Freedom of Information: part of the marketing professional’s tool kit

Did you know that there are 22 people employed in St.Andrews to deal with the Freedom of Information act in Scotland? And a pile more throughout the UK? I certainly didn’t, but thanks to a great seminar last week organised by Edinburgh Coffee Morning regular Alex Robertson, I now do.

“What the flip does that have to do with online marketing?” you may ask, “Surely Freedom of Information is only relevant to journalists looking to hold MPs to account or activists looking for ammunition for their cause?”.

Hopefully the penny will drop when you remember that being a journalist and/or an activist is now part of the day to day life of being in marketing. As you understand that that content creation is now an essential cornerstone of marketing, you’ll be able to appreciate that Freedom of Information has a relevance.

Freedom of Information and Marketing

Still need persuading? The ability to be able to successfully make a Freedom of Information request may just be the route to creating a piece of content that attracts industry or even mainstream media attention.

It might lead to the piece of content that will solve problems for your customers and prospects and yes, it could be that piece of content that makes you trend on Twitter and rank sublimely on Google. Heck, it might even create a new business or service for you, especially if you seek out a dataset and do something unique and valuable with it.

I’d hazard a guess that any professional service firm should be able to dig out some publicly owned information with a marketing value. If you are an accountant there must be some information buried in the depths of HMRC that may be of interest to your clients. If you offer a dentist introduction service, there must be data about NHS and private patient numbers that could be turned into an infographic. If you are an architect, there will be no shortage of information about buildings to dig into. If you are in internet marketing there must be….well that’s one suggestion I am not going to make!

Making an FOI request

The good news is the whole seminar was videod (see below). Here are a few of my notes that I feel may be particularly relevant:

  • Over 80 countries have FOI legislation, Scotland was one of the most recent. Believe it or not Zimababwe was before us (but the law may not be quite so extensive!)
  • You don’t need to justify your request and public bodies have a duty to assist you in making requests, so phone the department before you put your request in.
  • See for help.
  • Try to think about what information will have been recorded and in what format to help your request go through.  (Great quote from one of the speakers, journalist Rob Edwards: “You need to have an idea where the bodies are buried before asking for exhumations”)
  • Request info in electronic format if that is how you want it (provided it falls under “practical”)

If you are considering making a FOI request, I really urge you to watch the video – there were three great speakers all with good stories that they generously shared.

The team behind the talk are planning more events (on different, but likely interesting topics that may or may not be relevant to online marketing) so I’d also recommend you follow them on Facebook.

And one further note, the general consensus at the event was that Scottish FOI law is tough (in favour of those looking for information) – “we have something to boast about”.  In my mind we should therefore make (responsible) use of it.


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