

He adds:

... No business can really get to be social in a meaningful and valuable way simply by indulging in social media or by slapping apps onto social devices or by subscribing to a social enterprise network.

Eli is referring here to the visceral difference between 'doing' social (bolted on) and 'being' social (built in), and you know which one you're on the receiving end of in any given situation right?

I sometimes define social business as maintaining relationships at scale, and not in the old CRM 2.0 way. In other words not in terms of 'managing' the customer relationship like it's some livestock that needs tending to, but in responding at a human level. Less parent-child and more adult-adult.

We can attempt this at scale now for one simple reason – the ready ability to harvest data and deal with it. (It also demands new approaches to organising ourselves, but this isn't the post to go into that.)

We've witnessed a decade of incredible tech innovation in marketing, and to a lesser extent public relations, pivoting around the sophisticated real-time machination of data. Unfortunately, instead of aspiring to human relations at scale, practitioners have allowed this flood to undermine the professions' foundations and license to operate. There's no denying that marketing technologists are responsible for constructing a hyper-surveillant society, a dystopian capability that increasingly makes people (aka "targets", "users") feel uneasy. Quite the opposite emotional response to that originally intended.

At least that appears to be the conclusion of the EU's democratic representatives, and in response they are well on the way to ratifying the General Data Protection Regulation. It's expected later this year and then comes into force across the EU's 28 countries within two years.

When you consider what technology was like in 1995, the last time equivalent law was updated in the UK, you can imagine there's quite a gap to close. The legal requirements are considerably more demanding, apply to all organisations regardless of location should they wish to deal with any one of the 500+ million EU citizens, and comes with hefty fines for non-compliance currently expected to be up to 5% of global revenues.

This is going to be very disruptive.

Marketing technology requires re-engineering and re-configuration. It needs privacy / data protection to be built-in not slapped on. (And the same for the corresponding human processes.)

It demands an organisation-wide coherent and cohesive data architecture and data governance. It will require a reappraisal of the way we measure outputs and outcomes.

And lest anyone in PR still consider a data capability a nice-to-have, you should know those days are past. Your PR business, your PR capability, where it encompasses relationships with EU citizens, is now built on data or you have no PR capability at all.

Here's something further to think about. I have had many conversations with technology and consulting firms about the hi:project, an open non-profit at the heart of all this. And even the odd consumer goods company. Yet I'm awaiting my first chat with a marketing or PR firm. Unless this changes pretty soon, I can see a new breed of marketing and PR services provider emerging, and a whole breed acquired at best, dying at worst.

What do you think?...