This guest blog is written by Graham Temple, Chairman, IPM

To the creative industries in general, data is like the accountant you find in the kitchen at parties. You know its role is important, you may even have relied on it yourself in the past, but it’s hardly fun, is it? Well, the accountant in the kitchen is set to take centre stage at the creative party, and it’s all down to the GDPR.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) represents a vast change in how consumer data can be held and used, and its current draft has wide reaching implications for advertising, media planning and marketing engagement. The new EU-wide rules impact anyone planning or conducting cross-border promotional campaigns – essentially most of the biggest brands in Europe and overseas, not to mention agencies of all shapes and sizes. And the implications of keeping your head in the sand on its effects are potentially up to €20 million or 4% of annual global turnover. Suddenly that accountant is now sounding interesting.

Companies large and small need to be aware of the changes coming their way. The GDPR essentially means that consent for use of consumer data must be a ‘freely given, specific and informed indication’ of the data subject’s wishes. The right to be forgotten has been strengthened and an individual’s data should be deleted if they object to processes, which has huge knock-on effects for companies in notifying other businesses who may be processing their data. Big brands will need to know who in the often complex networks of their agencies is using their customer data, and how it is being put to work. The GDPR, in essence, is making any business wanting to market to consumers in Europe more responsible for their activities than ever before. It places still more power into the hands of consumers who may object and withdraw from communication methods. Permission is going to become a hotter and hotter topic as we move through the year.

I recently hosted a Chairman’s Dinner at the House of Lords, attended by some of the largest international brands and creative agencies debating the implications of this impending legislation. As you can imagine, it was a spirited and discursive discussion. The UK in particular is especially sensitive to issues around consumer data at the moment following some high profile consumer cases of data misuse and sharing, not to mention issues with hacking hogging the headlines. However, ultimately the conversation pivots around the consumer.

Many marketers may be used to following a simple process to ensure their campaigns fall within acceptable parameters for consumers – is it compliant with current legislation and thinking, or not? The GDPR forever changes the playing field of this relationship: brands and agencies alike are going to have to go far beyond the basics when it comes to looking after their customers’ best interests, in favour of keeping people continually happy to receive those communications. This is a rapid acceleration of the ‘customer is king’ shift which has been underway for some time. Brands will have to think long and hard about whether conversations undertaken with their customers are genuinely being conducted on the right topics, at the right time, said in the right way, in a more focused fashion than ever before. Consumers will have quite the weapon to wield if they are dissatisfied in any way. They are being given the ultimate opt-out – the option to delete their data from all associated businesses.

The GDPR means that everyone in the creative chain will need to ensure that they are only asking for information from consumers that is necessary – asking for phone numbers, email addresses and home addresses to build greater insight on an individual will be no more, but perhaps the greatest challenge facing us all lies in preparing for the changes.

Forewarned is forearmed, and two years is plenty of warning. The time is now for the creative industries, their trade bodies and members to collaborate and effectively prepare for these vast new changes. Given the GDPR has potential to rule over everything from big mass creative approaches through to small and bespoke promotional activations, it is imperative that we start talking with each other and developing strategies to share any consumer feedback effectively. This is going to require a shift in mindset – away from the best interests of the business towards a firm and continued focus on the customer. It’s time, regardless of discipline or agency type, for the creative industries to prepare themselves, and their clients, accordingly.