ABC marketers 'too personal'

By Emma Farge

“Intrusive” questions posed by magazine telemarketers under the
Audit Bureau of Circulations’ rules are causing some subscribers to
fear they are being targeted by fraudsters.

Under ABC rules, controlled-circulation magazine publishers must
pose a Personal Identifier Question (PIQ) to each customer requesting a
subscription.

ABC auditors will later ask the same question to a
sample group of these subscribers to verify the accuracy of publishers’
circulation figures.

Publishers have received alarmed phone calls
from readers after they were asked to reveal the first two letters of
their mothers’ maiden name by telemarketers.

The question, often
posed by banks, led subscribers to mistake the callers for fraudsters
trying to obtain confidential financial information.

Sarah
Wilson, head of circulation at Perspective Publishing, which owns
Charity Times, Retail Systems and Pensions Age, received concerned
phone calls from free subscribers.

She said: “The questions were regarded as being intrusive and we had people calling in to see if it was a scam.

“They
feared they were going to be cheated. Personally, I wouldn’t have
picked that question and I’d rather they (the ABC) didn’t use it again.”

The
Personal Identifier Question is set by an ABC committee of media
buyers, advertisers and publishers in November of each year.

Peter
Grant, circulation director at Haymarket, received similar complaints
and advised ABC to change the 2005 question earlier this year.

“The other alternative they came up with is the colour of your car, which is pretty nonsensical,” he said.

Martyn
Gates, director of newspaper and consumer magazines at ABC, said he
knew nothing of the problem, but added that ABC would respond if it
became a serious issue.

He said: “If they (publishers) are making phone calls to customers, it’s their responsibility that they make a proper call.

“But if this turns out to be serious, we will look again at the PIQ.

“The
question should be personal – but not too personal. It’s getting the
balance right – that is why the publishers themselves decide on the
question.”

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