Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: Hearst’s Lacey Gutierrez — Advocating Privacy in the Media Landscape

Lacey Gutierrez, a privacy advocate and Counsel at Hearst, combines a deep-rooted connection to her Hispanic heritage with a passion for privacy law, adeptly guiding media companies like Hearst through the world of privacy regulations.

Lacey Gutierrez grew up in Washington, D.C., but her lineage traces back to her paternal grandfather, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba. While her father and his four brothers did not grow up learning Spanish — it was vital to her grandfather that his sons grew up “very American” — her father ensured that she and her brother grew up connected to their culture. 

Gutierrez started learning Spanish in school and later majored in Latin American Studies with a Spanish minor in college. This allowed her to study abroad in Argentina. 

“I got the opportunity to travel extensively in Latin America, and I was finally able to visit Cuba in 2018,” said Gutierrez. “I feel a real connection to the region — though there’s, of course, a lot of cultural differences between the countries in Latin America, I’m always struck by a sense of richness and warmth when I’m there.” 

While her father greatly influenced her connection to her culture, he also influenced her career trajectory. He was the first person in his family to earn a college degree — he earned a law degree and worked for the Federal Communications Commission during the advent of cellular. 

“My father is a truly self-made man. While in college, he worked for his local Sears, where he would unlock the doors for the cleaning crew at 4:00 am and then do his homework while waiting to start his day job,” said Gutierrez. “After getting his degree, he was involved in writing some of the early regulations around cellular and became an expert. I learned the importance of hard work, education, and the power of taking a smart risk to specialize in an emerging area.”  

The Early Years: The Birth of a Privacy Lawyer

Gutierrez always expected to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer, but she got her foot in the door as a college student working at the New Orleans Public Defender’s Office. She worked as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking clients and asserts that this is where she learned to become an advocate. 

Her interest in privacy law developed while she was in school. After taking a class, Gutierrez pursued her CIPP — a privacy certification offered by the International Association of Privacy Professionals. The timing was perfect because the world around her was grappling with how to comply with GDPR as she began to work for a company that provided legal and consulting services. 

“The head of the company’s privacy and cybersecurity consulting group heard that I had gotten certified, called me up, and asked if I could start on a GDPR consulting engagement the next day,” said Gutierrez. “As a consultant, I worked with companies in various industries, helping them build privacy programs from the ground up and later assessing the maturity of their programs. I worked closely with one client, Group Nine Media, who eventually hired me as in-house counsel.” 

At first, Gutierrez was hesitant to work as an in-house counsel. She thought, “I can either be a consultant or a lawyer.” She believed her decision would pigeonhole her and not fulfill her passion for problem-solving. But the assumption was wrong. She juggled privacy program management and the traditional aspects of being an in-house counsel. 

Later on, Vox Media acquired Group Nine, which allowed her to work with an even larger number of digital brands. 

Present Day: The Hearst Woman

Whether it was her father’s influence, her carefully strategized career path, or her tenacity to pursue her goals, Gutierrez now works as a Counsel for one of the largest media companies in the country. 

“Many people think of Hearst as a publisher but don’t realize how highly diversified it is – Hearst has businesses in industries from media to aviation to healthcare, and I get to work closely with multiple Hearst businesses,” said Gutierrez. “I’m hugely fortunate to be exposed to a wide range of legal and business issues and to work with experts like our Chief Privacy Officer, who is a real leader in the privacy field.” 

The current federal privacy regulations terrain is shaky. With no federal privacy regulations in the states, U.S. publishers must regard state policies, many of which have varying rules. This year alone, five privacy state laws are coming into effect. Since starting with Hearst last July, Gutierrez has spent significant time understanding the new legislation and analyzing its impact on Hearst’s business. 

“It’s still up in the air how state regulators will enforce these new laws – last year’s Sephora enforcement action surprised many people – all while we’ve seen a lot of activity from federal regulators recently,” said Gutierrez. “With new state privacy laws passing left and right, it sometimes feels like keeping up with them could be a full-time job, and it doesn’t look like things will be slowing down anytime soon.” 

From Counsel: Advice for the Privacy Terrain 

Navigating privacy regulation poses a significant challenge for companies in the present environment, and it’s apparent that many businesses are grappling with these complexities. Business professionals must undergo proper training on legal requirements, enabling them to identify potential issues independently. 

Collaborating closely with legal teams, especially in the early stages of developing new products or initiating advertising or marketing efforts, is crucial. This collaboration ensures a proactive approach to legal compliance. 

For instance, when clients inquire about the compliance of a new initiative with regulations like the CCPA, it showcases a commendable level of awareness and engagement. Businesses must emphasize a robust understanding of the personal information they handle, where it’s stored, and which parties may have access to it, fostering a cohesive effort between the business and legal/privacy teams.

As Gutierrez puts it, “Not having a sound process generates risk for the company as a whole.” 

Businesses need to comprehend the significance of establishing effective processes to address privacy requests from consumers. While various departments within a company might find it challenging to allocate resources for privacy requests, overlooking this aspect poses potential risks that can impact the entire organization. A proactive and systematic approach is fundamental in safeguarding the company’s and its stakeholders’ interests. The task is daunting, but Hearst is lucky to have a titan like Gutierrez to help navigate the terrain.