Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone..." But enough of dotcom-queen Martha Lane Fox being spotted by the London papers in a branch of Trailfinders. This does not presage a terminal decline in the on-line booking market, but hey, it's a great story.
One place where you'll find the likes of Ms Fox and other millionairesses is on a list. We now live in the age of the list. We are all on lists which are being bought and sold, and there's little doubt that they are a tool sans pareil for many players in the e-business market. And, as IT technology and CRM (customer relationship management or customers ripe for milking) becomes ever more sophisticated, there is little doubt that the number and sophistication of lists will multiply faster than David Beckham's endorsements.
Moreover, as there are more lists, so there will be lists within lists, giving marketers the facility to tunnel down to the level of, say, 'Britney-fans-who-drink-mild-and-watch-The Grimleys'. Oh, that'll be Kevin in Sebastopol Terrace, West Bromwich then. Call it drilling down to the lowest common denominator.
Buying bulk lists is not cheap but, and this is good news for marketeers if not Joe Ordinary, the price of lists is about to get cheaper than a week in Skegness. Hertfordshire company MarketingFile, which has 58 different lists, mostly vertical sector focused, is now selling lists on a per record basis. So, for example, its IT and communications list, which, at the time of writing held over 33,520 records, sells records at 16 pence each for single use and 26 pence for multiple use. Phone numbers and email addresses for these IT and comms execs can also be supplied.
Now, lists are vital for sales people but for those who are not listaholics it's instructive to know just what's on offer. For example there is The Millionaires' List which comes in the form of a private address book containing contact details for 4,500 of Britain's richest families. Within that there is the Lady Millionaires list which contains details of 1,000 women in the UK whose net worth is at least £1m.
If that's whetted your appetite, then why not plug into the Directors at Home list which gives the private addresses of more than one million directors and company secretaries, culled, no doubt, from Companies House.
And, new lists are coming onto the market faster than a Peter Mandelson u-turn. For the listaholic who likes his/her tipple `demi-sec' there is the Office Equipment Purchasers' List, a right rivetting read that contains details of 85,000 employees with the authority to buy paper clips, rubbers et al. For those in a giving mood, another new list offers total wish fulfilment: Claritas Selector can provide fund raisers with data on seven million known donors to charity in the UK.
Now I'll wager that most of the names on these lists don't know they're on them, and probably don't want to be on them. After all, who wants to be on the buying end of an e-mail for printers campaign. And isn't this all rather like legalised spamming?
Well, the names on these lists are bought by list builders from publishers, holiday companies, warranties, the electoral roll, the Post Office and such like. And they are all (probably) strictly legal.
If you are on a list the chances are that you don't want to be. After all if I was, for example, the third girl from the left in Steps, I certainly wouldn't want my home address appearing on the Rich Women Who Can't Sing for Toffee list would I?
In essence we are victims of the UK's slack laws on data privacy. Some enlightened European (not often those two words go together is it?) countries such as Germany, Austria, Finland and Denmark operate an 'opt-in' regime for list building which means that individuals must give permission for their names etc to be bandied about. Here the opposite applies - individuals have to state that they don't want their details to be passed on to third, fourth, fifth, and so on, parties.
But, my man in Euroland tells me an MEP, by the name of Marco Cappato, is putting forward legislation which will require EU countries to adopt the 'opt-in' approach to lists.
Meanwhile there is no need to suffer in silence if you receive an e-mail or other communique asking if, for instance, you are a lady millionaire who likes giving to charity and is a frequent purchaser of staples, rubber bands, and printer refill cartridges. All it takes is a phone call to the Telephone Preference service (0207 766 4420 or www.tps-online.org.uk) which, with a swish of its virtual wand, should be able to remove personal details from impersonal lists.
This was first published in February 2001