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In the wake of high-profile data breaches at Yahoo, Equifax and Facebook and as more and more consumer products are internet-connected, protecting privacy is of paramount concern. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had its own privacy watershed moment more than a decade ago, following the theft of an employee’s laptop containing the personal information of over 26 million Veterans. The incident transformed the way VA handles information. VA Privacy Service is now charged with the vital responsibility of safeguarding Veterans’ and employees’ personally identifiable information across a department that employs more than 300,000 people and serves more than 9 million Veterans.

Focus Areas
  • Analysis and Research
  • Campaign Development
  • Organizational Change Management
  • Event Management
  • Social Media Strategy
  • Quantitative Analysis



VA Privacy Service provides advice, communications, education, recommendations and training on privacy-related matters to core staff, 400 privacy officers, Veterans and their families, and stakeholders such as industry partners and Veterans service organizations. The desired result is for VA Privacy Service to become one of the most authoritative sources of privacy information and privacy best practices at VA, elsewhere in government and in the private sector.


Aptive implemented a multifaceted, integrated communications campaign designed to elevate VA Privacy Service’s value, reach and impact among its audiences and encourage the adoption and sustainment of best practices in privacy. Our work involved:

Research-based communications. Aptive engaged in research to develop outreach and communications plans to define core audiences and the best ways to reach them. Central to this effort was modernizing branding for the service’s two signature campaigns — Privacy Builds Trust and Privacy Matters — aimed at internal and external audiences. We used these logos and associated messaging in all communications and marketing materials including blogs, briefings, e-cards, fact sheets, fliers, monthly newsletters, posters, privacy packets and social media posts. These 508-compliant materials delivered tools and brought greater visibility to VA Privacy Service among staff, VA employees, and Veterans and their families.

Event management. Aptive also managed a quarterly Privacy in Action Speaker Series, which convened leaders in the field of privacy who shared their expertise with the greater privacy community within and outside of VA. We researched and recruited experts in the field, marketed the event, coordinated audiovisual services, scheduled and managed studio time, oversaw event-day logistics and tables featuring promotional items, and created and distributed post-event surveys. We followed up to capture lessons learned and refine tactics.

Partnership outreach. Additional partnership outreach involved seeking allies in the Veteran and privacy community who communicated about VA’s privacy efforts. We worked closely with the VA Privacy director in researching speaking opportunities and preparing her for outreach efforts with Veterans service organizations.

Ongoing assessment. We assessed these and other communications activities through regular focus groups that guided communications and marketing initiatives and ensured that messaging and recommendations were clear, useful and relevant.

Results and Benefits

  • More trust – We succeeded in creating a culture of privacy awareness at VA. Surveys showed a steady increase in the percentage of Veterans who trustedVA, from 47 percent who trusted VA in January 2016 to 70 percent who said they trusted VA in October 2017.
  • More people attending events – Event attendance and interest grew from event to event. A July 2018 event was attended by 300 people, up from 100 attendees at a similar event the same year.  

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