Highwire’s Official Black Hat 2017 Recap

After some time to reflect, here’s our recap of Black Hat 2017 in Las Vegas.

For two decades, the annual conference has been creating opportunities for like-minded security researchers, influencers and hackers to mix and mingle. Talented practitioners across the globe flock to Black Hat, jumping at the chance to show off their latest findings, research and hacking techniques. For this community, it’s all about street cred, and Black Hat prides itself as being the premier stage for the best and the brightest. This year proved no differently, and members from Highwire PR’s security practice had a front row seat on all the action. Here are the takeaways:

Black Hat is Evolving

In the world of cybersecurity, insight is key and, at times, absolutely critical. Navigating this dark and interconnected web is complicated, and for vendors working to develop the latest and greatest in threat protection, Black Hat certainly fits the bill. Highwire saw an increase in client presence beyond the typical, passive 20×20 booth set-up. Instead, our clients were actively looking to advance their knowledge, specialize their technique and better understand what their customers are facing. Black Hat has evolved into the catalyst for that learning. And the awareness is growing. Although hacker attendees still reign during this week, we’ve seen more and more clients’ C-Suite inquiring in curious and positive ways about the conference as a strategic investment.

WannaCry is Still Making Us…well, Wanna Cry

Rubbing elbows with more than 15,000 security professionals gave the Highwire team perspective into some of the year’s more notable cybersecurity breaches. We heard first-hand what attendees thought of the infamous “WannaCry” ransomware attack. Almost 50-percent of people we spoke to felt as though this particular headliner was the “most over-hyped security breach” over the past year. Interestingly enough however, a near identical percentage (46.8) felt as though WannaCry was the most serious breach over the past year.

These numbers left us wondering: How can a cyberattack so severe be considered overhyped at the same time? Perhaps this points to tensions between media and security researchers. While the damage may have been a serious one (WannaCry impacted over 230,000 computers across 150 countries), researchers could be concerned about about how the attack was portrayed from a technical perspective by the media. Those of us closely following that particular cycle will remember how important it was to sort through over-hyped speculations vs. actual facts.

Let’s Get Together

On the media front, we kept our spokespeople busy, whether it was an exchange with NBC’s Alyssa Newcomb on election hacking or a video Q&A on application security with CSO’s Fahmida Rashid. In total, our agency secured more than 80 media briefings for our clients, fostering new and existing relationships and giving them a platform to share their story. While Highwire we build relationships via phone and email for our clients, there really is not substitute for actual, 1:1 facetime with a journalist.

All in all, Black Hat was an important investment for us and our clients, and we’re already kicking things into gear for the next big show…which is RSA 2018 in 244 days. But hey, who’s counting?

Media Talk Tech Panel Recap

As PR professionals, it’s imperative to periodically check in with the media to gain a better understanding of the stories they’re looking for and how we can work together to tell those stories.

That’s why last week we, along with the Silicon Valley and San Francisco chapters of PRSA, hosted Jason Wilson of VentureBeat, David Pierce of Wired and Sean Captain of Fast Company at our office to share their thoughts on topics ranging from the state of media to how publications are handling the convergence of technology and politics.

On Audience

Panelists also touched on what they’re looking for from a source. The number one thing? They have to understand the publication’s audience, said Jason Wilson.

On Story Characters

David Pierce added that he has become good at knowing when people are giving him a speech and he’s more interested in finding the character of the story and hearing their experience firsthand.

On Politics

When asked how politics have impacted the newsroom over the past year, the panelists agreed it varies for each publication.

“You think about the role Facebook played in the election, and you realize this is just our world now, and we have to deal with it,” said Pierce. “But we have to ask ourselves where it makes sense for us to get involved and why our readers would care about it.”

On Angles

For Sean Captain, it’s all about how you approach the story. “Everyone wants to jump into the conversation, but you have to find the angle that works for your readership,” he said.

Check out the highlight video below, and take a look at the Highwire and PRSA social channels for videos, quotes and more from the panel!

