Ethical Marketing
Data Privacy fiasco
No doubt you have followed the recent Governmental cock-up in IT with a mixture of disbelief, interest and anger. HMIRCE burning the records of 25 million individuals onto CD's and then sending it unprotected in an insecure mail system.
If a business were to do this, they would be rightly chastised, and the officers of the company facing huge fines and possible prison sentences. The Teflon Government, whilst getting a hard time about the issue are blaming it on a 'junior' - how convenient!
Data Protection and privacy are key elements to building and maintaining customer trust. Unlike other areas of legal compliance, there is only to be a single company ( that offers audits of a company's privacy procedures.
Don't get caught out like HM Inland Revenue Customs Excise. Make sure that your database is safe, your security procedures solid and your privacy policies are understandable and relevant to your customers.
Privacy Audit provides an objective and impartial approach to auditing your data security procedures, providing you with a snapshot of your data privacy operations, and your database marketing, as opposed the technical IT elements. At the end of the process you will get a quality mark proving your compliance with the audit criteria, and therefore with the Data Protection legislation.
In this age where identity fraud is rife, and information easier than ever to compile, surely it is time for companies that value their customers to engage in ensuring adequate (or better still, more than adequate) data security procedures, and to be able to prove it to all stakeholders within the company?
What does this do for your business? By proving that you take privacy seriously, you will
build trust amongst your customers and partners, which in turn will strengthen your relationships with them. So what does your company look like in terms of data privacy - could you be the next HMIRCE, or can you prove to your customers that you take your relationship with them, and their privacy serious? Can you afford to be another HMIRCE? If not, contact Privacy Audit today.
Play It By Trust - finally published
Play It By Trust - a guide to ethical digital marketing. Thom's book has finally been published to help marketers and business leaders understand the new media landscape, and to remove the stigma of unethical and illegal activities that dominate this lawless media.
In addition to the book, Thom has also set up a website, with a blog to discuss issues of ethics and trust in the marketplace. You can find the website at -
The book is currently available at the
publisher's website as a download or as a hardback version, and will soon be available on store websites such as Amazon - look out for it.
Since the law came into force, websites have had to be accessible to all visitors. I did an analysis of the FTSE100 companies in October 2005 and very few were accessible. Some said they were, and a very small number were accessible, but failed to mention it - as a Marketer, I feel you should always inform your customers about the good things you are doing.

Since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) came into force there have been a number of companies popping up claiming to provide accreditation. For the exorbitant prices they charge, I feel that companies are getting a raw deal, but more of that shortly.

To comply with the DDA a website must be able to be read by all visitors. This means that websites written in Flash are generally inaccessible, as the code merely states that the site contains a flash file. There are ways to make Flash accessible, but I feel that there are also other ways to open the site up, after all, the companies with Flash splash pages as their homepage are generally shooting themselves in the foot with regards Search Engines.

If you have images, and that includes buttons for your navigation, you should tag them. This is using the Alt (or alternative text) tags - a very simple process that I get my students doing from day-one when I teach web design. It can also be a useful way of increasing the mention of certain keywords, again helping with your Search Engine listing.

The use of style sheets (CSS) also improves the readability and accessibility of your website as it strips the page code of such extraneous code as font and colour information, and can also help in controlling the layout, and even the navigation. I recently built a site that uses CSS to provide a pull-down menu navigation system - check it out at

The main topic of this blog, however, is the wanton abuse of customers by these companies offering certification. Web consultancies are charging customers for an audit, and then pushing their consultancy services onto them for even minor errors or issues. The Royal National Institute for the Blind is also offering accreditation, whilst also trying to encourage case law through legal action, and setting up a consultancy and training business. Finally, the quality assurance insurance has leaped on this bandwagon, offering audits (which I agree, they are good at) for the technicalities of a website (which they have no track record in). A phrase comes to mind here - SNAKE OIL SALESMEN!

So what can you do?

The WAI was set up by the W3C - The World Wide Web Consortium - led by the founder of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. It has a checklist of attributes for certain levels of accessibility, which anyone can follow, and audit their own site. There are tools that will allow you undertake automated audits of your website - tools like Bobby from Watchfire, or Ask Cythnia - which give you a detailed assessment of code or page assets that are inaccessible.

Interpretation is where you may find things problematic. In this case, why not hire consultants to help you interpret and correct the information, rather than pay them to use the same tools to tell you what needs doing? Save some money! They may claim that you are getting a 'recognised, international standard' - rubbish - you can link to the WAI standard if you meet the criteria. That is the only international standard, and it is free. There is NO other international standard - don't let them kid you otherwise.
I wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph Business Club on the subject of Accessibility, which you can get from the Club's archive, or via a site I put together to compile interesting marketing articles (and all my own articles!) - just visit In this article I was telling readers that the W-Mark from the Excellence Ireland Quality Assurance company was the best standard. I would like to publicly withdraw this, as I have had dealings with this company and doe not find them trustworthy. I also feel that they have jumped onto this bandwagon, and are not providing a cost-effective service to customers. In the article I also mention other suppliers of 'accreditation' - my previous comments apply to these companies too.

So, my advice is to do yourselves a favour and do your own audits. Get expert help when you have the results of the audit, and be specific about your requirements - this could save you a 5-figure sum!

If you are redesigning, or about to embark on a new website, you should insist that it is built to WAI standards - anything less will mean that your site is being built to illegal specifications. And it should not cost you any more. I recently quoted for a website, and lost the tender. I was double the price of the company that won the tender, but that is because I know the value of my time. The new website, however, was not built to WAI standards, and I was asked to quote to get it to the standard - that would have cost the company the same price as the original build, bringing it up to my quote - retrofitting is not easy! They refused and are operating an illegal website, which for their business, I would say is highly unethical and financially dangerous.

Accessibility is good, right and proper, but you needn't get fleeced when being legal.