In the (slightly misquoted) words of Justin Timberlake ‘it’s gonna be May’, which in 2018 means only one thing: GDPR regulations come into force across the UK. Unsurprisingly for an industry that relies on contacting journalists, sometimes cold, with pitches, this news has thrown the PR industry into something of an all-out panic. I even came across a great quote from ResponseSource founder Daryl Wilcox, who’d been forced to quash rumours that “the new regulations were specifically aimed at PRs because of the inclusion of the letters ‘P’ &’R’ in GDPR.”
This handy guide is aimed at all PRs worried about the impact GDPR could have on their business, busting certain myths and giving you a handy checklist to stay one step ahead of the game.
What is GDPR Really?
For those of you who snorted coffee out of your nose with fear on reading Mr Wilcox’s above quote, please don’t worry – GDPR is not solely aimed at PRs, or in fact the marketing industry. It’s a blanket EU ruling designed to monitor who holds personal information on other private individuals, and how that data is stored and shared.
For anyone who’s been keeping an eye on the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, or had a call about a car accident that wasn’t their fault, this should actually be a relief. You’d also be right to relax, as these are arguably the kind of activities GDPR is designed to rein in, rather than above-board PR activity. To understand how this might then apply to PR teams, let’s look at the full wording of the first four clauses of the ruling:
Personal data shall be:
While that might be all Greek to you if you don’t speak fluent legalese, it’s actually pretty simple. In short, any personal data your company might hold needs to be:
Other clauses expand upon how long data can be stored on your systems (basically only as long as you need it) and how it should be stored safely. So far, so simple, right?
The grey area in which PR gets caught is that “legitimate purposes” wording. We know that PRs need access to a wide database of journalist phone numbers and emails to strike up relationships and maintain contacts in order to place stories. We also know that the only contact details usually available are generic news desks, which could see your carefully crafted pitch fall into a slush pile from which it will never return. But are we still able to store that data, and share it with others in our team who don’t yet have their own little black books?
The answer is…maybe. In the UK, it will be the ICO who decide how to translate the GDPR into rules that can be applied to UK activity, and they have yet to confirm how they’ll actually do that. However, it’s arguable that PR doesn’t need to worry too much: as we often contact journalists to pass on news or product launches they want and need to show consumers to keep their engagement high, we have a more symbiotic relationship than in other cold-calling industries. It should be apparent to governing bodies that the news cycle can’t just grind to a halt in four weeks’ time, which can lead us to the assumption that PR’s storing of journalist contacts has a ‘legitimate purpose’.
However, before you breathe a sigh of relief and click away from this article, it’s worth remembering that none of this is yet certain. To protect yourself and your team from any complainants or breaches, it’s worth following the steps below.
Preparing for GDPR: A Step-by-Step Guide
Whether or not you’re feeling prepared for the 25th May, or just looking for some more information on how to move PR forward for your business on a more general level, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re also happy to meet for a coffee and a chat!
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