Advertisers Give White House Meeting High Marks

Participants say government wants to preserve data-driven economy

It's not often that advertisers walk out of a meeting with government officials and have good things to say about the experience. But that was the reaction from many of the 20 advertising industry representatives that met Thursday afternoon with the White House's John Podesta and his staff on big data and privacy.

The meeting was one of several Podesta has been holding with various stakeholder groups since President Obama charged his new senior counsel with conducting a comprehensive review of big data and privacy.

Advertisers, pleased with the opportunity to tell their story, got a much a much better reception from the White House compared to reports in the press that demonize all data collection as an invasion of consumer privacy.

"It was the best experience you could have with government," said Dick O'Brien, evp of the 4A's. "It was clear they knew the importance of the digital economy. I got the impression they were there to help."

During the hour-and-a-half-long meeting, Podesta and his staff asked questions covering a broad spectrum of issues, from how advertising uses, analyzes, sells and buys data to target consumers, to data collection, integrity and data security.

The group of advertising representatives, including all seven member organizations of the Digital Advertising Alliance, also talked in detail about the industry's self-regulation Ad Choices program that has made it possible for 2.5 million consumers to opt-out of behaviorally targeted advertising. And yes, the 60 Minutes report on data brokers came up.

But the overall impression was that the administration is looking to strike a balance between consumer privacy and data security while preserving the innovation stimulated by a data-driven economy.

"They seem to get it," said Dan Jaffe, evp of the Association of National Advertisers.

Podesta stayed for the entire meeting. He was described as "knowledgeable" and "smart." He has surrounded himself with a staff that has had experience in the space from companies such as Google.

"It was everything I hoped. I was impressed by the tone and their willingness to listen," said John Montgomery, chief operating officer of GroupM Interaction. "They clearly understand the value of data. There was no incrimination."

It's not clear what will come out of the meeting. Podesta has a tight timeframe to produce a report: 90 days. Other than recommendations and a point of view for the president, no one is expecting any new regulations or even guidelines.