Decoding Black Hat and DEF CON: A Visual Guide

Hackers descend on Las Vegas this month for Black Hat (July 22-27 at Mandalay Bay) and DEF CON (July 27-30 at Caesars Palace). Both events are opportunities to discuss the latest and greatest in IT security – whether it’s a new vulnerability discovered by threat researchers, or demoing a real-world hack, the Black Hat conference is gaining widespread popularity for today’s hacker.

The conference presents an opportunity for IT security pros looking for ways to protect their networks and gear, software and solutions vendors offering approaches to address security challenges, organizations recruiting talent, and reporters covering the scene, to all come together in one place.

The intensity of the discussions, the intent to recruit, and the concentration of security pros and researchers sharing best practices spotlights widespread networking activities. Often the trickiest part of the week is finding a quiet place to talk. Needless to say, there is a lot going on — thankfully, Highwire PR’s IT security practice offers a visual guide to the week, pointing out especially attractive networking venues, conference-organized activities and other promising social events.

 

Blackhat infographic map July 18 revised

 

It’s no surprise that security venues such as Black Hat, DEF CON, Security BSides and the RSA Conference (which took place earlier this year) continue to attract record numbers of attendees. Organizations and consumers are eager to learn about how to protect themselves and their peers given the seemingly endless inundation of IT attacks and data breaches.

Several Highwire PR members will be on site in Las Vegas during the week of Black Hat and DEF CON — supporting our clients and mingling with the press, all while keeping an ear to the ground on breaking news. Interested in our take on this year’s 2017 Black Hat and DEF CON – let us know!

InsideSales.com Adds Its Voice to the AI Conversation

insidesalesinfographic

Understanding the general public’s sentiment of AI is valuable insight for organizations that are developing these technologies for consumers in their day-to-day lives, both at home and in the workplace.

Seizing the Opportunity: The Value of Consumer Insight About AI

Enter InsideSales.com: Although already a fast-growing company and Silicon Valley “unicorn,” InsideSales had a golden opportunity to be seen as an industry thought leader and insert itself into the center of industry conversations about leveraging predictive analytics, machine learning and AI technologies to offer a competitive edge. What better way than to be the one to shed light on what consumers really think – or just don’t know – about AI?

Effective Execution: Measuring AI Sentiment with a Survey

Highwire worked with InsideSales to develop a creative, data-driven campaign called “The State of AI: Are we Friends or Foe?” to highlight the public perception of today’s most disruptive technology. We polled nearly 2,000 people from a variety of backgrounds and locations to determine how they integrate AI into their lives and which processes they were most willing to turn over to smart machines.

The survey ultimately revealed that consumers are just getting started with AI. While people are comfortable using the same technology they’ve been using for years, it’s the new AI technology–AI-enhanced assistants like Amazon Alexa and self-driving cars–that has yet to reach mass adoption. 

The Positive Results: Targeted Coverage and a New PositioningMW-FJ142_4_20170328142703_NS

Through the survey results and secured coverage in business and tech press, Highwire positioned InsideSales as a thought leader in AI technology and gave the company an authoritative voice for demonstrating where consumers might be willing to adopt AI platforms.

Glint Elevates Its Brand with a Broadcast Segment

Glint CEO, Jim Barnett (far left), highlights how incorporating data from employee surveys is important for feedback and starting important conversations.

Glint CEO, Jim Barnett (far left), highlights how incorporating data from employee surveys.

Seizing the Opportunity: Leveraging Its National Study

Glint, an HR platform that helps organizations measure and improve employee engagement, had the key components but needed to get in front of a producer to tell its story. To get CEO Jim Barnett on-air, Highwire leveraged the company’s first-of-its-kind national study about Silicon Valley retention and engagement as a timely hook to highlight Barnett’s expertise.

Effective Execution: Proactive Media Pitching

glintpic2

Glint CEO, Jim Barnett (right), prepares for his NBC Bay Area segment Press:Here.

Highwire collaborated with the Press:Here host on potential show topics, and once the segment was secured, the team prepped Jim to anticipate all the variables of the fast-paced, panel-style show.

