Just over two years ago the Direct Selling Association of the United Kingdom underwent a major overhaul to re-energise the industry and establish stronger relationships with its member companies. After becoming the Director General, I brought together a small team with extensive direct selling experience. We relocated from London to Northampton, in the heart of the country and central to more members. A new logo was created to reflect a modern and vibrant image based on a people business.
Five key objectives were then agreed with the DSA Council and these objectives remain the driving force of the UK DSA. They are:
- Ensure that decisions and actions always add value to our members
- Focus on improving the image of direct selling in the UK
- Work closely with the media, government bodies and opinion formers
- Remain financially secure by controlling tight budgets
- Develop innovative ideas to support members
These objectives have led to many achievements, which include the development of a completely new and interactive website that portrays a dynamic image and is accessible to all. The website has become a major portal for information sharing and is refreshed regularly, providing us with a major communication channel. The result has been incredible, with the number of visits on the old website of 100 per month growing to 10,000 per month and increasing daily. A logical progression has been to embrace social media as a valuable additional communication through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
The next action was to engage an experienced PR company to work exclusively with key media contacts in the national media arena and to develop a library of direct seller case studies in conjunction with member companies. A virtual PR group, made up from contacts within member companies, was established to work closely with the PR team to support industry statements with real life direct seller stories.
The strategy is not simply to say how good direct selling is, but to react to the current trends and news stories such as unemployment, lack of employed work, creating entrepreneurs and talking about the flexible opportunities to earn money in this industry. This approach has resulted in the media presenting the industry in a positive manner. We are building strong relationships with key media, which led to an appearance on primetime BBC TV, national and regional radio coverage and over 250 positive articles appearing in the national press and in trade and women’s magazines.
DSA membership subscriptions have held at the same level and financial security has been maintained, raising funds through the annual conference, training seminars and other innovative ideas such as the introduction of a DSA Rewards Programme available to all member companies and their direct sellers. This programme provides valuable business support with Public Liability Insurance, tax advice and a lapel pin with the DSA logo providing additional security to direct sellers. Alongside this is a rewards system with hundreds of national merchants offering discounts in shops, supermarkets, restaurants, leisure and holidays, and many more—all for the purchase price of £20 (just $30).
Currently, communication between the DSA and the members is at an all-time high. Many companies are thriving despite a deep economic recession, and the overall direct sales appears to be outperforming the retail sector. The lower consumer spend has been balanced by an increase in orders driven by higher recruitment levels.
Significant changes in trends have also taken place, with a 29 per cent increase in the number of men now involved, a 26 per cent increase in people over the age of 50 and more hours being worked generally by the average direct seller. Strong working relationships with government officials are now in place, including a partnership with the ‘All Parliamentary Group on Entrepreneurship.’
We are probably the only industry in the country that delivers the government’s agenda on a daily basis. We provide flexible earning opportunities whilst creating entrepreneurs and developing micro businesses, all vital in driving economic recovery.
We are very proud of what we have achieved in such a short time here in the re-energised DSA. There is still a lot to do but I believe we are on the right track and, more importantly, our member companies believe so, too.
Paul Southworth is Director General of the UK Direct Selling Association.