Survey: The best privacy advisers in 2008

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Last year, I took some heat for continuing to run an informal poll that was starting to influence purchasing decisions. So this year, I hired Overbrook Research to conduct a professional survey. Overbrook performs research for national political candidates, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and has assisted a major network with its live 2008 election-night projections.

One of Overbrook's innovations was to allow CPOs to choose up to three firms as their top picks, muting the effect of any one firm's communications with its clients during the polling period.

Despite the change in methodology, the same three firms topped the charts this year as last. For the third year in a row, New York-based Hunton & Williams received the top number of votes. Washington-based Venable and Chicago-based Baker & McKenzie followed. New to the top six this year were New York-based Morrison & Foerster, Washington-based Kelley Drye and London-based Bird & Bird.

For its part, the appearance of Kelley Drye appears connected to the increasing number of privacy questions associated with new media and technologies, a stated strength of the firm.

"We work with many of the world's leading developers of new technology," said Reed Freeman, a partner in the firm's privacy and information security group, "and guide our clients on how those technologies are likely to be regulated in the future."

Niche consulting

A third surprise was who topped the consulting charts. We went back and re-examined the data on this one to detect any fundamental bias or flawed methodology. But out of 684 tallies, our pollster reported that the Big Four firms fared the same as niche consultants Rebecca Herold & Associates and Corporate Privacy Group (CPG) among companies earning more than $1.6 billion per year, the current minimum to rank in the Fortune 1,000.

What could explain this turnabout? With CPG's permission, I asked three of its clients to explain their decision-making criteria.

"We needed to develop a privacy and information security course for our global employee base of over 80,000 people," said Alexis Goltra, managing privacy counsel at Oracle.

"While performing diligence, we found that Richard [Purcell, head of CPG] was one of the leaders in the privacy world from a content perspective. And because CPG is a small firm," he added, "we knew that we could work closely with him to develop content that applied to Oracle's unique business and operations."

Kevin Turner, international director of emergency cardiovascular care at the American Heart Association, also pointed to the ability to know who would be working on his project. "I turned to Richard because he has an ability to build a positive consensus with decision-makers to understand the principles of proper data management and their impact on the long-term health of the organization."

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