During the segment, entitled “Modern Day Suggestion Box,” Jim positioned himself as a thought leader on a number of topics, including:

  • Winning the Tech Talent War: How to keep tech employees from bailing on their $200,000-a-Year Jobs
  • The Intersection of AI and HR: Why AI isn’t the future of the workplace – It’s here now
  • High-Touch Solutions to Hands-Off Problems: How AI addresses inclusion and diversity issues in Silicon Valley
  • Avoiding Popularity Contest at Work: Balancing company needs with employee wants (without diving off the deep end)

Positive Results: Reaching a Wide Audience

With about 5.25 million people in 9 counties accessing NBC Bay Area, broadcast opportunities like this one allowed Glint to expand and reinforce its brand recognition throughout Silicon Valley.

While there is lots of pre-show work, it doesn’t end when you leave the studio. In this case, Highwire ensured there was a good rapport built with the Press:Here host and panelists in order to encourage future conversations with Barnett.

Click here for more from Jim’s Press:Here segment.

InsightPool vs Traackr: Who Does Influencer Marketing Better?

Highwire Labs reviews the best in social influencer tools

 

In recent months, Highwire has seen increasing interest in influencer marketing and engagement from clients. While we currently use a platform called BuzzSumo to track influencers, we thought it could be time to kick the tires on other similar platforms.

The Highwire Labs team diligently looked into two of the leading influencer marketing solutions: Traackr and InsightPool. Here’s what we found:

Traackr

Traackr was founded in 2009 to serve as search engine for people in PR/marketing to discover influencers for a particular audience. Whether looking for influencers in “Big Data”, “Internet of Things”, “Future of Work” or “Artificial Intelligence”, theoretically, Traackr should be able to identify them in its platform.

Traackr has a stylish UX and looks a little like Tweetdeck on steroids. Agencies can use it for their system of record to track influencer engagement, determine share of voice and easily identify the number of interactions. The service features reach and relevance scores for influencers, and is platform agnostic so one social media platform isn’t prioritized over others.

The major con with Traackr is its price point. This is an extremely pricy piece of software that costs thousands of dollars annually for a subscription — all without so much as a trial period. Additionally, the baseline option allows for only three campaigns. Hard pass from these PR professionals.

Pros

  • Ability to track engagement and interactions
  • Share of voice metrics
  • Manual influencer profile upload
  • Manipulated search results in order to find the best fit, whether it’s by largest audience or an influencer’s reach

Cons

  • Price point and lack of trial option
  • Not user-friendly or intuitive – requires training
  • Sweet spot is B2B tech although Traackr works with consumer companies

physical web of influencersPhoto credit: Getty Images

 

InsightPool

Claiming to be the world’s largest social influencer database, InsightPool certainly didn’t disappoint in our initial demo. The company analyzes everything from social audiences and email database exports to uncover influencers and brand advocates that are most appropriate for client campaigns. What’s more, the platform allows users to sign up for a free trial before fully committing (Full disclosure: we’ve already signed up for two demos, both of which were able to meet specific goals outlined by our client).

Its user interface is easy to navigate, with cool features including scheduled social interactions, contact uploads and engagement monitoring. Once an influencer engages with you over social, you’ll also receive a notification in which you can schedule strategic responses via Twitter or Instagram. For example, after you receive a follow from a top target, you have the ability to slide into those DMs to personally thank them for being a fan of your content.

InsightPool also provides a unique social ranking system that ensures each and every influencer is right for your campaign. To do so, the platform scores each influencer in its platform using data sciences to determine true influence, including: Reach, Resonance and Relevance.

If we had to give it one critique, it would be its inability to easily compare share of voice among targeted influencers. While its segmentation feature provides analysis on what influencers are talking about, which brands are impacted and how their social network impacts your campaign, it could be presented a lot more clearly.

Pros

  • Influencer segmentation
  • Scheduled social engagements
  • Full-service trial period
  • Simple user interface

Cons

  • No SOV tracking
  • Complex presentation of analysis

Highwire Labs’ Take

If your clients are asking about influencer campaigns, get onboard with InsightPool — The free trial period should be enough to take care of any one-off campaigns. But consider making the investment if influencer marketing is increasingly being requested by clients.

