THE PROFESSOR DEREK HOLDER LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
In partnership with
Rosemary Smith, managing director, Opt-4
When Rosemary started her professional career, having taken a degree in English at University of York, it was in directory publishing, then an important data source for direct marketers. This early involvement in the world of data-driven marketing would prove to be one of the three big themes of her career.
The second theme emerged when she joined the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA) in 1984, her first step into the world of industry bodies to which she has subsequently given a significant amount of her time and energies. At that time, the first Data Protection Act (DPA) was being introduced and causing considerable concern to publishers whose circulation lists were critical sources of revenue.
As she told DataIQ: “I had the job of analysing the legislation and explaining its impact and here I am, 30 years later, doing the same for its successor’s successor.” So the third strand in her career - as a skilled, professional adviser on data protection and governance issues - was set.
Her experience with lists and publishing took her in 1989 to one of the then-leading list brokers, Mardev (subsequently acquired by Reed International), where she rose to the role of managing director in 1992. She has described this as the “science fiction phase” of her career, learning the new language of technology and the explosive growth of DM in the years when direct mail volumes topped 2 billion items in the UK.
As Rosemary recalled in an interview some years later, “DM in the early 90s was speeding along like a thriller. The list business was transforming itself from a nice little sideline for publishers and mail order companies to a full-blown market sector with compiled and lifestyle sources jockeying for broker attention.”
She found herself running the contact centre and fulfilment businesses for Acxiom, before starting The Prospect Shop for Bonnier. Four years later, her entrepreneurial instincts surfaced and she launched and ran her own data business, RSA Direct, from 2003 to 2012. A year afterwards, she took the decisive step of founding Opt-4 together with Jenny Moseley, a former client from National Geographic and a lifelong friend.
Their first task, achieved in just six weeks, was to co-write, “New data protection liabilities and risks for direct marketers”. The experience was formative as data protection legislation, together with the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, continued to evolve and demand explication. Smith describes trying to summarise the latest General Data Protection Regulation in order to brief clients as like “making a two-page summary of War and Peace”.
To this day, the pair continue to advise organisations on UK and international data protection compliance and the maximisation of marketing permissions. It has been a remarkable progression for Rosemary from the early days when data protection was considered “dry and dusty” to the current climate in which individuals demand respect from brands for their data rights in exchange for their trust.
To a significant extent, this new landscape has been shaped by her. Rosemary sat on the board of the Direct Marketing Association for seven years, becoming DMA Chair until 2008. She has been a tutor at the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing, which made her an honorary life fellow in 2009. She has been a member of the Royal Mail Market Reach advisory board and chair of the DM Trust.
As all who know her will attest, Rosemary combines professional skils with personal charisma, finding time for both her industry commitments and her hobbies. As she once put it, “when not messing about in data protection, I am usually messing about in boats.”
To see the entire list of winners and finalists, click here.