Data privacy is a reputational issue, and CCOs should be involved

Data governance is an area where smart CCOs must take the lead, says Weber Shandwick's Micho Spring.

Data intelligence offers unprecedented opportunities. It can help improve customer experiences, enhance product development, recruit talent, and help capture market share. There’s little doubt the marketing and comms community has benefited from the new sources of consumer data.

But data intelligence also comes with immense responsibility – it requires thoughtful data governance: the management of the availability, usability, integrity, and security of organizational and customer data.

Companies that fail to take data governance seriously risk something far more precious than the benefits from data intelligence: their reputations.

The role of the CCO in guiding an organization’s data governance is critical and it’s an area where smart CCOs must take the lead.

And just as CCOs manage comms around data incidents, they must help brands head off breaches in the first place – by ensuring the organizations are in compliance with data laws and regulations and are following internal safeguards.

Consumers are demanding this and pay close attention to how their information is used and protected. A 2018 Public Affairs Council study found that Americans consider personal data loss to be one of the most serious failures a company can make.

The issue impacts every sector — from finance and healthcare to manufacturing and services — and a lapse in data governance can have dire reputational consequences.

Data privacy is also a major concern of governments in all major economies. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), gives individuals greater control over their personal data, simplifies the regulatory environment, and is becoming the de facto standard across multiple markets.

At Davos last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for greater international oversight of data usage and Japan put the topic on the agenda for this year’s G20 Summit.

In countries without a national standard, like the U.S., consumers and employees increasingly expect companies to strictly adhere to self-imposed standards for data privacy.

So, what can CCOs do to address data governance issues, avoid data crises and be in the best position to respond to a breach? Here is a checklist:

Audit the current data protection practices and assess the risks. Ask the most senior data and technology executive you work with if your organization is working to ensure compliance.
Work with these executives to understand your organization’s data-related reputational risks and ensure you are living up to your customer’s expectations.

Prioritize the issue. Data management has moved from the back office to the executive suite and many companies are hiring chief data officers to work alongside other C-level managers. Explore opportunities for your company to take the lead on data privacy, like openly supporting new standards.

Educate employees about your data governance procedures. Your data governance policy is only as strong as its internal infrastructure and culture of commitment. This should include employee training, scenario planning and drills, and having a strong, top-down commitment to data governance.

You can’t outsource responsibility. Remember, your company is legally responsible for your customer’s data even when third-party vendors are hacked. Make sure your vendors are following your company’s data protection policies.

Align your corporate leadership around a core set of data principles and values. Once you understand how your company uses and shares data, build a culture that understands the seriousness of data governance. Use your values to frame everything you say publicly about data issues. Keep those communications simple, clear and complete.

Double down on transparency. In the future, GDPR-like privacy governance will become the global standard for organizations hoping to build and keep consumer trust. You must be transparent about your data practices. Without a doubt, 2019 is the year to double down on embracing data protection and transparency.

Get ready for what comes next. With so many competing views on data governance, there is no consensus on what a global architecture might be. Organizations should be involved in the policy debate at the national and multinational level. Start by assessing the business risks and opportunities presented by likely changes in global and national regulatory approaches to data and use this to inform your priorities for advocacy and education.

Micho Spring is chair of Weber Shandwick’s global corporate practice and president, New England.

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