Not only is the platform extremely user-friendly, the smart influence algorithms do a great job segmenting influencers, and its annual cost is significantly lower than that of its competitor. Believe the hype.

WINNER: InsightPool

 

Post co-authored by Haley Rodriguez, Account Associate, San Francisco

Haley Rodriguez is an account associate in Highwire’s San Francisco office primarily supporting consumer technology clients. She graduated from California State University, Chico with a degree in journalism and has experience in social media management, news production and copy editing.

Highwire Spotlight: Behind the Scenes with Our Training Program

Introducing our training program to ensure success in PR

 

Just as technology, politics and culture change at a rapid pace, so do the skills required to succeed in the business communications landscape.  As PR professionals, we are expected to stay at the top of our game and one of the best ways to do that is by constantly challenging ourselves to learn and try new things.

Through the Highwire Training Program, we aim to not only train the skills required for the job (pitching, messaging, writing, etc.) but also for business. To that end, we bring in improv coaches, productivity experts and management consultants to train us in those areas.

Three team members collaborating on a work projectThe Highwire Training Program consists of five complementary pillars:

  • PR Skills: Based on skill level, we offer two tracks: Fundamentals and Advanced
  • Writing/Editing/Pitching: Featuring our writing coach Lauren Edwards from WriteCulture, who conducts monthly level-specific writing, editing and pitching sessions and is available year-round for 1:1 consultations
  • Mid-Management Training: Specifically guides Senior Account Executives through the transition to the Account Manager role
  • Reporter Lunch & Learn: Reporters and editors give us the lowdown on how they work and how we can work best together  
  • Monthly Sessions: A catch-all for the larger skill areas such as productivity and time management, business development, management skills and improv

The old adage goes, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Nowhere is that more relevant than in communications, where you’re only as good as your last article or tweet. Maintaining a solid training program with regular input from all levels is one of the keys to achieve relevancy and proficiency.

 

Keep an eye out for upcoming posts where we share our knowledge about what we’ve learned in training. And learn on!

How to Give Your Employees Real Benefits, Not Just Cheap Perks

Fancy perks don’t solve the work-life balance problem.

 

As any entrepreneur will attest, perhaps the most difficult tasks in running a business are attracting, retaining and supporting a strong workforce.

Common solutions to this problem come in the form of sweet perks, designed to showcase a company’s commitment to work-life balance. But, does providing unlimited vacation time, free meals and remote work options truly address your employees’ needs?

Point blank: No, perks alone do not do the job. Furthermore, balance is just a fairy tale. Work-life balance is an illusion and practically impossible to reach. Whatever work-life balance may be is subjective to individuals, making it virtually impossible to pin down universal perks, which can make work-life balance a reality for every employee. Consider how long the issue of work-life balance has been around, despite thousands of articles circulated around the topic.

Clearly, perks matter, but it doesn’t solve the issue of work-life balance.

Employers should aim for personalized fulfillment, based on the flexibility of giving each employee the work environment he or she needs. It’s about providing a challenging and engaging environment in which employees are empowered to take matters into their own hands. The feeling of balance, if reachable, is about granting employees control over how they work.

The faults of startup perks

Although perks are abundant in startups – especially in Silicon Valley — perks’ underlying nature is what actually keeps workers from being fulfilled and comfortable at work.

For one, the perks are presented as extras and not as normal aspects of a person’s job, erring on the side of work and not life. For example, free, daily lunch actually prevents people from leaving the office, getting fresh air and supporting local businesses.

Unlimited vacation time or work-from-home days have long been favored by many as an opportunity to achieve work-life balance, but often its subjection to manager discretion makes employees hesitant to take full advantage of this perk.

Ask anyone who has had the perk of unlimited time off, and they will tell you they actually take less time off and have no pay-out if they leave the company. Furthermore, don’t forget about the employee guilt involved in flexibility.

Working from home, in fact, leads to longer hours for most employees, when compared to those who don’t – usually because they feel like they could work more or that they slacked off.

Yes, it can be a great option for workers, who need to be at home more often, such as parents or people with long commutes. But just as many employees likely prefer to come into the office everyday due to roommate situations, lack of infrastructure or just a desire to be with the team.

