Early last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its new five-year strategic plan for the fiscal years 2018 through 2022. I thought I would take this week’s blog post to highlight some of the FTC’s forward-looking operational thinking and how it relates to the Direct Response community. This roadmap will guide the FTC over the next five years so it should provide us with an outline of the FTC’s plans in the years ahead.
The FTC believes that its mission is “protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.”
Three strategic goals are outlined as important in fulfilling the FTC’s mission:
- Protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive practices in the marketplace.
- Maintain competition to promote a marketplace free From anticompetitive mergers, business practices, or public policy outcomes.
- Advance the FTC’s performance through excellence in managing resources, human capital and information technology.
Relative to ERA and its members, the first goal of consumer protection is the most important and is the basis for the FTC to regulate the industry. The FTC has established three objectives to guide its work to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices in the marketplace:
- Identify and take actions to address deceptive or unfair practices that harm consumers.
- Provide consumers and businesses with knowledge and tools that provide guidance and prevent harm.
- Collaborate with domestic and international partners to enhance consumer protection.
The FTC principally collects consumer complaint information from its toll-free helplines, Consumer Sentinel Network and other online complaint systems. Further, the FTC gains consumer complaint information from national surveys, state and federal law enforcement agencies, Better Business Bureaus (BBB) and private entities.
Like the FTC, industry participants should use internal as well as external complaint mechanisms as an early warning system that a problem with claims and substantiation or business practices might be occurring. That is why we continue to work to push ERA members to proactively engage with the BBB on improving BBB rankings by way of example.
However, once problems are identified the FTC targets law enforcement efforts on violations that cause the greatest amount of consumer harm. Injury and harm are deterred by law enforcement efforts that focus on preventing fraud and protect privacy. Therefore, as an industry we should continue to be vigilant and careful about our engagement in problematic product categories as identified by the FTC. Further, a special emphasis should be placed on monitoring any new practices in the marketplace that might cause consumer harm such as the implementation of new technologies or techniques.
The FTC continually works to increase awareness through engagement with its domestic and international partners like ERA to spread the word. Industry participants should take every opportunity to learn more about what the FTC expects from businesses operating in the marketplace. I would encourage you to regularly visit the FTC website for new information, join ERA for its educational offerings including the Government Affairs Fly-In/ERSP Summit, and watch for new developments on ERA’s blog.
To learn more, take 10 minutes to review the FTC’s strategic plan in full. It provides some great insights that could prove useful to you and your colleagues over the next five years.
About the Author
Bill McClellan serves as ERA's Vice President of Government Affairs. Prior to joining the association, Bill worked as a lobbyist at the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association, covering the state legislature and Georgia's congressional delegation. Before working for the GADA, Bill managed political campaigns at both the congressional and state constitutional levels.