State of the Industry 2016: Is compliance the greatest challenge?

Agencies are finding compliance an increasingly challenging and complex issue to manage, according to C&IT's State of the Industry report.

Data protection tops the list of concerns for agencies
Data protection tops the list of concerns for agencies

Procurement has long been cited as the enemy of events professionals, causing some of the biggest headaches for agencies and in-house corporate planners alike. But in the last 12 months, a new challenge has emerged to replace it, and its name is compliance.

Almost half of UK agencies (48%) believe that compliance has become a greater challenge to the industry in recent years, with data protection topping the list of concerns.

Giselle Ripken, director of meetings and events at Grass Roots Meetings & Events, says that the compliance challenge is two-fold, with staff training and agency infrastructure both playing an important role.

"European data protection laws have become stricter in recent years. It used to be that as any agency, once you transmitted data, you were no longer responsible for it. Now you must be sure that the person receiving the data follows compliance regulations.  The chain between client, agent and supplier is more closely linked than ever before."

Fay Sharpe, managing director of Zibrant, says that compliance and data protection regulations are a necessity for all companies, and not restricted to the events industry.

"Whatever your business, you must have good housekeeping; invest in your infrastructure and train your staff. You can test the processes you have in place to ensure they’re working. For example, we did an internal test last week with a bogus set of activities, which went out to 30 people. I got a message but didn’t open it, due to the strict policies we have in place."

Technology

For Ripken, the technology boom has increased the challenge of data protection. "The use of technology is ever increasing which means data could be sitting in multiple places. For example, the use of iPads, smart phones and apps. " When it comes to event apps, she advises agencies to ensure they are extremely careful about the information they include. "In most cases you will only be able to contact someone once you’ve requested to network with them, otherwise this information will not be available to you."

She adds that a social media policy is also crucial, as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook continue to dominate events. "I think it’s important for agencies to introduce a social media policy, if they haven’t already. This means that employees never mention clients, location, type of event or any other information when they’re tweeting or uploading Facebook posts." Ripken points out that whilst it’s harder to stop people from breaking compliance regulations at public events, it is possible to monitor the systems. 

Asking the right questions

Alison Williams, head of events at L’Oreal, says that whatever the event, ensuring data protection is an integral part of the planning process, with no exceptions.  "Data protection is something we’re very hot on and it’s a huge issue for us when choosing who to work with. We audit every supplier we work with and go through a series of processes to ensure complete protection."

While many corporates know the right questions to ask, Sharpe argues that in some cases, the awareness is lacking. "Sometimes when individual pitches come in, data protection doesn’t seem to be quite as high priority. They don’t ask as much- perhaps they take it as a given, and I do sometimes wonder if all agencies are equipped to deal with it."

Ripken adds that it’s important for corporates to be aware of every aspect of data, not just the data held directly on servers. "Take badges, for example. If it has a bar code, with data on it, we need to make sure these aren’t just thrown away. We need to ensure that they’re always disposed of properly and that we deactivate any lost badges."

Alternative data storage

In the past, small agencies have been questioned on their ability to meet compliance laws, due to their lack of resources. Chris Clarke, director of Purple Dog Solutions, says it doesn’t have to be as challenging as people think.

"As a small agency, nothing I do is stored on a server, everything is on The Cloud," he explains. "It’s sometimes easier to be a small agency than a large one, because we don’t spend a lot of money on servers. I’m able to keep track of all our data and I know it’s protected by The Cloud." He adds that agencies of any size should only take the data they need, and never share more than is necessary. "For example, some people seem to take an extraordinary amount of data for registration now. I just don’t see this as necessary."

However, as data protection laws were in place before cloud-based businesses were created, he maintains that agencies still need to be aware. "Cloud data protection doesn’t cover old-fashioned laws for printed materials. But this is about training and basic common sense. Never leave documents lying around, destroy materials post-event and never take more data than necessary."

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