Additionally, perks – like sleeping pods, on-premise dry cleaning and massages — are a guise for keeping employees at work longer. It undermines the feeling of fulfillment and the very idea of work-life balance because it all becomes part of the job.

Putting the power in their hands

Since the founding of Highwire Public Relations, I have placed a premium on making it a place in which all of our employees feel happy and fulfilled.

While balance is a goal for some people, I’ve personally felt most fulfilled at points when I’ve been extremely unbalanced.

While that pace may not be sustainable or desirable, the revelation is that balance is not something that can be scripted by day or week, team or office. Balance is highly personal and changes with tenure, life stage and opportunity.

We began by offering perks, like work-from-home days, summer Fridays, catered food and offsite events. But as I described above, universally applied perks alone couldn’t provide what we needed. So we pivoted and started asking our employees what they wanted – individually, not by office or department.

Unsurprisingly, it ranged from happy hours to more paid time off (PTO) days. And that’s when it clicked. Everyone has their own idea of work-life balance, and management would never be able to guess or fulfill them all. So instead, we focus on empowerment, and now, we ask employees to take happiness into their own hands. Ask for what you need; open your minds and hearts to new possibilities; support your colleagues; and trust them to do the same for you.

It’s worked. But don’t take my word for it, a recent paper published in American Sociological Review had a similar conclusion after examining the effect of Situation, Task, Actions, and Results (STAR), an organizational intervention designed to promote greater employee control over work time and greater supervisor support for workers’ personal lives.

According to the American Sociological Review, STAR reduced burnout, perceived stress and psychological distress, and increased job satisfaction.

The key is in allowing employees to work how they work best and the results speak for themselves. This isn’t a laissez-faire scenario, but employees should feel empowered to ask for what they want when they want it. Moreover, asking about employees’ lives outside of work provides a comfort and sense of belonging that sterile company perks, designed to keep you at the office, cannot.

In all, work-life balance is unachievable in the way most businesses approach it today. No matter how convenient or fun you make work, it’s still work. Organizations should instead opt to provide the agency for employees to work comfortably, and recognize that needs and desires change over time. It’s about giving up just the right amount of control because long hours do not equal better work. Happy employees do.

 

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur on May 28, 2017.

Tapping Into the Potential of Online Learning

Knowing what a client does is crucial for any PR professional. How can we effectively tell our client’s story without understanding their product, it’s value for customers and it’s impact on the overall industry?

In the tech sector, this can be a real challenge. Highwire works with clients that are deeply entrenched in their respective areas of tech (ex. IBM in data science, Zscaler in cloud security, IFTTT in IoT). Getting familiar with trends and technologies in these complex areas can take time and effort.

When I started working at Highwire almost two years ago, I was fresh out of college and far from tech-savvy. Terms like “developer” and “malware” were foreign to this communications major. To tackle a steep learning curve, I turned to an easily accessible educational resource: online courses.

Yound woman reading on her iPadEdtech is one of the fastest-growing segments in the education market. With sites like Lynda, Udemy, Coursera and Udacity, courses come in a variety of topics, time commitments (30 minutes to 3 weeks) and are often free. You also get access to professors from top universities like Stanford and Duke,minus the sky-high tuition.

I’ve made it a personal goal to complete an online course each quarter. So far I’ve learned t
he basics of data science, data governance and data analytics- all of which are key themes for my clients. While I can’t claim to be a data expert, I do feel more confident crafting stories for clients and having conversations with media. Who knew I would go from retaking high school pre-calculus to outlining the data lifecycle to my teammates!

I love when a concept “clicks” during an online course because I know the new knowledge will help me do my job better. The most successful people are usually lifelong learners, which is why curiosity is one of Highwire’s core values.

PR pros: Have you taken any online courses? Let us know what you’ve gained from them on Twitter @HighwirePR.

New England Growth Areas in Technology

Each year, The Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) assesses the technology market’s impact on the New England economy. Based on the findings and the group’s ongoing work in support of the region’s tech industry, MassTLC is uniquely qualified to speak to the vibrancy of the innovation economy.

