An Unlikely Hero of Advertising: the Data Protection Officer

As the industry contends with turbulence, a DPO can help publishers navigate regulations by advocating for consumer privacy

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In October 2023, AOP and Deloitte announced the results of their Digital Publishers’ Revenue Index for Q2 2023. Total revenue for publishers was up 0.3% from Q2 2022, but far more interesting was the 154.8% growth in the “miscellaneous” category. This was driven by publishers’ growth in data monetization and interest-based audience segmentation; publishers are learning that the relationship they have with their audiences is their most valuable asset.

In the UK and globally, publishers are by no means out of the woods. Look no further than the macro changes disrupting the marketplace: the open web continues its ongoing struggle with the walled gardens for its fair share of ad spend. Meanwhile, layoffs beset some of the largest and most well-established media brands in the world. Research by Press Gazette found that across Q1 2023, at least 3,340 job cuts were reported or announced at publishers in the UK and North America.

This is coupled with the breakneck speed of compliance legislation coming out of the EU, including the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, which both reared their heads in autumn, as well as the ongoing discussions between the various global Data Protection Authorities and the IAB. Indeed, publishers have arrived at a new norm of intense regulation and scrutiny of data usage, with enforcement actions driving iterative updates to standards, how they are interpreted and ultimately how they work in practice.

Against such challenges, publishers need to double down on their relationships with users, but who is placed in their business to do this? A perhaps unlikely hero is the answer: the Data Protection Officer (DPO).

Publishers need the help

Of course, DPOs have played a vital role in helping publishers navigate privacy regulations and standards since GDPR came into force five years ago. Their role in balancing the risks posed by regulation and the need to drive growth and innovation cannot be underestimated. Now, with publishers under increasing pressure to deliver revenue and value to brands, DPOs have a new opportunity to continue protecting consumers while enabling innovative solutions that support growth.

Strategies and opportunities that DPOs identify to protect personal information, may open up new revenue streams. They help commercial teams develop strategies to build closer relationships with their users, which can in turn create a more valuable audience for their advertising partners.

Indeed, in today’s market, DPOs don’t operate in a vacuum; as the company’s liaison with consumers, they are acutely aware of the changing media landscape. For example, the growth of the app ecosystem and connected TV space is changing how brands target and engage with consumers. Meanwhile, brands are under immense pressure to ensure that every dollar spent is both addressable and measurable. DPOs act in the privacy interests of consumers; that duty is consistent with urging their company to adopt new, privacy-centric solutions to fit what this evolving market needs.

Critically, the playbook of the walled gardens is now replicable on the open web and presents a huge opportunity for publishers to take back market share of marketer ad spend.

Big tech companies have taken a disproportionate amount of the pie for so long because they invested heavily in creating a value exchange with their users that encouraged people to share more information. Without having to rely on third-party identifiers, they were able to help brands target ads at the specific people they wanted to reach and ultimately, measure the outcomes of those campaigns.

This is why so many publishers are developing an “authenticated user strategy,” to start capturing people-based marketing budgets. While it is new territory for many publishers, they are taking this leap to future-proof their businesses as brands evolve their media buying strategies.

DPOs can help here by separating the wheat from the chaff, and by discerning identity solutions that properly respect privacy standards from those, such as fingerprinting, that increase risk to consumers. Only solutions that minimize risk to personal information, such as authenticated identity (with consent), should form the foundation of a company’s advertising stack.

Leading the best path forward

A publisher’s most valuable asset is their relationships with their users. Authenticated identity (with consent) enables publishers to engage in a new win-win advertising ecosystem that can maintain consumer trust while helping to facilitate continued engagement and rapport between publishers and consumers.

As the industry contends with turbulence, a strong and independent DPO can be an unexpected asset in helping teams find ways to navigate privacy regulations by advocating for what matters: respecting consumers’ privacy expectations while creating and maintaining these valuable relationships.