An Interview with Bill Mew

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A leading strategic advisor, Bill is widely published and provides strategic consulting on ‘gaining and retaining trusted brand status’ – striking the right balance between digital transformation ‘changing the world’ and digital ethics ‘doing the right thing’. Bill has more broadcast airtime than almost any other technologist in the UK. He appears almost weekly on broadcast TV and Radio as an expert on digital ethics, data privacy, social media regulation and digital transformation.

For the first time ever, one issue has become both the top brand risk and also the top potential brand attribute:

  1. The top brand risk is now data security and privacy 
  2. The top brand attribute is now digital ethics and trust

As a global authority on digital ethics, Bill advises organisations that want to gain and retain ‘Trusted Brand’ status. When organisations have a major data leak, outage or breach, and are facing a wave of hysteria and misinformation, they turn to Bill as the world’s top specialist crisis management expert with real global credibility and authority in digital ethics and privacy.

We managed to catch up with Bill and ask him more about how he sees the data privacy and digital ethic agenda evolving in 2019:


Privacy consultants are so 2018. In 2019 organisations will need a broader position on ethics & trust. Shifting from privacy to ethics moves the conversation beyond ‘are we compliant’ toward ‘are we doing the right thing

Editor: What makes you think that 2019 is going to be different?

BillIn the past most consumers simply trusted that technology would work and that companies would use their data responsibly. In 2018 all of this changed …. forever. The introduction of GDPR was followed by a series of high profile incidents that has shaken the trust that consumers have in companies and in brands, and it is going to take years to recover from this and to rebuild the overall level of trust.

For software and technology companies, the link between data privacy and corporate responsibility is relatively straightforward. For the very first time, industry analyst firm Gartner has named digital ethics and privacy as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2019. The Gartner report says that, “any discussion on privacy must be grounded in the broader topic of digital ethics and the trust of your customers, constituents and employees. While privacy and security are foundational components in building trust, trust is actually more than just these components. Trust is the acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation. Ultimately an organisation’s position on privacy must be driven by its broader position on ethics and trust. Shifting from privacy to ethics moves the conversation beyond, ‘are we compliant’ toward ‘are we doing the right thing’”.

Even in non-tech industries, however, privacy has become a major issue. 80% of UK consumers surveyed by FleishmanHillard Fishburn have stopped using the products and services of a company because the company’s response to an issue does not support their personal views.  

The research report from FleishmanHillard Fishburn entitled ‘The Dying Days of Spin’ looked at the issues that were most important to consumers across all industries and sectors (not just tech). Many of the issues that it found to be of greatest concern, such as healthcare and education, were ones that consumers expected the government to act on. Interestingly, though, the main issues that consumers expected companies to act on are now security and privacy, surpassing things like diversity and sustainability that had previously topped this list.

In addition, a recent Harris Poll, conducted in partnership with Finn Partners, revealed that data privacy is now the number one issue that Americans (65%) believe companies should be addressing, followed by access to healthcare (61%), supporting veterans (59%), education (56%) and job creation (56%).  

Digital ethics now needs to be a core value for businesses – and if they are to be authentic then it has to become part of their culture. Issues like data privacy and security should not be seen simply in terms of compliance – where all too often organisations simply adopt a tick box attitude. Nor should they be seen as solely the remit of the IT department – when all parts of the business use data and the reputation of the whole organisation is at stake if things go wrong, digital ethics needs to be taken seriously right across the business.

And an ethical approach should not be seen as an overhead or cost, but as a means of ensuring better alignment with your customers’ values, as well as a potential source of competitive advantage over less ethical rivals. The UK Department for Media, Culture and Sport has updated the Data Ethics Framework aimed at public sector saying, “Ethics and innovation are not mutually exclusive. Thinking carefully about how we use our data can help us be better at innovating when we use it.”

The idea that ethics and innovation are not mutually exclusive is critical here. Companies need to strike the right balance between digital transformation ‘changing the world’ and digital ethics ‘doing the right thing’. Tactics for achieving this can vary, but as the following case study shows,  influencer marketing and employee advocacy can be used to great effect, even with the most limited of budgetary resources and manpower.

I discuss all of this and a great deal more in a white paper that I recently co-authored with Philippe Borremans – you can get a copy here.

Editor: So how do brands need to respond in order to thrive in a market where digital ethics is both the top brand risk and also the top potential brand attribute?

Bill: Brands need to focus on the following:

  • Brands need to establishing digital ethics as a core brand value. There is a dividend to be had from achieving this.

Customers in all sectors, not just tech, want organisations to take a stand on data security and privacy – seeing it as more important than either their diversity or sustainability efforts. If they want to be in tune with their customers, then organisations need to take action on digital ethics and to do so NOW. If they wait until after an incident, it will be too late.

  • Brands need to understand that organisational culture and preparation are the best defence in the event of a calamity.

Organisations that have a culture that supports business ethics and in particular digital ethics (including data privacy and security), and that are prepared for the worst, are not only less likely to experience a data breach, but are also better able to respond in the event of one.

Today the biggest threat to your brand and your business is a major data leak, outage or breach and there is only so much that you can do to minimise the threat. You simply don’t know where or when it will happen – it could be caused by a hacker, a disgruntled member of staff or even a whistle-blower. And it could happen at any moment. This is where having the support of The Crisis Team comes into its own.

  • Too many organisations are in denial or are unable to collaborate on digital ethics.

There is limited realisation that digital ethics has now become both the top brand risk and also the top potential brand attribute for almost all organisations. Even where some realisation exists, it is frequently either not seen as a priority or there is a lack of effective collaboration between the key functional silos with a role to play here.

The RAPTOR methodology, developed by The Crisis Team, is designed to help organisations achieve risk alignment – between the CMO’s Crisis Management Plan, the CIO’s Information Security Strategy and the CRO’s Privacy Impact assessment. This will enable you to be on the front foot and to start establishing digital ethics as a core brand value, which will of course not only mitigate the chances of a data breach, but also make you better able to respond in the event of one (of course your best bet when seeking to respond to a crisis is contacting The Crisis Team).

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