We asked Tom Hopcroft, MassTLC’s president and CEO, about the Massachusetts tech economy, how it compares to Silicon Valley and the contributions the technology industry makes to the New England region.

 1) Highwire PR has been talking about the infamous west-coast vs. east-coast debate. What’s your assessment of the differences and similarities in the start-up environment when you look at New England and Silicon Valley?

The tech hubs in Silicon Valley and New England each have unique identities, but, as head of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, I can best speak to our local tech economy.

The first point I’d make is that Massachusetts is experiencing a tech renaissance. In the four years following the 2008-09 recession, we saw about 5,000 tech jobs added each year. Two years ago we added 8,000 and last year it was up to 9,000. Job growth is perhaps the most tangible indicator of a vibrant and growing economy but there are others.

Over this same period, for instance, a revitalized start-up ecosystem came together with the creation of the Boston Innovation District and others across the state; the creation of many start-up accelerators — most notably MassChallenge and Greentown Labs; and the growth of corporate research centers, university labs and public-private partnerships.

The makeup of our tech economy is another key attribute and differentiator for our region. We have a very healthy and diverse mix of consumer, industrial, digital and physical (e.g., IoT, robotics) technologies being developed for many verticals including health, finance, education, and government. Their close proximity to each other and to the academic and traditional industries creates a strong “bump factor” that leads to innovations at the boundaries between disciplines.

As such, Massachusetts has a unique strength and leadership opportunity in what is often called the Fourth Industrial Era, or Third Wave, depending on whom you ask. It is characterized by the instrumentation and automation of the physical world — bringing the offline world online, creating an Internet of Things and then overlaying digital information back into the physical world with augmented reality, 3-D printing and other new technologies.

Our leadership here is built upon our four decades of “data DNA” — from the structured mainframe and minicomputer days to the unstructured big data of recent years and today’s artificial intelligence and machine learning. Not to mention “things,” where our leadership is evidenced by the fact that the very terms “robot” and the “Internet of Things” were coined here.

In fact, companies like Amazon Robotics (formerly Kiva Systems), Venca Technologies, and GE moved to Massachusetts from California, D.C. and Connecticut, respectively, specifically for the innovation capacity and talent — a blend of software and hardware engineering — that our region has to offer.

 

2) In reading the recent reports MassTLC has issued, it seems as though the tech industries do not get as much credit as they deserve for their contributions to the New England economy. What are your thoughts on what the reports tell us?

The tech sector in Massachusetts directly employs 300,000 people and there are another 100,000 tech jobs outside the sector in healthcare, finance, retail, bio, etc. Add in the jobs servicing the companies (e.g., PR, accounting, legal, etc.) and those that service the employees (e.g., dry cleaners, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) and you add close to 800,000 more jobs. In total, tech is responsible for about 34 percent of the job base in Massachusetts. And because they pay better than average, tech underpins about 44 percent of payroll in the state and 34 percent of gross state product.

While we are not as visible in the media, company leaders recognize the strength of what’s going on here. It’s why so many are moving or opening offices here. In fact, Eric Schmidt, speaking at MIT in the beginning of May 2017, remarked that “Silicon Valley needs a competitor” and that “the obvious competitor is the Boston-Cambridge area.” With GE’s recent relocation of their corporate headquarters, and many others, we see validation.

 

3) Having mapped the current New England technology markets for some time, what areas do you see as being the most promising? 

The big opportunity is around the digital-physical convergence I mentioned earlier.

Other areas of strength and opportunity that come to mind include cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and consumer tech. People don’t think of us as a consumer-tech town, but we have quite the cluster with leading brands like TripAdvisor, Wayfair, Care.com, iRobot, Draft Kings, Rue La La and more. So, if you’re looking to work at or with a consumer tech company, there are some great opportunities to check out locally before you venture to other regions.

 

4) If you had advice for a young or growing technology company in New England, what would it be?

Get plugged into the local tech economy. Join groups like MassTLC and get involved. I like to say that membership is like a health club; you get out of it what you put in. And, it’s really true. By plugging into the tech ecosystem through us or otherwise, you will extend your ability to network and get wherever it is you are going a whole lot faster.