NEW YORK: Edelman has rolled out a global privacy and information security unit in response to increased concerns over data breaches and cyber attacks.
"Clients are clearly recognizing that data security and privacy has moved out of the back room and into the board room as a trust, reputation, and brand driver," said Pete Pedersen, Edelman's global technology practice chair.
He will co-lead the group with Ben Boyd, the agency's global corporate communications practice chair.
In the past, Pedersen said, approaches to data security and privacy were handled through IT practices, such buying hardware and installing software to lock in data, and via legal services to aid regulatory practices.
"What we've seen over the past three years in particular is an increasing need for a third line of defense — or line of offense — and that is proactive stakeholder communications around what companies do with the data and how they lock people's data down," he added. "You'd have to agree this is a massive trend from the media's perspective. Everyone is paying very close attention, and that interest has been fueled by a spate of recent high-profile data breaches."
The new group will consist of a cross-practice, cross-office network with key hubs in Edelman's Chicago, Washington, New York, Silicon Valley, Seattle, Brussels, London, and Beijing offices. Subject matter experts in data security will be paired with corporate communications practitioners and other teams within Edelman.
"It's the need to think outside of one area of expertise because this plays into corporate, as well as consumer and brands," commented Boyd. "This isn't an either/or. We see this as a cross-practice network of folks that comes together depending on the client, the need, and the industry."
According to Pedersen, clients are looking for this service, especially non-technology companies in the consumer and healthcare industries who understand the need for better protection of their servers, and digital and mobile ventures.
There has also been a recent uptick in the number of chief security officer roles being created in non-tech firms, he added.
Due to confidentially agreements, Pedersen declined to name the Edelman clients currently using the new offering.
According to a 2010 study by the Ponemon Institute and Symantec, provided by Edelman, 31% of breaches are malicious attacks, which are the most expensive. These attacks are also on the rise, said Tim Smith, SVP of corporate and public affairs at Edelman, who will also work within the new group."We see the primary opportunity is initially in the technology, financial services, and healthcare sectors because of the type of data, and the amount of data they collect and gather," added Smith. "When we talk about privacy and security, it gets complicated fairly quickly, which is part of why there's an opportunity to simplify and demystify."
The increased attention to digital and mobile threats is not only on the corporate side, but on the agency side as well, said Derek Creevey, chief administrative officer at Edelman.
In July 2010, the agency created the new role of VP of information security and privacy. John Iatonna serves in the position, and is responsible for maintaining security over client and employee information, as well as the firm's internal systems.