By: Jennifer Mills
We are demonstrating to
the FTC and the regulatory authorities that we prioritize compliance in our companies.”
—Brian Bennett, Vice President of Government Affairs and Policy, DSA
Last summer the Direct Selling Association (DSA) began work on a comprehensive compliance program which will be available to both member and non-member companies.
With a planned roll-out in January 2021, the Direct Selling Compliance Professional Certification Program (DSCP-CP) is designed to sharpen the understanding of participants as it relates to their own company’s compliance program and improve the reputation of the channel.
According to Brian Bennett, DSA’s vice president of government affairs and policy, the DSCP-CP will pro-vide needed tools to enable compliance teams at both member and non-member companies to establish strong compliance policies. It will include comprehensive training to build out compliance best practices and knowledge of regulatory issues in order to mitigate risk.
Bennett says, “We are demonstrating to the FTC and the regulatory authorities that we prioritize compliance in our companies. Additionally, a program like this helps ensure that companies have a consistent compliance background.”
The inaugural program begins Jan. 12, 2021. The exclusive content for the DSCP-CP will be provided by attorneys at Baker Hostetler and Kelly Drye & Warren LLP, notably, Linda Goldstein and John Villafranco, seasoned advertising law executives. Jonathan Gilliam, CEO of Momentum Factor/FieldWatch, will be faculty for a compliance module. Members of the regulatory and self-regulatory community are also being asked to address attendees, says Bennett.
Villafranco says, “The certification will be granted to individuals and will demonstrate that a company is committed to compliance and equipped with an understanding of core concepts needed to develop and implement an effective compliance program.”
The program will include four three-hour online sessions for a total of 12 hours to be taken over several days. Modules will have topics such as “Claims Substantiation and Dis-closures”; “Income and Lifestyle Claims”; “Product Claims”; “Monitoring and Removal of Claims from Social Media Platforms”; “The Role of Compliance in Your Organization”; and “Conveying the Right Marketing Message.”
Villafranco says the content is based on current advertising law standards and includes FTC guidance and cur-rent case law.
At the end of the course, participants will be tested to demonstrate whether or not they understood the program and the requirements of compliance.
Bennett says the program will be offered a couple of times a year, with one opportunity hopefully coinciding with the DSA Fall Conference, when in-person participation may be safe again and the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer limiting such activities.
The certification is only for individuals and does not certify an entire company. Even if the whole compliance team gains certification under the program, Bennett warns that it is not a shield to regulatory prosecution or action.
He says, “What we would expect is if you have this level of compliance understanding, you’ll take these principles back to your company. The implementation of these principles and the spreading of education throughout the company would hopefully help in limiting the exposure to scrutiny.”
The Increasing Role of Compliance Departments
Gilliam says the program should dramatically improve the common understanding of compliance principles across the channel. “It’s time the industry organized around consistent application of practices across companies,” he says. “This is one very positive step toward compliance effective-ness and can only point us collectively in the right direction.”
Gilliam says his clients have asked about similar programs in the past. “I think everyone is looking for a single source of knowledge in their compliance programs, and this effort should further ‘professionalize’ the compliance function.”
Compliance departments are moving to a more prominent role within a company’s functionality as a growing trend, according to company insiders. Bennett expects most participants in the program will come from the legal and compliance departments.
However, he adds that many general counsels he has spoken with hope that their company sales and marketing teams also participate, as they are allies in the fight for sound compliance.
Bennett says the addition of sales and marketing teams will only help to bridge the gap in understanding compliance and recognizing what crosses the line into risky territory. To go a step further, advertising and marketing may have the potential to serve as gatekeepers, or as one general counsel said, be able to “issue-spot” when something doesn’t feel right.
The additional benefit of offering certification is that compliance teams can introduce all of their members to the material as they hire or promote people through the company’s ranks. The program would provide an efficient and cost-effective way of educating them on their company programs. Bennett says he would like to see the interest spread within companies with more participants, which would ultimately show regulators the company and channel have prioritized compliance.
“Then we can go to the FTC and we can say, ‘We have 1,000 people who have gone through the program, and we believe that they have an under-standing of compliance basics.’”
The individual cost to participate in the DSCP-CP is $299 for DSA members and $599 for non-members, and everyone is welcome.
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